Authoritarianism, Anger, and Hostile Attribution Bias: A Test of Affect Displacement



Past research has supported the hypothesis that the relationship between harsh childhood punishment and adult political attitudes is due to the displacement of negative emotions that arise onto punitive public policies, e.g., support for the death penalty (Milburn, Conrad, Sala, & Carberry, 1995). Cognitions associated with childhood punishment may also impact adult political attitudes, yet their effects have not yet been examined, despite research that shows that punitive childhood experiences increase the tendency to attribute hostility to others. Thus, we investigated whether the tendency to make hostile attributions about others' behavior influences a person's authoritarianism, controlling for their parents' political orientation. Respondents completed an online survey concerning their childhood punishment experiences, their parents' political orientation, their trait anger, their level of hostile attribution bias (HAB), and their authoritarianism. Multiple regression analyses and structural equation modeling (SEM) found that higher childhood punishment has a significant direct effect on higher levels of authoritarianism, even after controlling for parents' political orientation, and that trait anger and HAB appear to mediate the effects of childhood punishment experiences on authoritarianism,. These results support the process of affect displacement as an important influence on adult punitiveness and political orientation.