How can we end xenophobia?


Peter Becker
Personality structures of East and West Germans: their meaning in connection with xenophobia

1. A framework for the condition variables for xenophobia

For some time, and with an upward trend, the Federal Republic of Germany has been shaken by a wave of xenophobia. A close connection to the sudden increase in the number of repatriates, emigrants and asylum seekers can be established (Schultze 1989; Gugel 1990). Although xenophobia is a universal phenomenon that does not only affect Germany, it is noticeable that since 1990 acts of violence against foreigners and against assembly camps for asylum seekers have reached a frightening extent in East Germany in particular.

When trying to explain this phenomenon, different patterns of interpretation become discernible. The spectrum of hypotheses ranges from the failure of economic, social and asylum policy, to the threat to many people in the new federal states from unemployment and lack of prospects, the (alleged) misconduct of the police, the danger of "foreign infiltration" by too many foreigners to late effects the repressive SED regime, which is presumed to have produced authoritarian characters who are prone to xenophobia. One or the other explanation will be favored depending on one's own political position and personal concern.

Xenophobia, however, is multi-terminated. It can only be adequately understood if several conditions are taken into account simultaneously. Figure 1 shows a general framework for the condition variables for xenophobia.

Xenophobia is a hypothetical construct that serves as a generic term for various attitudes and behaviors that are directed against "strangers" (on the concept of "xenophobia or xenophobia"

Illustration 1:

General framework model for the condition variables for xenophobia

see also Rölke 1982; Schultze 1989; Gugel 1990). From a personality-psychological point of view, it makes sense to distinguish between xenophobic behavior in a specific situation and xenophobia as one relative differentiate stable disposition to xenophobic behavior. People have this disposition or personality trait to a lesser or greater extent (different degrees of xenophobia). It can slumber as a latent attitude in secret, but it can also express itself in aggressive behavior towards strangers, ranging from discrimination to insults and harassment to bodily harm.

We believe it is necessary to distinguish between xenophobia without the use of violence and xenophobia with approval of the use of force. This differentiation is also supported by a factor analysis of attitudes towards the right-wing extremism syndrome reported on by Müller and Schubarth (1992). In their 1992 study on young people from East Germany, they identified three distinguishable factors: (1) xenophobic items (e.g. agreement with the statement "Foreigners out!"), (2) items relating to the use of violence (e.g. "Sometimes you have to use violence reach out to assert his interests. ") and (3) items that contain conservative convictions (e.g." In family matters, the father / husband has the last word. "). In other words, this result means that one can have a xenophobic attitude without affirming the use of force. The approval of violence against strangers occurs in two forms: as one's own open violence and as tolerance or encouragement of the violence committed by others.

Xenophobes Settings are favored by a number of conditions on the part of the person as well as the past and current environment:

  1. People with certain personality traits - first and foremost an authoritarian character - are more prone to xenophobia. These personality traits, for their part, are also determined by past environmental conditions. Many East Germans were educated and socialized in their parents' home, school and state institutions as well as by the socialist system

    propagated values ​​and norms (Brentzen 1990; Frindte 1990; Israel 1990; Maaz 1990). It is to be expected that in this way, among other things, authoritarian personality traits were promoted (Adorno et al. 1968; Schneewind 1986; Hopf 1991). Furthermore, as a result of the travel restrictions and the foreigner policy of their government, East Germans had more limited opportunities than West Germans to gain positive experience with foreigners and to try out peaceful coexistence with them.

  2. Xenophobic attitudes are further influenced by current environmental conditions, which are considered to be external threat are perceived, amplified.
    These include in particular:
    1. Deterioration in economic and social living conditions (high unemployment; threatened joblessness and lack of prospects; strong competition on the housing and labor market; social envy due to the use of social benefits) (see Friedrich 1982; Rölke 1982; Kasek 1992; Schubarth 1992)
    2. Frustrations from expectations;
    3. strong influx of "strangers" (resettlers, asylum seekers, refugees);
    4. actual or perceived inability of politics to solve the problems at hand (leads to alienation or anomie).
  3. Xenophobic attitudes are not directed against random strangers, but preferentially against asylum seekers from the Third World, against Sinti and Roma or against Turks (Gugel 1990; Förster, Friedrich 1992; Schnabel, Baumert 1992). Those strangers can be called "internal threat" be experienced because they question one's own values ​​and norms, habits and ways of life (Gugel 1990). The alien is often devalued, which leads to an indirect valuation of the person and a strengthening of self-esteem (Becker 1992). Whether violence is used against strangers or their institutions in a specific situation (e.g. during a demonstration in front of an asylum seeker's home) also depends on the specific situational conditions (e.g. the behavior of the police and fellow citizens).

The foregoing should show that personality traits in connection with xenophobia are certainly of limited explanatory value. Nevertheless, it seems interesting to investigate the question of whether the stronger xenophobia observed in the new federal states compared to western Germany is related to differences in personality structure. To answer this question, we will first present our own study, which aimed to compare the personality of East and West Germans.

2. An investigation into the personality traits of East and West Germans

2.1 Questions

Before the turnaround or German reunification, East and West Germans lived for more than four decades in two social systems with very different political, economic and social conditions. Whether these external living conditions and the ideological peculiarities have left their mark on the different personality or character traits of East and West Germans is a controversial question, on which there are many hypotheses, but hardly any methodologically well-proven results. In his book "Der Emotionsstau", Maaz (1990) advocates the thesis that the repressive SED regime has deformed the majority of GDR citizens in terms of character, emphasizing inhibited and compulsive characters in particular. Richter (1991), Schröder and Schröder (1991), and Becker, Hänsgen and Lindinger (1991) and Becker (1992) critically examined this portrait and the analytical method used by Maaz. Maaz, a psychoanalyst working in Halle, bases his statements primarily on observations made on psychotherapy patients at a clinic in Halle. He has neither empirical material on a representative sample of East Germans nor comparative data on West Germans. It remains open how typical the character deformations he describes are for the East German population and whether these character structures are more common in the former GDR than in West Germany or other European countries. The highly evaluative clinical used by Maaz appears problematic to us

Terminology which amounts to pathologizing many East Germans and which is likely to hurt the self-esteem of these people.

The investigation described below was intended to address two questions:

  1. Do East and West Germans differ from one another in certain personality traits? Particular attention is paid to the areas of behavior control, sociability and activity as well as personality traits relevant to neuroses.
  2. Are there differences in physical and psychological complaints compared to West Germans about 15 months after the "turning point" and the drastic changes in the living conditions of East Germans? Does the assumption expressed by some experts apply that there are more neurotic and psychosomatic complaints in East Germany, or did the East Germans cope with the stress surprisingly well by the time of the investigation?

2.2 method

The investigation [Fn_1: We thank the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for the financial support of our study] is based on the collaboration between Klaus-Dieter Hänsgen from the Humboldt University of Berlin and the author [Fn_2: The author thanks Privatdozent Dr. Klaus Dieter H nsgen and Ms. Dipl.-Psych. Elisabeth Lindinger and Dipl.-Psych. Winfried Krieger for valuable cooperation and help in various phases of the investigation].
Three psychometric questionnaire tests were used with a total of over 600 questions to be answered. [Fn_3: The reader can find more details in Becker (1992) and Becker, H nsgen and Lindinger (1991)]

The "Trier inventory for behavior control" (TIV) developed by the author serves primarily to measure various facets of the personality trait "behavior control". People with strong behavioral control have a pronounced need for control, i.e. they orientate themselves before their actions

an internal control system (observe norms and long-term goals, are prudent, forward-looking, etc.), while people with little behavioral control are characterized by impulsiveness (spontaneity, exuberance, willingness to take risks, hunger for adventure, etc.). In detail, the TIV contains the following scales: behavior control, striving for order and adherence to principles, norm orientation, reliability, future and reason orientation, frugality, exuberance and enthusiasm, hunger for adventure and the joy of improvisation.

The "Trier Personality Questionnaire" (TPF) constructed by Becker (1989) was primarily developed to diagnose mental health (understood as the ability to cope with external and internal requirements) and its subcomponents. In addition to a mental health scale, the TPF contains three scales for measuring (habitual) physical and mental well-being (fullness of meaning, self-forgetfulness, freedom from complaints), two scales for measuring self-actualization (expansion, autonomy) and two scales for measuring self-related and others-related appreciation ( Self-esteem, ability to love).

The "Berlin method for neurosis diagnosis" (BVND) was constructed by Hänsgen (1985). It comprises a complaint section with 16 scales for recording specific physical-functional complaints (e.g. cardiovascular complaints), unspecific mental disorders (e.g. psycho-vegetative exhaustion) and specifically psychological complaints (e.g. obsessive-compulsive complaints), a part with 14 scales on self-concept characteristics (e.g. performance motivation, self-confidence, Frustration tolerance) as well as two control scales for response tendencies.

The data was collected from December 1990 to February 1991 from 300 East Germans and 298 West Germans between the ages of 18 and 65. The people were selected according to a quota plan from all the old and new federal states in such a way that their relative proportion corresponds to the population of the federal states. The entire survey was carried out anonymously. Table 1 provides information on selected demographic data from the West and East German samples.

Table 1: Description of the West and East German samples according to demographic variables



















A l t e r s tu e ns


































than 10
Classes /

than 10
Classes /

High School

High School


High School



























Marital status
























The East and West Germans examined do not differ significantly in gender, age or marital status, but in the following demographic characteristics: East Germans have somewhat higher school-leaving qualifications, whereby the limited comparability must be taken into account; There are more housewives and more people in training among West Germans, while there are more unemployed people in the East; the western sample includes more freelancers and self-employed business people, in the east there are more skilled workers; West Germans have a much higher income; West and East Germans differ in their party preference.

In summary, the East and West German samples agree on important demographic variables. Deviations primarily reflect actual differences between East and West Germans. However, no random selection or complete representativeness can be asserted.

3. Results on the first question 4
[Fn_4: The reader can find comprehensive documentation of the results in Becker, H nsgen and Lindinger (1991)]

This question is: In which personality traits do East and West Germans differ from each other? We limit ourselves primarily to results at the scale level, but supplement these with findings at the item level in order to clarify the scale content. For reasons of space, the relationships with gender and age are not shown. The reported differences between East and West Germans apply to both sexes and to all age groups. It must be taken into account that these results can only be achieved in a group comparison and that there are great differences between people both within the group of East Germans and West Germans. In other words, many West Germans and East Germans are similar; both frequency distributions of the characteristic values ​​overlap considerably.

Results in the area of ​​"behavior control"

The very consistent result is that East Germans are more behavior-controlled than West Germans at the time of the study. Statistically significant differences can be seen not only in the higher-level "behavior control" scale, but also in several sub-components of this multifaceted property. Compared to West Germans, East Germans place more value on order and following principles: for example, they argue that one should stick to one's principles; admire decent people; consider the preservation of old traditions to be very important. East Germans are more norm-oriented, i.e. norms are more binding for them: for example, they plead for strict observance of speed limits; have less understanding for parking offenders; condemn more strongly the affair of a man or a woman. They are more reliable: expect other people to be punctual; do things with the thoroughness of German officials. They direct their behavior more towards the future and behave in a rational manner. They are - according to the tendency (just significantly) - more economical: e.g. when making purchases, pay more attention to saving money by comparing prices.

On the other hand, East Germans are less hungry for adventure: they are less inclined to live beyond their means; they are less likely to get into situations that are largely unknown to them; a life that goes on as usual is less boring and without attraction for them. They are not as spontaneous as West Germans: they feel more the need to have their behavior under good control; get so involved in their work that interruptions disturb them very much.They are less open: consider themselves less gleeful; indicate less; allegedly tell the truth more often. They show a lower willingness to take health risks: pay more attention to protecting themselves from illness (probably so as not to endanger their jobs); tend to avoid health risks. They tend to be (just significantly) less exuberant and enthusiastic: e.g. they have less fun doing crazy things.

These results can - pointedly - be reduced to the formula that East Germans are the "more German" Germans. They have classic "German virtues" (such as striving for order, reliability or standard orientation)

a stronger expression; they represent more conservative values, while West German self-expression and hedonistic values ​​are more important. This finding is in line with statements made by Klages (1992), who noted a shift in values ​​from mandatory and acceptance values ​​to self-development values ​​for West Germans since the early 1960s and consistently more conservative values ​​for East Germans. It seems that people in the East have retained a mentality that has a long tradition in Germany, while this mentality has been overlaid in West Germans by American values ​​and ideas about life for about a quarter of a century.

Results for the area "Activity"

In this area, West Germans achieve significantly higher values ​​in the scales "joy in improvisation" and "autonomy". However, there are no significant differences in the scales "activity", "expansiveness", "mental health" and "self-esteem".

The greater joy in improvisation of West Germans is expressed, among other things, as follows: it is easier for them to completely overturn their daily routine; in tricky situations they come up with an excuse more quickly; they have more fun doing more than one thing at the same time. West Germans achieve higher scores in autonomy: they like to make important decisions alone; they like to go their own way.

The greater joy in improvisation and autonomy of the West Germans are likely to be the product of a socialization in which these characteristics were systematically promoted and "rewarded" in school, the family, the work area or politics, while the East Germans were punished due to the greater degree of external control in many areas of life for "too much" independence and decisiveness in this regard, caution was urged.

We consider the lack of differences in the remaining four scales in this area to be very remarkable. East and West Germans do not differ in their habitual mental health, i.e. they are to the same extent

able to cope with the external demands of life as well as to live in harmony with oneself. Contrary to widespread prejudices, the following two items are significantly more affirmed by East Germans: "I believe that I am very adaptable and can adjust to the most varied of living conditions" and "I act according to the motto that I am responsible for my own happiness". According to our results, it is not true that East Germans have a significantly lower self-esteem. On the contrary, West Germans are significantly more likely to affirm that they have an inferiority complex.

Why is there so often talk of a lack of self-confidence in East Germans? (For example, "Der Spiegel" of November 12, 1990, used the heading "The new ones lack self-confidence.") Here a distinction is required between outwardly displayed self-confidence and genuine self-esteem. There is no doubt that many West Germans appear more self-confident on the outside, especially when they come into direct contact with East Germans. Stratemann (1992) also made this observation when comparing East and West German job applicants. You shouldn't be surprised about this, as West Germans have more training in self-presentation and are more familiar with the West German system than their East German competitors. Stratemann, on the other hand, reports that East Germans can acquire techniques for self-presentation relatively quickly.

However, it is premature to infer differences in self-esteem from differences in self-presentation. For example, introverts among West Germans are also likely to appear less self-confident than extroverts, without the conclusion that the introverts have a lower self-esteem. Fortunately, real self-esteem relies only to a small extent on external values ​​such as material wealth. On the contrary: it is not uncommon for success and status symbols (e.g. luxury cars, expensive clothes) to be put on display in order to conceal latent feelings of inferiority.

Results in the area of ​​"sociability"

East and West Germans do not differ significantly in the scales "social orientation" and "adaptability and empathy", probably

however in the "ability to love" (higher values ​​of the East Germans). Since these scale names can only approximate the scale contents, the items in which significant differences are shown are listed below. (A "W" or "O" after an item means that the behavior or attitude in question is shown more often by West Germans or East Germans.) "I enjoy helping others (O)." "I can give a lot of love to another person (O)." "I think about what I can do to bring joy to someone I like (O)." "I always get along well with other people (O)." "Actually, someone always has to be around me if I should feel good (O)." "I am often told that I have no feeling (W)."

In summary, it can be said that there are no significant differences between East and West Germans in the area of ​​sociability. The trend is clear, however: East Germans are more interested in their fellow human beings. Stratemann (1992) achieved comparable results. She reports of a higher sensitivity for social aspects of conversation situations in the new federal states as well as of the more pronounced abilities of the east managers to adapt to the wishes and behaviors of the communication partner. Stimpel (1991) expresses a similar view, who ascribes East Germans more sensitivity and empathy towards colleagues, bosses and subordinates.

Results for the "Work" area

The focus of the public discussion is the question of whether there are differences between East and West Germans in terms of work ethic, hard work and similar characteristics. Controversial views are represented on this. Spiegel surveys from 1991 [Fn_5: Spiegel survey on the attitudes of East and West Germans to one another. In: Der Spiegel, from July 22. and July 29, 1991] give the impression of a greater "laziness" of the East Germans. Klages (1991) believes that there is a lack of willingness to unconditionally "roll up sleeves". Koch and Steller (1991), among others, contradict this view. In your opinion, large sections of the East German population are characterized by a strong disposition for performance,

Recognition and willingness to insert. Quite a few people are conditioned to work far more than eight hours a day.

In the following we present some significant differences from our study at item level: "For me, my job is the first place in my life (O)." "If the work doesn't go right, I also feel bad physically (O)." "I don't take long time to ask if there is additional work or tasks to do (O)." "I prefer to do precisely specified tasks with which I can hardly make mistakes (O)." "I prefer work in a collective to work where I am on my own (O)." "I need a good work collective if I am to feel comfortable at work. (O)"

On the one hand, these results show a high work ethic among East Germans; on the other hand, they reflect a greater preference for work in a collective and for pre-structured processes. The ascertained higher work ethic is consistent with the findings reported by Stratemann (1992). If this positive attitude towards work by East Germans remains unchanged, a similar development can be expected as the West Germans achieved after the war.

4. Results on the second question

The second question is: Are there differences between East and West Germans in physical and psychological complaints 15 months after the "Wende"?

We first list those scales in which no There are significant differences: freedom from complaints, digestive complaints, cardiovascular complaints, general physical sensitivity, motor complaints, self-esteem problems, feelings of insufficient performance, sense of purpose, self-forgetfulness, obsessive-compulsive complaints, complaints in social communication, self-confidence, frustration tolerance.

East Germans achieve significantly higher scores in the following areas: generalized fear (especially fear of the future), phobic complaints (e.g.

Fear of suffering from an incurable disease), sleep problems (e.g. difficulty falling asleep) and - the tendency - exhaustion (e.g. feeling constantly tired) as well as excitement / tension (e.g. sometimes being a real bundle of nerves). Comparable results are reported by Hänsgen, Kasielke, Schmidt and Schwenkmezger (1991) from a study carried out in September / October 1990. The citizens in the eastern part felt more anxious and felt more anger than in the western part.

In summary, we are surprised at how small the differences in the physical and psychological complaints are at the time of the examination and how well the East Germans cope with the stresses after the "fall of the wall". They primarily complain about symptoms of fear, anger and stress that are to be expected in the face of a wide range of frustrations.

According to our findings, it cannot be said that large parts of the East German population - compared to West Germans - suffer from significant psychological impairments. This surprising result makes sense against the background of the following considerations: Although East Germans were confronted with drastic changes in their living conditions, these not only include negative phenomena (e.g. high unemployment, short-time work, rising cost of living) but also numerous positive effects (e.g. long-awaited freedoms, rising incomes, improved professional qualification and advancement opportunities).

Furthermore, political and economic changes were in principle aimed for and actively brought about. At the time of the investigation, many East Germans see the unpleasant aspects of the present as temporary side effects ("dry spell") on a way forward. There is widespread optimism about the future (cf. Landua, Spellerberg and Habich 1991). Since broad sections of the population are affected by the pollution, comparative level theories show only minor impairments to well-being (see Abele, Becker 1991) (one is in the same boat: the others in the new federal states are not doing much better either) and favorable attributions of the cause (the non-competitive company is responsible for its own unemployment, not its own failure), which protect against damage to self-worth. Even under the SED regime, many East Germans managed to develop skills to cope with external and

internal requirements (for example to adapt to the difficult living conditions in the ex-GDR; activation of social support systems). In the East-West comparison, the stresses and negative social phenomena that exist in West Germany as well as the associated physical and psychological complaints must not be disregarded.

5. Personality and xenophobia

In the very extensive literature on the subject of "personality and prejudice against minorities as well as xenophobia" one finds a large number of hypotheses and empirical findings that cannot be discussed in detail at this point (cf. inter alia: Adorno et al. 1968; Janicek 1980 ; Schenk 1980; Cloerkes 1981; Friedrich 1982; Rölke 1982; Gessenharter 1983; Schiribauer 1983; Hill 1984; Schneewind 1986; Hopf 1987; Lehner 1989; Schultze 1989; Frindte 1990; Gugel 1990; Pfrang and Schenk 1990; Kasek 1992). The connection between Authoritarianism and xenophobia.

Adorno et al. (1968) have achieved special merits in researching the personality traits associated with authoritarianism and their emergence, although their work has been subject to a wide range of criticism (Gessenharter, 1983; Hopf, 1987, 1991). Gessenharter (1983, p. 43) summarizes the Adorno et al. The basic characterization of an authoritarian personality as follows: "Authoritarian persons are immobile, rigid, stereotypical in their cognitive or character structures; their worldview is dichotomous; their ego weakness leaves them submissive to ingroup authorities, but incompatible, aggressive, uncompromising towards members of outgroups are ... "

In Table 2 we have compiled selected personality traits that favor xenophobia, focusing on authoritarianism and the highly correlated traits. This table also contains Hypotheses About the degree of expression of the characteristics in question in East and West Germans, as far as we have empirical evidence. On the one hand, we rely on results

Table 2: Selected personality traits that favor xenophobia, as well as hypotheses about their development in East and West Germans.

Authoritarianism / Authoritarian Personality (Global)


- Conventionalism / norm orientation


- Authoritarian submission


- Authoritarian aggression (against people who disregard conventional values)


- anti-intraception


- Superstition and stereotype / rigidity


- Thinking about power and "hard work"


- Destructiveness and cynicism (general hostility, defamation of the human)


- Treating others in an exploitative and manipulative manner


- Projectivity / low openness


- Excessive preoccupation with sexual processes


Properties highly correlated with authoritarianism:

- Conservatism (see Pfrang & Schenk, 1990)


- Political alienation (see Pfrang & Schenk, 1990)


Other personality traits

- Low self-esteem


- I'm weak


- Low intelligence


    + = increased for East Germans;
    - = decreased;
    0 = no significant difference;
    ? = no statement

our own study, which was not explicitly designed for this purpose, but provides information on some aspects, namely on: conventionalism / norm orientation; authoritarian aggression; Destructiveness and cynicism; exploitative-manipulative treatment of others; Projectivity / low openness; Conservatism; Self-esteem and ego weakness. We also take into account the latest empirical findings from Förster and Friedrich (1992), Müller and Schubarth (1992), Schnabel and Baumert (1992) and Stratemann (1992).

If one summarizes the hypotheses presented in Table 2, the following, preliminary picture emerges: A number of personality traits that are associated with xenophobia seem to be more pronounced in East Germans than in West Germans. This applies in particular to aspects of authoritarianism such as conventionalism / norm orientation, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression against people who disregard conventional values, conservatism and political alienation. This seems to be contrasted with lower levels of destructiveness and cynicism and exploitative-manipulative treatment of others (cf. the higher "ability to love" and greater interpersonal sensitivity of East Germans). There are no significant differences in self-esteem, ego weakness and intelligence.

6. Conclusions in theses

In the following, we summarize the most important statements, insofar as they relate to xenophobia, in theses:

  1. Xenophobia is a universal phenomenon. You can also find them in West Germany and other European countries (e.g. in France).
  2. Xenophobia is multi-terminated. Any reduction to just one set of conditions can be exposed as an attributional bias.
  3. Personality traits are only of limited value in explaining xenophobia.Nevertheless, they are indispensable elements in a set of conditions, because only they make it possible to understand why - all other things being equal - certain people behave in a xenophobic manner, while others do not.
  4. Some personality traits that favor xenophobia seem to be more pronounced in East Germans than in West Germans. This applies in particular to authoritarian character traits, conservatism and the striving for order.
  5. There are either no differences in other characteristics correlated with xenophobia or they seem to be more common in West Germans.
  6. All in all, the personality traits that lead to xenophobia seem to be more pronounced in East Germans than in West Germans. These are only differences in mean values. There are great differences in the degree of xenophobia among both East Germans and West Germans.
  7. Personality traits only develop their xenophobic virulence in connection with current environmental conditions. These are social conditions that are experienced as an external or internal threat and lead to a feeling of alienation. Pfrang and Schenk (1990) provided empirical evidence for the thesis that intolerant and authoritarian attitudes represent a reaction of conservative attitudes to alienation.
  8. Some social groups are more prone to xenophobia:
    • People who feel threatened, betrayed and disadvantaged by current social conditions.
    • People who experience the state or politicians as too weak to successfully cope with the problems at hand. Hence the call for

      a strong hand or the tendency to solve the problems through their own actions (e.g. attacks on asylum seekers' homes).

    • People who tend to have a shortened view of the problem.
  9. There is an urgent need for further empirical research. As a personality psychologist, one feels challenged by the xenophobic excesses to gain greater clarity through current empirical research about the personality traits associated with xenophobia and how they arise.


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