The contributions of Gordon Allport in the field of psychology have been widely recognized most especially in terms of human personality. Because of this, he has been regarded as one of the pioneers in human personality studies. In this regard, this paper sought to discuss Gordon Allport’s life, his personality trait theory and its impact in present day psychology. Biography Born on November 11, 1897 in Montezuma, Indiana, Gordon Willard Allport was the youngest among the four sons of country doctor, John Edwards and school teacher, Nellie Edith.
Right after Gordon turned six their family moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he attended his early education in public schools. Growing up, Gordon’s home life and work ethics was dominated by the family’s Protestant beliefs. Hence, his father did not believe in vacations and values high working standards. Because Gordon’s father was a doctor and during that time there was inadequacy in hospital facilities, the Allport’s home was transformed into a makeshift hospital, housing both the patients and nurses.
Gordon noted that such experience pretty much served as his early training in life (Allport, 1967; Hjelle and Zeigler, p. 172 cited in De Paul University, 2004). While studying at Glenville High school, Gordon run his own printing business and at the same time works as the school’s newspaper editor. At the age of 18 Gordon graduated in 1915 as the second in his class and was given a scholarship that guaranteed him his education at Harvard College . Prior to entering the said university, Allport performed his military duties during the First World War.
By the time Gordon attended his undergraduate studies at Harvard University , his older brother Floyd was attending the university’s psychology graduate school program. At first, Gordon had a hard time adapting to his new environment. He found the culture and values of the students at Harvard were different from the things he was accustomed to. Because of this, Allport’s early collegiate education suffered from strain, resulting to D’s and C’s in his grade.
However, by the end of his first year’s semester, Gordon managed to adapt to his new environment and he started getting A’s. He was able to maintain his academic excellence all throughout his undergraduate tenure and by 1919 he earned his B. A. degree in the university where he majored in economics and philosophy (De Paul University, 2004). Shortly after his graduation, Gordon went to Istanbul , Turkey where he taught Sociology and English at Robert College , until he returned to Harvard in order to get his Master’s degree, which he received in 1921.
That same year, he and his brother Floyd co-authored his first publication entitled “Personality traits: Their classification and measurement. ” The year after, Gordon was able to secure his Ph. D. in psychology. However, Gordon’s pursuit for knowledge did not stop after he got his Ph. D. He continued studying in university’s such as University of Berlin and University of Cambridge to name a few. It was only until 1924 when he returned to Harvard to teach in Social Ethics department that Gordon rested his school studies but commenced his teaching career (De Paul University, 2004).
By 1925, Gordon married a clinical psychologist named Ada Lufkin Gould. They had a son which later on became a pediatrician. Allport continued teaching at Harvard with the course “Personality: It’s Psychological and Social Aspects,” which is said to be the first course of its kind in the USA during that period (Hevren, n. d. cited in De Paul University, 2004). His teaching career flourished and from there he taught introductory social psychology and personality courses at Dartmouth College.
In 1937, after he returned to Harvard from Dartmouth College and became an assistant professor, Allport also returned working in the military during World War II as the committee head in psychology where he aided refugee scholars such as Lewin, Kohler, Stern and Buhlers to name a few (Hevren, n. d. cited in De Paul University , 2004). That same year, he published his book entitled “Personality: A psychological interpretation,” which is noted to first define the topics that should be incorporated when studying personality.
Due to this he was promoted to Harvard’s associate professor and later on advanced as a psychology professor in 1942, which he held his position until his death. Gordon Allport had a distinguished professional life which is evident with the recognitions he received due to his dedication and contributions in psychology and the positions he held during his lifetime. He became a representative for the American Psychological Association’s (APA) National and Social Science Research Council, and later on became the president of the said association.
Allport also served as the director of United Nation’s National Commission for Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Hjelle and Ziegler, p. 173 cited in De Paul, 2004) while also serving as the editor of “Journal of abnormal and social psychology. ” He also became the president of Eastern Psychological Association as well as the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. Other than the said positions, the most important contributions of Gordon Allport in the field of psychology can be viewed in his published works that were based from his varying studies.
Some of his notable works are “The psychology of rumor” published in 1943, which was based on his studies about the social issue of spreading rumors during his tenure in the military in World war II; “The individual and his religion” published in 1950; “The nature of prejudice,” which contains his insights regarding the refugees he encountered during World War II, was published in 1954; “Becoming: Basic considerations for psychology personality” in 1963 was considered as his well known publication; and his final book “Letters from Jenny” published in 1965, which was composed of 300 letters from a woman.
Due to his publications, Allport was heralded with the Gold Medal from American Psychological Foundation and was also the recipient of APA’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. The latter being the last award he received prior to his death on October 9, 1967 due to lung cancer at the age of 70 years old (Hevren, n. d. ; Hjelle and Ziegler, p. 173 cited in De Paul, 2004, n. p. ). Personality trait theory Personality Gordon Allport is known for his theory about personality.
However, in order to further gift depth to the existing theories in his time, Allport gave a thorough thought on the concept of trait, which he considered as the most appropriate way of studying personality. In order to understand Allport’s inclusion of trait in his personality theory it is therefore an imperative to discuss his view regarding personality itself. Allport noted that personality’s most important aspects are its endurance and unique organization.
Despite the many definitions of personality Allport believed that: “Personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psycho-physical systems that determine his unique adjustment to his environment (Allport, p. 48 cited in Lester, 1995, p. 131). Hence, Allport believed that an individual’s personality is dynamic, it continuously changes and evolves. He called such process as individuation. Allport perceived that the essential nature of humans is centered on the unification of life which in a greater sense may never be fully fulfilled.
The word psyhcho-physical emphasizes that personality is neither neural nor mental rather both are fused together to form the personal unity of an individual. The unification of both entities are the precedent of an individual’s behaviors. Hence, as the behaviors make up the unified personality, it can then be viewed that this is where Allport intend to analyze the term organization of the personality. He also noted that a person’s behavior may be determined through varying personality organization.
The behaviors of individuals can be “phenotypically similar” or it can be compared with each other but behaviors can also be “genotypically different” or it goes beyond comparison and has different causes as well (Lester, 1995). In order to outline his position, he reflected on the idea that most of what an individual does in life is a matter of who an individual really is. He rejected the idea that an individual’s behavior are reliant on opportunistic functioning (i. e.
conditioned reflexes and instincts), meaning to say they are powered by the desire to fulfill the biological needs, rather human behavior is motivated by something different- functioning in a manner that is centered in expressing oneself- which he termed as “propriate functioning. ” Such perspective is an indication that the motivation of an individual occurs independently from his or her past experiences. He believes that what governs a person’s behavior is dependent on his or her current interest, attitude and lifestyle (Boeree, 2006).
Hence, Allport felt that infants lack personality because they are motivated by their drive, which he defined as “vital impulses leading to reduction of localized tensions that inadequate to identify the motivation of adults” (Allport, n. p. cited in Lester, 1995, p. 132). Because of this Allport gave least importance for the development of personality during its childhood origins, rather he believed that the motivation which is one factor of personality development is functionally autonomous from an individual’s past. Proprium
The term propriate is rooted from the word “proprium” or self, which Allport considered as the most essential concept in the development of personality. Allport placed much emphasis on the self that he defined it in two distinct perspectives, phenomenologically and functionally. Phenomenologically speaking, the self is composed of aspects that exclude things that are inherited dispositions and acquired characteristics like skills, reflexes, habits and cultural values. Functionally, self has eight important properties that shape an individual’s personality: (1) bodily sense such as the sensation within the individual.
(2) Self identity which he recognized as an individual’s recognition of self continuity and individuality. (3) Self-esteem that speaks an individual’s self worth or value. (4) Self extension is where people identify events or things as essential factors in their existence. (5) Self-image or the “looking-glass self” specifically the impression of an individual makes on others. (6) Rational Coping which pertains to the ability to deal with life issues effectively and rationally.
(7) Propriate striving which speaks about an individual’s self as the proprietor of the individual’s life (Boeree, 2006). Traits or dispositions As an individual’s proprium continuously develop, he or she also develops traits or personal dispositions that are imperative factors affecting the development of the personality. Allport is well known for his inclusion of traits in the development of theory. However, many people misrepresent his stand about the said concept, seeing it as something that can be measured through personality tests rather than as a unique entity.
Hence, in this regard he trait changed the term into disposition an defined it as “a generalized and focalized neuropsychic system (peculiar to the individual) with the capacity to render many stimuli functionally equivalent, and to initiate and guide consistent (equivalent) forms of adaptive and expressive behavior” (Allport, 1973, p. 295 cited in Barkhuus, 1999, p. 4). First one can notice that Allport identified trait as neuropsychic system. In this regard, he perceive trait as a real entity that is unique and existing within an individual.
He also noted that traits are what make the human behavior consistent; therefore it is still present even if no one sees it. Another way to put dispositions is through saying that it is concrete entity that guides a person’s behavior, making one’s behavior consistent in one way or another. To elaborate such perspectives further, Allport stated that traits are essentially distinct with each individual. For instance, aggressiveness maybe possessed by different individuals but the range and style of their aggressiveness differ from one another (Bakhuus, 1994).
The above concepts of traits are then culminated by Allport into four classifications: “Common traits,” “Personal,” “cardinal traits,” and “Central Traits. ” Allport identified common traits as those that generally apply to everyone. They are already a part of a culture that anyone in that culture can recognize and identify with; therefore they can be used in order to compare one person from another. However, Allport does not consider such trait as “true traits” rather he only keeps common traits as an imperative factor in shaping human personality.
Personal traits are recognized by Allport as traits that are more tied to the individual’s proprium. He noted that such classification of traits is the building blocks of ones personality; thereby making it specific qualities to the individual. Meanwhile, Cardinal traits are considered as the obvious or general trait that is evident in the individual’s behavior regardless of the situation. Such traits are pervasive that they can be used in order to identify a person’s behavior and activities. Finally, central traits are said to have an effect on broad and differing instances but necessarily all situations.
Although they can be easily detected characteristics, these traits are said to have occasional lapses (Baucum, 1996). Ones an individual has already a well-developed proprium and dispositions, Allport noted that, that person already attained psychological maturity and functional autonomy, which are important determinants for the establishment of personality. Present day professionals regard Allport’s personality trait theory, most especially his construct of trait, as something of great importance that stimulated various researches in the said field.
Applied to ones personal situation, one can easily relate to Allport’s perspectives about the development of personality and behavior and the existence of traits such as aggressiveness or shyness. Likewise, many critics conceded that his trait theory has valuable aspects that served as ground for identifying things that are not concise during his time. However, there are also claims that his trait theory has little impact on later theorist but serves as an initial inspiration with the development of other theories (Ewen, 2003).
One critique of Allport’s theory is the fact that he did very little study and research in order to support his claims. This was evident with his first publication wherein he measured trait without giving enough details; hence one can easily point out that Allport believe that by doing so his perceived concept about traits would also be the same with others perceptions. His usage of the word trait, by collecting numerous words in order to identify it would only be useful if every each of the words he used would be connected by every individual in the same approach, behavior and feelings (Barkhuus, 1999).
Other than this, Allport‘s approach with personality as a whole was minimized, instead he focused on the concept of trait and disregarded the importance of childhood origins or an individual’s past in identifying personality. In a positive light, the theory of Gordon Allport leaves one realizing that his attempt to understand personality in the context of trait is an illustration of personality works in one way or another. Likewise, such theory is relatively important in terms of personal rationalization because it leaves questions whether studying personality is all it takes to understand the human nature.
For the foregoing, one can easily assume that while traits are imperative factors in understanding and defining personality, behavior and motivations, there are still various factors that are needed to be studied in order to finally understand the nature and complexity not only of personality but also human actions as well. References Barkhuus, L. (19 April 1999). Allport’s theory of traits: A critical review of the theory and two studies. Canada: Concordia University. Baucum, D. (1996). Psychology.
Hauppage, NY: Barron’s Educational Series. Boeree, G. C. (2006). Gordon Allport: Personality theories. Pennsylvania: Shippensburg University Psychology Department. De Paul University. (2004). Gordon Allport. Retrieved March 21, 2009 from http://shrike. depaul. edu/~kmerz/index. htm. Ewen, R. B. (2003). An Introduction to Theories of Personality. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Lester, D. (1995). Theories of Personality: A Systems Approach. Mortimer Street, London: Taylor and Francis
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