Allport's Motivation, Functional Autonomy and Study of the Individual

VI. Motivation

To Allport, an adequate theory of motivation must consider the notion that motives change as people mature and also that people are motivated by present drives and wants. Allport believed that most people are motivated by present drives rather than by past events and are aware of what they are doing and have some understanding of why they are doing it.

A. Reactive and Proactive Theories of Motivation

Adult behavior is both reactive and proactive, and an adequate theory of motivation must be able to explain both.

An adequate theory of personality, Allport contended ,must allow for proactive behavior. It must view people as consciously acting on their environment in a manner that it permits growth toward psychological health. A comprehensive theory must not only include an explanation of reactive theories, but must also those proactive theories that stress change and growth. In other words, Allport argued for a psychology that, on one hand, studies behavioral patterns and general laws (the subject matter of traditional psychology) and on the other hand, growth and individuality.

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Allport insisted that a useful theory of personality rests on the assumption that people not only react to their environment but also shape their environment and cause it to react to them. He criticized psychoanalysis and animal-based learning theories as being reactive because they saw people as being motivated by needs to reduce tension and to react to their environment. Personality is a growing system, allowing new elements to constantly enter into and change the person.

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B. Functional Autonomy

Allport’s most distinctive and controversial concept is his theory of functional autonomy, it is Allport’s explanation for the myriad human motives that seemingly are not accounted for by hedonistic or drive reduction principles, which holds that some (but not all) human motives are functionally independent from the original motive responsible for a particular behavior.

Motives that are not functionally autonomous include those that are responsible for reflex actions, basic drives, and pathological behaviors. If a motive is functionally autonomous, it is the explanation for behavior, and one need not to look beyond it for hidden or primary causes. Functional autonomy represents a theory of changing rather than unchanging motives and is the capstone of Allport’s idea on motivation.

1. Perseverative Functional Autonomy

Allport recognized two levels of functional autonomy. Perseverative functional autonomy is the tendency of certain basic behaviors to continue in the absence of reinforcement. Allport borrowed the word “perseveration” which is the tendency of an impression to leave an influence on subsequent experiences. Perseverative functional autonomy is found in animals as well as humans and is based on simple neurological principles. Addictive behaviors are examples of perseverative functional autonomy.

2. Propriate Functional Autonomy

The other level is propriate functional autonomy; it is the master system of motivation that confers unity on personality, which refers to self-sustaining motives that are related to the proprium. Examples of propriate functionally autonomous behaviors include pursuing interests that one holds dear and important.

3. Criterion for Functional Autonomy Present motives are functionally autonomous to the extent that they seek new goals. That is, functionally autonomous behaviors will continue even after the motivation behind those behaviors change.

4. Processes

That Are Not Functionally Autonomous Allport listed eight processes that are not functionally autonomous: (1) Biological drives, (eating, breathing and sleeping)
(2) Motives directly linked to the reduction of basic drives, (3) Reflexes actions (eye blink)
(4) Constitutional equipment (physique, intelligence, and temperament) (5) Habits in the process of being formed,  (6) Patterns of behavior that require primary reinforcement, (7) Sublimations that are linked to unpleasant childhood experiences, and (8) Certain neurotic or pathological symptoms. Allport suggested a criterion for differentiating between a functionally autonomous compulsion and one that is not. For example, compulsions that can be eliminated through therapy or behavior modification are not functionally autonomous, whereas those that are extremely resistant to therapy are self- sustaining and thus functionally autonomous.

C. Conscious and Unconscious Motivation
Although Allport emphasized conscious motivation more than any other personality theorist, he did not completely overlook the possible influence of unconscious motives. Pathological behaviors are often motivated by unconscious drives, but healthy individuals are ordinarily consciously in control of their behavior.

VIII. The Study of the Individual

Because psychology has historically dealt with general laws and characteristics that people have in common, Allport strongly felt that psychology should develop and use research methods that study the individual rather than groups. To balance the predominant normative or group approach, he suggested that psychologists employ methods that study the motivational and stylistic behaviors of one person.

A. Morphogenic Science

Allport distinguished between two scientific approaches; Traditional psychology relies on nomothetic science, which seeks general laws from a study of groups of people, and idiographic which refers to that which is peculiar to the single case or study patterns of traits within the single case, but Allport used morphogenic procedures because the term “idiographic” was so often misused, misunderstood and misspelled. Morphogenic procedures refer to patterned properties of the whole organism and allows for intraperson comparisons Allport accepted self-reports, such as diaries, at face value.

B. The Diaries of Marion Taylor

During the late 1930’s, Allport and his wife became acquainted with personal documents, including diaries, of a woman they called Marion Taylor. Although the Allports analyzed much of this information, they never published an
account of Marion Taylor’s story. Their work with Marion Taylor probably helped them organize and publish a second case- the story of Jenny Gove Masterson, another pseudonym.

C. Letters from Jenny

A short time later, the Allports analyzed and published a series of letters they had received from an older women named Jenny. These letters constitute Allport’s best-known example of morphogenic science in that they reveal one person’s pattern of behavior. Two of Allport’s students, Alfred Baldwin and Jeffrey Paige, used a personal structure analysis and factor analysis, respectively, whereas Allport used a commonsense approach to discern Jenny’s personality structure as revealed by her letters. All three approaches yielded similar results, suggesting that morphogenic studies may be reliable.

IX. Related Research

Allport believed that a deep religious commitment was a mark of a mature person, but he also saw that many regular churchgoers did not have a mature religious orientation and were capable of deep racial and social prejudice. In other words, he saw a curvilinear relationship between church attendance and prejudice.

A. The Religious Orientation Scale

This insight led Allport to develop and use the Religious Orientation Scale to assess both an intrinsic orientation and an extrinsic orientation toward religion. Allport and Ross (1967) found that people with an extrinsic orientation toward religion tend to be quite prejudiced, whereas those with an intrinsic orientation tend to be low on racial and social prejudice. A review of later studies (Trimble, 1997) found that prejudice is positively related to an extrinsic religious orientation but unrelated to an intrinsic religious orientation.

INTRINSIC RELIGIOUS ORIENTATION – refers to motivation arising from goals set forth by the religious tradition itself, and is assumed to have an “otherly,” nonmundane, even self- denying quality: religion is regarded as a master motive whereas other needs, strong as they may be, are regarded as of less ultimate significance. EXTRINSIC RELIGIOUS ORIENTATION – refers to a flagrantly utilitarian motivation underlying religious behaviors: the individual endorses religious beliefs and attitudes or engages in religious acts only to the extent that they might aid in achieving mundane goals such as feeling comforted and protected or acquiring social status and approval.

B. Religious Orientation and Psychological Health Research by Ralph Hood (1970) and others (Hansen, Vandenberg, & Patterson, 1995; Kosek, 1999; Maltby, 1999) has found that people who score high on the Intrinsic scale of the ROS tend to have overall better personal functioning than those who score high on the Extrinsic scale. In general, these studies have found that some highly religious people have strong psychological health, whereas others suffer from a variety of psychological disorders. The principal difference between the two groups is one of intrinsic or extrinsic religious orientation; that is, people with an intrinsic orientation tend to be psychologically healthy, but those with an extrinsic orientation suffer from poor psychological health.

Updated: Feb 23, 2021
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Allport's Motivation, Functional Autonomy and Study of the Individual. (2017, Feb 27). Retrieved from

Allport's Motivation, Functional Autonomy and Study of the Individual essay
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