Gordon Allport: Wikis


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Gordon Allport

Gordon Allport
Born November 11, 1897
Montezuma, Indiana
Died October 9, 1967
Nationality United States
Fields psychology
Alma mater Harvard

Gordon Willard Allport (November 11, 1897 – October 9, 1967) was an American psychologist. Allport was one of the first psychologists to focus on the study of the personality, and is often referred to as one of the founding figures of personality psychology. He rejected both a psychoanalytic approach to personality, which he thought often went too deep, and a behavioral approach, which he thought often did not go deep enough. He emphasized the uniqueness of each individual, and the importance of the present context, as opposed to past history, for understanding the personality.

Allport had a profound and lasting influence on the field of psychology, even though his work is cited much less often than other well known figures.[1] Part of his influence stemmed from his knack for attacking and broadly conceptualizing important and interesting topics (e.g. rumor, prejudice, religion, traits). Part of his influence was a result of the deep and lasting impression he made on his students during his long teaching career, many of whom went on to have important psychological careers. Among his many students were Jerome S. Bruner, Anthony Greenwald, Stanley Milgram, Leo Postman, Thomas Pettigrew, and M. Brewster Smith.



Allport was born in Montezuma, Indiana, the youngest of four sons of John Edwards and Nellie Edith (Wise) Allport. His early education was in the public schools of Cleveland, Ohio, where his family moved when he was six years old. His father was a country doctor with his clinic and hospital in the family home. Because of inadequate hospital facilities at the time, Allport's father actually turned their home into a make-shift hospital, with patients as well as nurses residing there. Gordon Allport Allport and his brothers grew up surrounded by their father's patients, nurses, and medical equipment, and he and his brothers often assisted their father in the clinic. Allport reported that "Tending office, washing bottles, and dealing with patients were important aspects of my early training" (p. 172) [2]."

Allport's mother was a former school teacher, who forcefully promoted her values of intellectual development and religion. One of Allport's biographers states "He grew up not only with the Protestant religion, but also the Protestant work ethic, which dominated his home life." Gordon Allport Allport's father, who was Scottish, shared this outlook, and operated by his own philosophy that "If every person worked as hard as he could and took only the minimum financial return required by his families needs, then there would be just enough wealth to go around." [3]

Biographers describe Allport as a shy and studious boy who lived a fairly isolated childhood; the young Allport was the subject of high-school mockery due to a birth defect that left him with only eight toes. As a teenager, Allport developed and ran his own printing business, while serving as editor of his high school newspaper. In 1915, he graduated second in his class at Glenville High School at the age of eighteen. He earned a scholarship that allowed him to attend Harvard University, where one of his older brothers, Floyd Henry Allport, was working on his Ph.D. in Psychology [4]

Moving to Harvard was a difficult transition for Allport because the moral values and climate were so different from his home. However he earned his A.B. degree in 1919 in Philosophy and Economics (not psychology). His interest in the convergence of social psychology and personality psychology was evident in his use of his spare time at Harvard in social service: conducting a boy's club in Boston, visiting for the Family Society, serving as a volunteer probation officer, registering homes for war workers, and aiding foreign students.[5]

Next he traveled to Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey, where he taught Economics and Philosophy for a year, before returning to Harvard to pursue his Ph.D. in Psychology on fellowship in 1920 (in addition to German, Allport remained partially fluent in modern Greek throughout his life). His first publication, "Personality Traits: Their Classification and Measurement" in 1921, was co-authored with his older brother, Floyd Henry Allport, who became an important social psychologist. Allport earned his Master's degree in 1921, studying under Herbert S. Langfeld, and then his Ph.D. in 1922 working with Hugo Münsterberg.[6]

Harvard then awarded Allport a coveted Sheldon Traveling Fellowship--"a second intellectual dawn," as he later described it. He spent the first Sheldon year studying with the new Gestalt School--which fascinated him--in Berlin and Hamburg, Germany; and then the second year at Cambridge University, England .[7]

Then Allport returned to Harvard as an instructor in Psychology from 1924 to 1926. He began teaching his course "Personality: It's Psychological and Social Aspects" in 1924; it was probably the first course in Personality ever taught in the U.S. During this time, Allport married Ada Lufkin Gould, who was a clinical psychologist, and they had one child, a boy, who later became a pediatrician.[8] After going to teach introductory courses on social psychology and personality at Dartmouth College for four years, Allport returned to Harvard and remained there for the rest of his career.

Gordon W. Allport was a long time and influential member of the faculty at Harvard University from 1930-1967. In 1931, he served on the faculty committee that established Harvard's Sociology Department. In the late 1940s, he fashioned an introductory course for the new Social Relations Department into a rigorous and popular undergraduate class. At that time, he was also editor of the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. Allport was also a Director of the Commission for the United Nations Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Allport was elected President of the American Psychological Association in 1939. In 1943 he was elected President of the Eastern Psychological Association. In 1944, he served as President of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. In 1950, Allport published his third book titled "The Individual and His Religion." His fourth book, "The Nature of Prejudice" was published in 1954, and benefited from his insights from working with refugees during World War II. His fifth book, published in 1955 was titled, "Becoming: Basic Considerations for Psychology of Personality." This book became one of his most widely known publications. In 1963 Allport was awarded the Gold Medal Award from the American Psychological Foundation. In the following year he received the APA's Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. Gordon Allport died on October 9, 1967 in Cambridge, Massachusetts of lung cancer. He was seventy years old.Gordon Allport

Visit with Freud

Allport told the story in his autobiographical essay in Pattern and Growth in Personality[9] of his visit as a young, recent college graduate to the already famous Dr. Sigmund Freud in Vienna. To break the ice upon meeting Freud, Allport recounted how he had met a boy on the train on the way to Vienna who was afraid of getting dirty. He refused to sit down near anyone dirty, despite his mother's reassurances. Allport suggested that perhaps the boy had learned this dirt phobia from his mother, a very neat and apparently rather domineering type. After studying Allport for a minute, Freud asked, "And was that little boy you?"

Allport experienced Freud's attempt to reduce this small bit of observed interaction to some unconscious episode from his own remote childhood as dismissive of his current motivations, intentions and experience. It served as a reminder that psychoanalysis tends to dig too deeply into both the past and the unconscious, overlooking in the process the often more important conscious and immediate aspects of experience. While Allport never denied that unconscious and historical variables might have a role to play in human psychology (particularly in the immature and disordered) his own work would always emphasize conscious motivations and current context.

Allport's Trait Theory

Allport is known as a "trait" psychologist. One of his early projects was to go through the dictionary and locate every term that he thought could describe a person. This is known as the "lexical hypothesis." From this, he developed a list of 4500 trait like words. He organized these into three levels of traits.

1. Cardinal trait - This is the trait that dominates and shapes a person's behavior. These are rare as most people lack a single theme that shape their lives.

2. Central trait - This is a general characteristic found in some degree in every person. These are the basic building blocks that shape most of our behavior although they are not as overwhelming as cardinal traits. An example of a central trait would be honesty.

3. Secondary trait - These are characteristics seen only in certain circumstances (such as particular likes or dislikes that a very close friend may know). They must be included to provide a complete picture of human complexity.

Genotypes and Phenotypes

Allport hypothesized the idea of internal and external forces that influence an individual’s behavior. He called these forces Genotypes and Phenotypes. Genotypes are internal forces relates to how a person retains information and uses it to interact with the external world. Phenotypes are external forces, these relate to the way an individual accepts his surroundings and how others influence their behavior. These forces generate the ways in which we behave and are the groundwork for the creation of individual traits.

Functional Autonomy

Allport was one of the first researchers to draw a distinction between Motive and Drive. He suggested that a drive formed as a reaction to a motive may outgrow the motive as a reason. The drive then is autonomous and distinct from the motive, whether it is instinct or any other. Allport gives the example of a man who seeks to perfect his task or craft. His reasons may be a sense of inferiority engrained in his childhood but his diligence in his work and the motive it acquires later on is a need to excel in his chosen profession. In the words of Allport, the theory "avoids the absurdity of regarding the energy of life now, in the present, as somehow consisting of early archaic forms (instincts, prepotent reflexes, or the never-changing Id). Learning brings new systems of interests into existence just as it does new abilities and skills. At each stage of development these interests are always contemporary; whatever drives, drives now."[10]


  • Attitudes, in A Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. C. Murchison, (1935). Worcester, MA: Clark University Press, 789–844.
  • Personality: A psychological interpretation. (1937) New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
  • Letters from Jenny. (1965) New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
  • Becoming: Basic Considerations for a Psychology of Personality. (1955). New Haven : Yale University Press. ISBN 0300002645
  • The Nature of Prejudice. (1954; 1979). Reading, MA : Addison-Wesley Pub. Co. ISBN 0201001780
  • The Nature of Personality: Selected Papers. (1950; 1975). Westport, CN : Greenwood Press. ISBN 0837174325
  • The Person in Psychology (1968). Boston: Beacon Press
  • Pattern and Growth in Personality. (1961). Harcourt College Pub. ISBN 0030108101
  • Personality & social encounter. (1960). Boston: Beacon Press
  • Psychology of Rumor. [with Leo Postman] (1948). Henry Holt and Co. ASIN B000J52DQU

Secondary literature

  • Ian Nicholson, Inventing Personality: Gordon Allport and the Science of Selfhood, American Psychological Association, 2003, ISBN 155798929X
  • Nicholson, I. (2000). “'A coherent datum of perception': Gordon Allport, Floyd Allport and the politics of personality.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 36: 463-470.
  • Nicholson, I. (1998). Gordon Allport, character, and the ‘culture of personality’, 1897-1937. History of Psychology, 1, 52-68.
  • Nicholson, I. (1997). Humanistic psychology and intellectual identity: The 'open' system of Gordon Allport. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 37, 60-78.
  • Nicholson, I. (1997). To "correlate psychology and social ethics": Gordon Allport and the first course in American personality psychology. Journal of Personality, 65, 733-742.
  • On the Nature of Prejudice: Fifty Years After Allport, hrg. von Peter Glick, John Dovidio, Laurie A. Rudman, Blackwell Publishing, 2005, ISBN 1405127503

See also


  1. ^ Why should we care about Gordon Allport?
  2. ^ HJelle, L.A., Ziegler, D.J. (1992). Personality Theories: Basic Assumptions, Research, and Applications. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
  3. ^ HJelle, L.A., Ziegler, D.J. (1992). Personality Theories: Basic Assumptions, Research, and Applications. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
  4. ^ V.W. Hevern (1996-2003). Narrative Psychology: Internet and Resource Guide.
  5. ^ Pettigrew, T.F. (1999). Journal of Social Issues, Fall, 1999
  6. ^ Bowman, John S. The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) p. 13
  7. ^ Pettigrew, T.F. (1999). Journal of Social Issues, Fall, 1999
  8. ^ Pettigrew, T.F. (1999). Journal of Social Issues, Fall, 1999
  9. ^ Allport, Gordon: Pattern and Growth in Personality; Harcourt College Pub., ISBN 0-03-010810-1
  10. ^ Allport, G. W. (1937). The American Journal of Psychology, 50, pp. 141-156.


  • Matlin, MW., (1995) Psychology. Texas: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

External links



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