I. Overview of Allport's Psychology of the Individual
Gordon Allport, whose major emphasis was on the uniqueness of each individual,
built a theory of personality as a reaction against what he regarded as the
non-humanistic positions of both psychoanalysis and animal-based learning theory.
However, Allport was eclectic in his approach and accepted many of the ideas
of other theorists.
II. Biography of Gordon Allport
Gordon W. Allport was born in Indiana in 1897. He received an undergraduate
degree in philosophy and economics from Harvard, and taught in Europe for a
year. While in Europe, he had a fortuitous meeting with Sigmund Freud in Vienna,
which helped him decide to complete a Ph.D. in psychology. After receiving his
Ph.D. from Harvard, Allport spent two years studying under some of the great
German psychologists, but he returned to teach at Harvard. Two years later he
took a position at Dartmouth, but after four years at Dartmouth, he again returned
to Harvard, where he remained until his death in 1967.
III. Allport's Approach to Personality
Allport believed that psychologically healthy humans are motivated by present,
mostly conscious drives and that they not only seek to reduce tensions but to
establish new ones. He also believed that people are capable of proactive behavior,
which suggests that they can consciously behave in new and creative ways that
foster their own change and growth. He called his study of the individual morphogenic
science and contrasted it with traditional nomothetic methods.
IV. Personality Defined
Allport defined personality as "the dynamic organization within the individual
of those psychophysical systems that determine his characteristic behavior
V. Structure of Personality
According to Allport, the basic units of personality are personal dispositions
A. Personal Dispositions
Allport distinguished between common traits, which permit inter-individual comparisons,
and personal dispositions, which are peculiar to the individual. He recognized
three overlapping levels of personal dispositions, the most general of which
are cardinal dispositions that are so obvious and dominating that they can not
be hidden from other people. Not everyone has a cardinal disposition, but all
people have 5 to 10 central dispositions, or characteristics around which their
lives revolve. In addition, everyone has a great number of secondary dispositions,
which are less reliable and less conspicuous than central traits. Allport further
divided personal dispositions into (1) motivational dispositions, which are
strong enough to initiate action and (2) stylistic dispositions, which refer
to the manner in which an individual behaves and which guide rather than initiate
The proprium refers to all those behaviors and characteristics that people regard
as warm and central in their lives. Allport preferred the term proprium over
self or ego because the latter terms could imply an object or thing within a
person that controls behavior, whereas proprium suggests the core of one's personhood.
Allport insisted that 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.
A. Reactive and Proactive Theories of Motivation
To Allport, people not only react to their environment, but they also shape
their environment and cause it to react to them. His proactive approach emphasized
the idea that people often seek additional tension and that they purposefully
act on their environment in a way that fosters growth toward psychological health.
B. Functional Autonomy
Allport's most distinctive and controversial concept is his theory of functional
autonomy, which holds that some (but not all) human motives are functionally
independent from the original motive responsible for a particular behavior.
Allport recognized two levels of functional autonomy: (1) perseverative functional
autonomy, which is the tendency of certain basic behaviors (such as addictive
behaviors) to continue in the absence of reinforcement, and (2) propriate functional
autonomy, which refers to self-sustaining motives (such as interests) that are
related to the proprium.
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 on pathological behaviors. Most people, however, are aware of what they
are doing and why they are doing it.
VII. The Psychologically Healthy Personality
Allport believed that people are motivated by both the need to adjust to their
environment and to grow toward psychological health; that is, people are both
reactive and proactive. Nevertheless, psychologically healthy persons are more
likely to engage in proactive behaviors. Allport listed six criteria for psychological
health: (1) an extension of the sense of self, (2) warm relationships with others,
(3) emotional security or self-acceptance, (4) a realistic view of the world,
(5) insight and humor, and (6) a unifying philosophy of life.
VIII. The Study of the Individual
Allport strongly felt that psychology should develop and use research methods
that study the individual rather than groups.
A. Morphogenic Science
Traditional psychology relies on nomothetic science, which seeks general laws
a study of groups of people, but Allport used idiographic or morphogenic procedures
that study the single case. Unlike many psychologists, Allport was willing to
accept self-reports at face value.
B. The Diaries of Marion Taylor
In the late 1930's, Allport and his wife became acquainted with diaries written
by woman they called Marion Taylor. These diaries-along with descriptions of
Marion Taylor by her mother, younger sister, favorite teacher, friends, and
a neighbor-provided the Allports with a large quantity of material that could
be studied using morphogenic methods. However, the Allports never published
C. Letters from Jenny
Even though Allport never published data from Marion Taylor's dairies, he did
publish a second case study-that of Jenny Gove Masterson. Jenny had written
a series of 301 letters to Gordon and Ada Allport, whose son had been a roommate
of Jenny's son. Two of Gordon Allport's students, Alfred Baldwin and Jeffrey
Paige used a personal structure analysis and factor analysis respectively, while
Allport used a commonsense approach to discern Jenny's personality structure
as revealed by her letters. All three approaches yielded similar results, which
suggests that morphogenic studies can 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 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.
B. Religious Orientation and Psychological Health
Research 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.
X. Critique of Allport
Allport has written eloquently about personality, but his views are based more
on philosophical speculation and common sense than on scientific studies. As
a consequence, his theory is very narrow, being limited mostly to a model of
human motivation. Thus, it rates low on its ability to organize psychological
data and to be falsified. It rates high on parsimony and internal consistency
and about average on its ability to generate research and to help the practitioner.
XI. Concept of Humanity
Allport saw people as thinking, proactive, purposeful beings who are generally
aware of what they are doing and why. On the six dimensions for a concept of
humanity, Allport rates higher than any other theorist on conscious influences
and on the uniqueness of the individual. He rates high on free choice, optimism,
and teleology, and about average on social influences.