9 julio, 2024

Gordon Allport: biography and theory of personality

Gordon Allport (1897-1967) was an American psychologist who dedicated himself to the study of personality. In fact, he is often referred to as one of the key figures in the development of personality psychology.

He did not agree with either the psychoanalyst school or the behavioral school, since he thought that the first studied the human being from a very deep level and the second did so from a superficial level.

Gordon Allport has been recognized for his work in the field of personality psychology, which has been established as an autonomous psychological discipline since 1920. In his work, this psychologist is responsible for emphasizing the uniqueness of individual human behavior.

He also criticizes Freud’s theory, radical behaviorism and all personality theories that are based on the observation of animal behavior.


birth and childhood

Gordon Willard Allport is originally from the city of Montezuma, in the state of Indiana in the United States. He was born on November 11, 1897 and died on October 9, 1967 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Allport was the youngest of four children. When he was six years old they moved to Ohio City. His parents were Nellie Edith and John Edwards Allport, who was a country doctor.

Because the medical facilities at the time were inadequate, his father turned his house into a makeshift hospital. Thus, Allport spent her childhood among nurses and patients.

He was described by biographers as a withdrawn boy and very dedicated to the study who lived a lonely childhood. During his teens, Allport started his own printing company, while working as an editor at his school’s newspaper in high school.

In 1915, at the age of 18, he graduated from Glenville High School, ranking second in his class. Allport won a scholarship that took him to Harvard University, the same place where one of his older brothers, Floyd Henry Allport, was studying for a Ph.D. in psychology.

His career in the field of psychology

During his years at Harvard, Allport studied with Hugo Münsterberg and discovered experimental psychology in depth through Langfeld. She was also introduced to epistemology and the history of psychology with Holt. At that time she also became involved in the social service for foreign students, belonging to the department of social ethics.

Subsequently, Allport served in the Student Army Training Corps. In 1922 he received his doctorate in Psychology and his thesis was dedicated to personality traits, the subject that would be the basis of his professional career.

After graduating he lived in Berlin, Hamburg and Cambridge. In this last place he had the opportunity to study with personalities such as C. Stumpf, M. Wertheimer, M. Dessoir, E. Jaensch, W. Köhler, H. Werner and W. Stern. In 1924 he returned to Harvard University, where he taught until 1926.

First personality course

The first course Allport taught at Harvard was called «Personality: Its Psychological and Social Aspects.» This was perhaps the first course in personality psychology to be taught in the United States.

During those years, Allport married Lufkin Gould, who was a clinical psychologist. They had a son who later became a pediatrician.

Allport later decided to teach social psychology and personality classes at Dartmouth College, a university located in New Hampshire, United States. There she spent four years and after that time she returned once more to Harvard University, where she would finish her degree.

Allport was a very prominent and influential member within Harvard University between 1930 and 1967. In 1931 he was part of the committee that established the Department of Sociology at Harvard. In addition, between 1937 and 1949 he was editor of the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology.

President of the APA and other organizations

In 1939 he was elected as president of the American Psychological Association (APA). In this organization, Allport was responsible for the section dealing with foreign exchanges.

From this position he worked hard to get help for many European psychologists who had to flee Europe due to the arrival of Nazism. Allport helped them to find refuge in the United States or in South America.

During his career, Allport was president of many organizations and associations. In 1943 he was elected president of the Eastern Psychological Association and the following year he was president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

Main works and recognitions

In 1950 Allport published one of his most relevant works titled The Individual and His Religion (The individual and his religion). In 1954 he published The Nature of Prejudice (The Nature of Prejudice), where he talks about his experience working with refugees during World War II.

In 1955 he published another book entitled Becoming: Basic Considerations for Psychology of Personality, which became one of his most recognized works. In 1963 he was awarded the Gold Medal Award from the American Psychological Association. The following year he earned the APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions.


Allport died in 1967 as a result of lung cancer. He was 70 years old.

Personality psychology according to Gordon Allport

In the book Personality: A Psychological Interpretationpublished in 1937, Allport described some fifty different meanings of the term “personality”, as well as others related to it, such as “self”, “character”, or “person”.

For Allport, personality is a dynamic organization that is within the psychophysical systems of each individual, which determines their adaptation to the environment. In this definition, the psychologist emphasizes that personality is different in each individual.

For him none of the theoretical models that had been used in the study of human behavior provided a useful basis for understanding personality. Allport thought that the study of personality could only be undertaken from an empirical point of view.

One of the motivations of human beings has to do with the satisfaction of biological survival needs. This human behavior was defined by Allport as opportunistic functioning and according to him it is characterized by its reactivity, by its orientation to the past and by having a biological connotation.

However, Allport thought that opportunistic functioning was not very relevant to understanding most human behaviors. From his perspective, human behaviors were motivated by something different, which was more of a functioning as an expressive form of the self.

This new idea was defined as proper functioning or proprium. This functioning, unlike the opportunistic one, is characterized by its activity, by its orientation to the future and by being psychological.

the propium

To demonstrate that opportunistic functioning does not play such an important role in personality development, Allport focused on precisely defining his concept of the self or proprium. To describe it, he worked with two perspectives: a phenomenological and a functional one.

From the phenomenological perspective, he described the self as something that is experienced, that is, that is felt. According to the expert, the self is made up of those aspects of the experience that the human being perceives as essential. In the case of the functional perspective, the self has seven functions that arise at certain moments in life. These are:

Body sensation (during the first two years)
Own identity (during the first two years)
Self-esteem (between two and four years)
Extension of oneself (between the ages of four and six)
Self image (between four and six years)
Rational adaptation (between six and twelve years)
Effort or own struggle (after the age of twelve)

trait theory

According to Allport, the human being also develops other characteristics that he called personal traits or personal dispositions. The psychologist defined the trait as the predisposition, attitude or tendency that a person has to respond in a certain way.

It is a neuropsychic system that is both generalized and localized, with a capacity to convert many stimuli into functional equivalents, while initiating and guiding equivalent forms of expressive and adaptive behavior.

In the case of expressive behavior, it has to do with «how» such behavior is performed. In the case of adaptive behavior, it refers to the “what”, that is, to the content.

This is explained by the fact that several people are capable of carrying out the same activity but in very different ways. The “what”, for example, can be a conversation and the “how” is the way in which it is carried out, which can be enthusiastic, accommodating or aggressive. Conversing would be the adaptive component and the ways of doing it is the expressive component.

Individual and common traits

Allport proposes in his theory the distinction between individual traits and common traits. The first are those traits that are applicable to a group of people who share the same culture, language, or ethnic origin. The second are the traits that form a set of personal dispositions based on individual experiences.

The psychologist defends the position that each person has essentially unique traits. One way to understand that traits are truly unique is when we realize that no one learns from other people’s knowledge.

Ideographic methods

To verify his theory, Allport used what he called ideographic methods, which were nothing more than a set of methods focused on the study of a single individual, either through interviews, analysis of letters or diaries, among other elements. .

Today this method is known as qualitative. Despite this, Allport also acknowledges the existence of common traits within any culture.

Traits cspurs, central and secondary

The author classifies individual traits into three types: cardinal, central, and secondary. The cardinal traits are those that dominate and shape the behavior of each individual.

This type of trait is what practically defines a person’s life. To exemplify this characteristic, specific historical figures such as Joan of Arc (heroic and self-sacrificing), Mother Teresa (religious service) or the Marquis de Sade (sadism) are generally used.

Allport also ensures that some traits are more tied to the proprium (one’s own self) than others. An example of this are the characteristic traits of individuality that are inferred from the subject’s behavior. They are the cornerstone of personality.

When describing a person, words that refer to central traits such as silly, clever, shy, wild, shy, gossipy, etc. are often used. According to observation…

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *