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Gordon Allport

Gordon Allport

Dr. Gordon Allport, a famous American academic psychologist and scientist was born in the city of Montezuma, Indiana. He and his three brothers were raised not only in a protestant community, but with family values that adhered to the protestant work ethic. Gordon Allport obtained his PhD in 1922 from the University of Harvard.

There are many individuals by which Dr. Allport was inspired. In a general sense, most of his educational mentors came from a behavioral school of thought, like E. B. Holt and H. S. Langfeld. Mr. Allport received much of his inspiration from the German psychologists, Hugo Münsterberg at Harvard, William Stern, who invented the I.Q. concep, and Eduard Spranger to name a few. In fact, Mr. Spranger was the source for Allport's study on values testing, where the idea arose that there were "six fundamental types of values or evaluations that man may hold or marke". (Evans p.18) Others such as Carl Rogers, Gardner Murphy, Kurt Lewin and Professor Henry Murray also played a supportive role.


Reunion with Freud

After graduating from college, Mr. Allport visited Vienna; the city where, at the time, the less popular Sigmund Freud had his office. Gordon Allport arranged a meeting with Mr. Freud with no pre-defined agenda other than meeting with an important contributor to the field of Psychology. After sitting in front of the silent Freud, Mr. Allport dug down into his memory for a conversation starter. He recalled seeing a boy around the age of four years old demonstrating some behaviors that where consistent with a dirt phobia. Upon the completion of his recital, Mr. Freud simply repliled "And was that little boy you?" (Evans p.4)

The ratter uneventful reunion did not have a definitive impact at the time, but a few years later and as Mr. Allport continued to re-think about the time when Freud would wrongfully "ascribe my motivation to unconscious motives". (Evans p.5) He realized that not all of the personalities and their motivations are deep rooted to one subconscious.

Views on the categorization of Personalities

For Mr. Gordon Allport, personalities can not be categorized into specific types (e.g. introvert, extravert) as doing so wouldn't express the full nature of the individual. Thus, he prefers to relate human traits to a "pattern of the personality of which it is part". (Evans p.8) In other words, to accurately represent the full spectrum of the individual, one would need to define a wide range of categories, so much so that it would render any list of categories impractical. However, for Mr. Allport, "labelling" individuals by common traits as a temporary measure and as long as we are conscious of doing so, can be a useful "tool of analysis" in order to get a general Idea of one's personality. "One must have some sort of dimension or conceptual schemata in order to get hold of personality" (Evans p.9)

In response to the empirical studies that have been done by Mr. Eysenck's work with regards to the categorizations of personalities. Mr. Gordon Allport agrees that by applying a factor analysis, one can isolate one or two important dimensions for which composes a major part of one's behaviors. However it still doesn't explain the "neuropsychic structure that nature give us" (Evans p.10)

Dr. Allport wasn't a big supporter of the Stimulus-Response (SR) model, where one's inner motivation would provide a consistent response. He's was much more incline towards the Stimulus-Organism-Response model, as he described that "it seems to me that with some nine trillion brain cells, what's going on inside the organism simply cannot be adequately depicted in terms of SR." (Evans p.13) In addition, he believed that our behavior or more precisely what motivates are behaviour "O" is proactive as opposed to reactive.

Dr. Gordon Allport's contribution to personality psychology

Among many contributions, Dr. Gordon Allport, is well-known for the work he has done in developing measurements for personality traits. In fact, this was the theme of his PhD thesis as well as the object of his first publication "Personality Traits: Their Classification and Measurements" in 1921 and co-authored with Floyd Henry Allport, his older brother.

Common Traits are the abstract traits that are used to measure one's personality or a portion thereof.

Individual Traits later renamed "dispositions" by Dr. Allport as people often confused or misrepresented is distinction by only using the word "trait". Thus personal dispositions are individual and unique traits which give us insight into how an individual is organized, the "morphogenic study of the individual". (Evans p.24) In an earlier writing, Gordon Allport used the word "idiographic" but he got tired of seeing the word misspelled and because of that, he used the word "morphogenic" to describe the same concept of individual and unique.

Cardinal traits are not present in all of us. These traits are within individuals and are so integrated that they have one general focus that guides their life's motivations.

Central traits are predominant traits within an individual; usually there are six to eight foci of development.

Secondary traits reflect more "situational or opportunistic expressions" (Evans p.26) and aren't as incorporated within one's personality as the others.

Dr. Allport's postulated traits categories aren't meant to be a categorization of personalities as the "trait psychologist" label would implicitly assume; but they are indicative of a degree and level of integration of the "trait" within a unique individual of which his personality is composed. In addition, traits have an evolutionary nature and aren't innate as per the traits theorist beliefs. For these important misconceptions, Dr. Gordon Allport stated that " put a label of 'trait psychology on my work since then is to misrepresent it." He even went a step further as reported by Richard Evans "Gordon Allport said to me that he thinks of himself as being an anti-trait theorist..." (Evans p.133).

In essence, the trait theory is about understanding individual personalities by gaining insight into our traits system with the objective of not only understanding what motivates our behaviors but to also gain the ability to predict our response to a stimulus.

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