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Gordon Allport: Historical Figure Of Psychology

Gordon Allport: Historical Figure Of Psychology

Gordon Allport was an influential figure in the shaping of the fields of psychology and social psychology. He had wide-ranging interests in eidetic imagery, religion, social attitudes, rumor and radio, but his most influential study was his study of the Psychology of Personality Traits. Throughout the course of this paper, topics will be his biography, his works such as his psychology of religion and prejudice, and forces that influence our behavior, as well as common traits of behavior. Also included will be a critical evaluation of his theory, and my personal response to his work.

Gordon W. Allport, born November 11, 1987, was an American psychologist whose works are much less often cited than other well known figures (www.newworldencyclopedia.org). A well known work of his was Pattern and Growth in Personality and The Nature of Prejudice. He saw attempts at understanding human learning as inadequate if the study was not completed on the subject in question. He also rejected the Freudian psychoanalytic approach believing that it was relying too much on the effects of the past without giving sufficient attention to issues of the current context. He recognized that universal laws alone could never tell the whole story of the diversity and uniqueness of individual human beings, which is why he always thought and believed to compare individual studies. However, he strove to find universal personality traits that could be combined in various ways to determine the uniqueness of each individual (www.stolaf.edu).

Among his theories of personality, he has the psychology of religion and prejudice. In his book, The Individual and His Religion (1950), Allport illustrated how

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people may use religion in different ways. He makes a distinction between a “mature” religious orientation and an “immature” religious orientation. Those with mature

religious orientation would have an approach to religion that is dynamic, open-minded,

and able to maintain links between inconsistencies. On the other hand, a person with immature religious orientation would be self-serving and generally would embody the negative stereotypes that people have about religion. These dimensions were measured on the Religious Orientation scale of Allport and Ross (www.newworldencyclopedia.org). On the psychology of prejudice, Allport devised a scale which he referred to as Allport’s Scale of Prejudice and Discrimination. This scale is measured from 1-5, which are scale 1. Anitlocution, scale 2. Avoidance, scale 3. Discrimination, scale 4. Physical Attack, and scale 5. Extermination. Scale 1, antilocution, would be a majority group, making fun of a chosen minority group. The things said would be about negative stereotypes, images, which are most often times, seen as harmless by the majority group. This stage is not harmful, but it opens doors for more severe forms of prejudice. Scale 2, avoidance, is when people in a minority group are actively avoided by members of a majority group, such as segregation before the Civil Rights movement, where African Americans and Caucasians could not eat in the same places, or African Americans had to sit at the back of the bus or give their seats up to a Caucasian person. No direct harm may be intended, but harm is done through avoidance and isolation. Scale 3, discrimination, minority groups are discriminated against by denyging them opportunities and services. Behaviors have the specific goal of harming the minority group by preventing them from achieving goals, education, or jobs. Scale 4, physical attack, the majority group vandalizes the

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minority group material possessions. They burn property and carry out violent attacks on individuals or groups. An example of this would be graffiti on someone’s personal belonging or burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan. Scale 5, extermination, where the majority group seeks extermination of the minority group through forms of genocide, much like the Holocaust of Adolf Hitler (www.newworldencyclopedia.org).

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Infusing a humanist element into his work, Allport strove to understand the human self as a person who had certain attitudes, even prejudices about situations and people, based on both their internal character and their previous experiences. Gordon Allport was one of the first psychologists to focus on the study of the personality, and is often referred to as one of the fathers of personality psychology. He realized that there is a fundamental contradiction between the scientific and intuitive views of human beings. He

referred to these as the homothetic and idiographic standpoints. The homothetic tries to arrive at general laws that apply to all mankind, and his procedures are based on accurate measurements of behavior. The idiographic view, in contrast, sees each particular individual as a unique whole and relies largely on intuitive understanding. Allport believed the two should be combined (www.stolaf.edu).

As mentioned earlier, Allport believed the individuals personality traits to be the key to uniqueness and consistency of behavior. He developed three levels of traits, being cardinal, central, and secondary. Cardinal is the trait that dominates and shapes a persons behavior, which are rare, as most people don’t have a single item that separates them from others. An example of this would be traits that dominate an individual’s whole life, often to the point that the person becomes known specifically for these traits, People with

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such personalities often become so known for these traits that their names are often synonymous with these qualities, such as Martin Luther King Jr., for leading a movement of Civil Rights, or Abraham Lincoln with abolishing slavery. . The second trait being the central, 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. These are the general characteristics that form the basic foundations of personality. These central traits, while not as dominating as cardinal traits, are the major characteristics you might use to describe another person. Terms such as intelligent, honest, shy and anxious would be examples of this. The third and last of the three traits, is the secondary. It is the characteristics seen only in certain circumstances. These are the traits that are sometimes related to attitudes or preferences and often appear only in certain situations or under specific circumstances. Examples would be getting anxious when having to face large crowds or impatient while waiting in line. All of these traits must be included in order to provide a complete picture of human complexity. An example of this would be the Id, Ego and Superego (McAdams, 1999).

Along with his views of personality is his idea of self-esteem. For Allport, self-esteem was a central issue for early childhood. It is the sense of pride that comes from recognition that one can do things on one’s own. He hypothesized the idea of internal and external forces that influence and individual’s behavior. These forces were known as Genotypes and Phenotypes. Genotypes being the internal forces that relate to how a person retains information and uses it to interact with the external world. Phenotypes are external forces, which relate to the way an individual accepts his surroundings and how

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others influence their behavior. These forces generate the ways in which we behave and are the groundwork for the creation of individual traits. These would come into play with the nature verses nurture theory. We are taught to behave a certain way, but what we learn in other environments and settings, gives us the life lessons that we need to make wise decisions. While most agree that people can be described based upon their personality traits, theorists continue to debate the number of basic traits that make up human personality. While trait theory has objectivity that some personality theories lack, it also has weaknesses. Some of the most common criticisms of trait theory center on the fact that traits are often poor predictors of behavior. While an individual may score high on assessments of a specific trait, he or she may not always behave that way in every situation. Another problem is that trait theories do not address how or why individual differences in personality develop or emerge (Leahey, 1991).

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Allport viewed psychology as the study of the healthy person. Allport’s approach is that each individual is unique and different, and should be approached as such and studied accordingly. All individuals can be compared, but his study of psychology goes beyond just comparison of individuals, and he emphasizes this in all of his works. Allport’s theories and work did not have a great impact on later theorists or psychologists, other than to inspire them. One key factor with his work is that he had very little research to back up his theories ( Ben-David, 1966).

Throughout the research of Gordon Allport, his views of personality traits are those that are not uncommon to what we have learned and explored in the study of psychology. He mad some very valid points on his psychology of prejudice, and one

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might say the same for his psychology of religion. Further in depth views on his personality trait theory, would only bring about the idea of the views on nature verses nurture. This is said because of the three traits, cardinal, central and secondary. The

cardinal behavior shapes a persons behavior, central is said to be the building blocks for most of our behavior, and secondary are those characteristics that are only seen in certain circumstances, such as how we are in stressful situations. I believe that he laid a foundation for others to build upon, and he has valid points, but with researching



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