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. 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) ."
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."
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 College, where one of his older brothers, Floyd Henry Allport, was working on his Ph.D. in Psychology
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.
Next he traveled to Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey (then, Constantinople, Greece), 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.
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 .
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. 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 1937. 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
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.
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 shapes 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.