Gordon Allport

Gordon William Allport was one of the first psychologists who focused on personality study. He was born in Montezuma in 1897, and attended Harvard, where he majored in psychology (Allport, 1937).  He is a founding figure in social psychology and personality psychology fields. He put emphasis on individual uniqueness and importance in the present context, and did not support strong scientific approaches to identify with personality. He also had an interest in topics such as religion, rumour, traits, radio and prejudice. Personality can be described as characteristics outline of thoughts, behaviours and feelings that render a person unique. Personality is consistence throughout someone’s life, and it is from deep within individuals.

Allport’s view of personality

It is necessary to know how Allport approached the issue of personality in order to understand his theory on traits. According to Allport, psychology was a study of healthy persons. He believed that studying of pathological personality is totally incompatible and different from studying healthy personality (Allport, 1937). In addition to this, Allport believed that individuals are exceptional; every person is different, therefore, should be studied differently for that reason. Although individuals can be compared, his understanding was beyond that of comparison in matters of psychology. This was in contrast to other psychoanalysts who emphasized similarities within individuals. 

Another Allport’s view is on matters of dynamics in individuals. Functional autonomy is the term he referred to this. In his observation, motivation is independent of any experiences that happened in the past. People behaviours are motivated by attitudes, lifestyles and interests. He further emphasizes on close or strong relationship between cognitive processes and motives. Self perception of individuals affects their cognitive style and is not affected by the persons past (Allport, 1961).

Allport’s theory of the trait is highlighted next. He defines a trait as a focalized neuropsychic system that is generalized which has a capacity to initiate equivalent forms of expressive and adaptive behaviour. The traits also have the capacity to make stimuli functionally equivalent. Allport believes that traits exist within a person and that they are real. His argument was that consistent behaviours are made by traits and even if there is no one to see a trait it is still there. In addition, some traits can be stirred up by certain social situations.

A brief summary of the major principles of Allport’s theory of personality

The key principles according to Allport’s trait theory are divided into three categories of traits. The first one is the cardinal trait (Allport, 1937). Allport pointed out that these traits dominate a person’s whole life, and a person is specifically known based on these traits. Such personalities make people known for these traits and eventually their names become synonyms of these traits that they possess. He pointed out that cardinal traits often develop late in life, and they are rare.

The second category of trait by Allport is the secondary trait(Allport, 1955). He argued that this kind of trait mostly relates to preferences or attitudes. They appear on specific circumstances or situations. An example of this category of traits would be to get nervous or anxious as one presents a speech to a group.  One is not always nervous, but when presented with situation such as a speech presentation, the trait appears.

Lastly, we have the central trait category(Allport, 1937). This category includes the general characteristics that are basic foundations of human personality. Central traits are less dominating compared to the cardinal traits. These characteristics or traits are used to describe other people; they include vocabularies such as honest, shy, and intelligent among others.

How the theory address differences in gender and culture

Personality theory addresses differences in gender and culture in the following ways. Women are seen to be nurturing, passive and weal while men are seen to be active, adult-like, critical, and strong (Allport, 1937). Men’s’ psychological needs are viewed to be autonomy, dominance, exhibition, endurance and achievement (Allport, 1941). Women, on the other hand, have psychological needs such as deference, abasement and succorance.  Men are connected to personality traits of precision, while women are associated with personality traits of neuroticism. According to the theory, gender differences stereotype is persistence since people are more adjusted to whatever information that supports gender stereotype. Gender stereotype increases as cognitive skills and age increases. Socializing agents, like the media, also play a role in increasing the stereotype.

Culture could be different with levels of personality. Cultures are treated independently, and they are compared to a variety of personality traits. Culture is formed by unique forces where each personality is considered to be mutually constituted system where culture deals within them. People usually believe that they have control over their behaviours and how they relate with their environment. Most cultures have a concept of fear and anger.  Each culture has an intrinsic location of emotion. Different ideals or categorization of different cultures generate different social norms. The social norms include psychological needs, different locations, and goals which generate morality. However, recent research shows that neuroticism, conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness and extroversion are seen to be universal in all humans (Allport, 1937).

Allport’s explanation of how personality develops

The theory does not provide a comprehensive explanation of how personality develops. Allport’s theory is based on the present. The theory could have argued for the past that is, development; the present, which in this case is the current personality, and then the future, which could be a means or way of change. However, Allport’s personality theory majors on the present alone. It, therefore, does not show how personality develops (Allport, 1937). In other words, it does not explain how the traits come into being and how they progress.            

How the theory address changes in personality over the lifespan

Allport’s theory of personality addresses personality change in an individual lifespan by seven self functions. The seven self functions are sense of body, self identity, self esteem, self extension, self image, rational coping and lastly propriate striving (Allport, 1941). We shall look at each one of these functions.

Sense of the body, which is the first one, develops in the first two years. Everyone feels its warmth and its closeness. The sense of the body has boundaries in the sense that we are aware of injury, pain, movement and touch.  The second function is self identity. This also develops in the first two years. This involves a point in life where we recognize having a future, a present and of course, a past. We view ourselves as separate entities and extremely different from each other and everyone has a name. Self esteem is the third function. This develops between ages of two and four. In this stage, we recognize that we value ourselves and that we are fixed to a continuing development. According to Allport, this is the ‘anal’ stage (Allport, 1961).

Self extension is the fourth function. This happens in the ages between four and six years. At this stage, certain people, events and things, which are around us, are thought to be essential and warm. People often define themselves according to their parents, community, nation, or clan. Others identify themselves in activities and others in places. The fifth function is self image. It develops along the same time as self-extension. ‘Looking glass self’, is how Allport described it (Allport, 1937). In other words, how others see us. In further involves, the impression that we make on others, social status, ‘looks’, and sexual identity.

Self image is the beginning of ideal self, conscience and persona. Rational coping is the sixth function, developed from six years up to twelve years of age. In this stage, there is the development by children to develop abilities in dealing with life challenges. They start doing so in a more rational and effective way. Propriate striving is the last function.  According to allport, this begins from ages of twelve. It is the ability of an individual to be the proprietor of his or her own life.  In other words, one is the owner and operator of his or her own life. Propriate striving is regarded as a stage where a sense of purpose, vocations, plans, callings, ideas, and a sense of direction are realized (Allport, 1955). That is how Allport described the way people develop.

What I think of this theory

The personality or trait theory has various strengths and weaknesses like any other theory, although it seems to be straight forward and logical. One of its strength is its objectiveness. The theory significantly relies on objective and statistical data (Hall & Lindzey, 1970). Personal experience or subjectivity does not contribute anything on the theory. This theory has no biasness. The second strength of the theory is that it is easily understood. It provides a lot of information regarding people’s interaction, personality and beliefs about the world. Proper understanding of personality helps in comparing people in order to know the traits of respectable relationships, or things like a specific careers (Hall & Lindzey, 1970). People can be guided into a better and an agreeable future if we only knew how they associate with the world.

The theory has several criticisms. It is argued that the theory is poor in predicting future behaviours of individuals. The theory fails in addressing individual state, however, it shows how low or high a person falls on certain traits (Hall & Lindzey, 1970). In individual state is how they interact with themselves and others. For example, a person may seem quiet, intellectual and reserved, but when he or she is around friends they do outgoing and fun love.

The theory does not offer any means of change on negative traits, which is another weakness. This is because the theory offers little in terms of trait development. With no understanding of how a trait develops, little can be done to change a negative trait. Many critics say that trait theory application is limited due to lack of a way of change.

Lastly we have a weakness in the way the theory addresses development. Statistics is one of the theory’s strength but can be a criticism. The theory does not provide any explanation on personality or trait development (Allport, 1941). The theory is based on the present. The theory lacks a past, a current and a future means of change to show progression on development.

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