Who is Gordon Allport, the Most Important Name of Personality Psychology?

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Gordon Willard Allport, one of the most important 20th century psychologists, was born in Montezuma, Indiana, USA on November 11, 1897, the youngest of four sons of John Edwards and Nellie Edith Allport.

Since his father was a town doctor, Allport was interested in the medical profession in his early childhood. He and his siblings helped their father as clinical assistants. “Maintaining the office, washing bottles and taking care of patients were important aspects of my early education,” Allport said, adding that this experience later became an integral part of his childhood, and that he had a studious but shy childhood. His mother, a former teacher, placed great importance on the religious and intellectual development of her children. Allport saw his mother, who instilled in him the importance of education and work ethic, as a true educator.

After graduating from high school in 1915, Allport was accepted as a scholarship student at Harvard University, where his older brother Floyd Allport was also studying. However, in the same year, he interrupted his education due to his military service in World War I. Nevertheless, Allport received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and economics in 1919. After his graduation, he went to Istanbul and taught English and sociology at Robert College for a year.

Influenced by his older brother Floyd Allport, regarded as the father of Experimental Social Psychology, and Hugo Munsterberg, who worked in experimental psychology, Allport returned to Harvard University on a fellowship for a doctorate in psychology. In 1921, he and Floyd Alport co-authored Personality Traits: Their Classification and Measurement, co-authored with Floyd Alport, is published. In 1922, Allport, who completed his doctorate in psychology at Harvard University, felt that the field of social psychology, in which his older brother Floyd Allport worked, was far away from him, and preferred to deal with personality psychology, which was not as fashionable as social psychology in those days.

Gordon Allport’s doctoral dissertation, An Experimental Study of the Traits of Personality, was the first study on personality traits in the USA. After his doctorate, Allport was awarded the Sheldon Travel Fellowship in 1922 and spent the first year of his fellowship, which he described as his second intellectual start, at the Gestalt School in Berlin and Hamburg, and the second year at Cambridge University in England, studying psychology. While in Germany, he had the opportunity to study the views of important psychologists such as Wilhelm Windelband, William Stern and Eduard Spranger.

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Sigmund Freud


During these years, Allport traveled from Germany to Vienna and had a meeting with Freud. During this meeting, which took place at Freud’s home, an incident that Allport shared with Freud is one of the most well-known anecdotes in the history of psychology. Allport gave Freud the example of a four-year-old boy traveling with his mother on a tram and not wanting to sit next to a dirty man, and asked him to explain the connection between the behavior of the mother, who has a neat and dominant personality, and the child’s dirt phobia. Freud asks Allport, “Were you that little boy?” Allport saw this as an attempt by Freud to open an avenue of observation for the analysis of the unconscious memory of his own childhood, and a reminder that psychoanalysis tends to dig deep and uncover.

In 1924, when he was appointed as a lecturer in Social Sciences at Harvard, he began to give lectures and seminars on personality psychology and the psychological and social effects of personality. His lectures on Psychological and Social Aspects were among the first theories on personality psychology.

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At Harvard

In 1925, Gordon Allport married Ada Lufkin Gould, a psychologist like himself. They had their only child, Robert, who later became a pediatrician. He taught at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire for four years. Allport then returned to Harvard, where he would remain until the end of his academic career, becoming an associate professor in 1937 and a full professor in 1942.

In addition to his academic work, he also served as chairman of many scientific committees and associations. During World War II, he became the chairman of the Committee on Psychology, which dealt with European refugee scientists. He was also elected president of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Psychological Research on Social Issues. In 1963, he received many awards for his work in the field of psychology, including the Gold Medal from the American Psychological Foundation and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association in 1964.

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Gordon Allport is one of the leading personality theorists of the twentieth century. His work is seen as a synthesis of individual personality traits and William James’ traditional understanding of psychology. Although Allport is an American, we can say that the fact that he studied psychology in Europe has caused him to carry the traces of both American and European psychologists in his thoughts. Nevertheless, he is not an imitator but a synthesizer.

First of all, Allport, who believed that the individual was unique and unparalleled, opposed the behavioral and psychoanalytic theories of psychology as a humanist psychologist. Rejecting psychoanalysis as well as behaviorism, which emphasized only the study of observable behaviors, Allport put forward his own unique theory of personality instead. Allport argues that each individual possesses hundreds of personality traits, generally organized into three levels. However, Allport is a trait theorist who believes that each individual is dominated by a few specific traits. He calls these traits the central traits of the individual. Although these central traits play a part in underpinning the personality, at times one of them emerges as more dominant. Allport calls this dominant trait the cardinal trait. The remaining personality traits constitute secondary traits.

Both central personality traits and core personality traits are influenced by environmental factors. During a child’s development, certain behaviors and interactions become part of his or her individual personality. As the individual grows, these personality traits become functionally autonomous. Allport also identified the existence of genotypes and phenotypes, which are internal and external states that motivate an individual’s behavior. Allport continued his work in the field of personality psychology by examining motivation and the nature of an individual’s intentions and desires. Accordingly, he distinguishes between motive and drive and investigates the conditions that affect them.

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Allport’s interest in religion began with his work Personality: A Psychological Interpretation, published in 1937. There he stated that religion is an important part of personality. Allport made various speeches to emphasize that religion, which constitutes an indispensable component of personality, should not be neglected and that religion cannot be ignored for psychology and personality studies. These speeches constitute his famous work The Individual and His Religion.

In The Individual and His Religion, Allport begins his examination of religiosity with childhood and continues with adolescence and youth. According to him, childhood religiosity is based on imitation, accepted without questioning and formed according to the anthropomorphist (attribution of human qualities to another being) mentality of the child who cannot think abstractly. One of Allport’s most important findings is that some people cannot get rid of the concrete thinking stage and remain based on imitation for a lifetime and continue their religiosity without being able to comprehend abstract values sufficiently.

Allport states that, depending on the general characteristics of adolescence, the individual reaches a unique form of religiosity after questioning and criticizing religious values. According to him, in accordance with the general idea, individuals in their twenties do not show much interest in religion in general, although they do not completely break away from religion and live the essential values of religion such as prayer. Allport’s remarkable and distinctive explanations begin after this. Allport, who works on various fields of psychology, is interested in personality and religious life. In his studies, he evaluates personality in two areas as mature and immature, and he classifies religiosity, which he sees as an inseparable part of personality, in the same way. According to Allport, in order to rise from immature religiosity to mature religiosity, a person must detach himself from the motives of immature religiosity and act with motives directed towards the future, the sublime, inner and spiritual values. This is normally realized through functional independence in religious life as in other areas of personality. In sum, for Allport, religion is of great importance for the self-development of the individual.

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In his influential 1954 book The Nature of Prejudice, Allport points out that prejudice is the tendency to blend everything that contains similar intellectual and emotional flavor to the maximum extent possible. So once someone is classified as part of a nation, there is a tendency to believe that he or she has similar characteristics to others in the group. The way one feels about that group distorts the way one feels about that individuality.

In The Nature of Prejudice, he used both cognitive and psychological approaches. The work shows the prejudice that arises from the erroneous generalization made in the categorization of populous groups in a society. Allport states that a stereotype is an exaggerated belief associated with a category. Thus, a stereotype contains elements that are fundamentally false and, not surprisingly, self-contradictory.

In Becoming: Basic Considerations for a Psychology of Personality, published in 1955, Allport emphasized the importance of the self and the uniqueness of the adult personality. Allport also argued that the self is an organization that helps to identify each individual and is responsible for the integrity of the personality.

His Pattern and Growth in Personality, translated into Turkish as From Being to Becoming, is seen as a revision of his first book Personality: A Psychological Interpretation. However, Allport believed that this book was full of new concepts. In From Being to Becoming, Allport emphasizes cultural factors and cognitive processes that influence personality and explains the problem of finding the balance between uniform factors and individual biological factors.

Allport’s last book, Letters from Jenny, was published in 1965. It consists of 300 separate letters he received over twelve years from a woman who was 58 years old at the time of his first correspondence. Retiring in 1964, Allport died of lung cancer on October 9, 1967.

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