Gordon Allport

Gordon Allport

Gordon Allport, who is famously known as the Founding Father of Personality Psychology, was born on November 11, 1897 in Montezuma, Indiana. Gordon Allport had one brother named Floyd Henry Allport who was seven years older than him, Gordon felt inferior to his brother hence he always doubted himself (Nicholson, 2003). His mother, Nellie Edith Wise, was a teacher and his father, John Edwards Allport, was a doctor who often treated patients at their house. Both of Gordon Allport’s parents encouraged him to get an education and work hard and that is exactly what Allport did throughout his life. At six years old, Gordon Allport moved to Cleveland, Ohio which is where he was raised. At fifteen years old, Gordon Allport had started his own printing business. In 1915, Gordon Allport graduated from Glenville High School with a full scholarship to Harvard University. Allport earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and economics at Harvard. Allport went to Istanbul, Turkey to teach philosophy and economics and that only lasted a year because he decided to return to school in order to earn a PhD in psychology. After attending college again for several years, he finally earned his PhD in psychology in 1922 (Cherry, 2018). Allport focused his studies on personality and social psychology (Evans, 1981). Allport taught personality and social psychology at Harvard University for about two years, then taught at Dartmouth College for a couple of years and then returned back to Harvard University to teach. During his time teaching, Gordon Allport married Ada Lufkin Gould who was also a psychologist and had one child with her named Robert Bradlee Allport. Throughout his life, Gordon Allport focused on personality psychology, he contributed a lot to psychology, especially personality psychology. Gordon Allport developed multiple traits and theories about human behavior, motives, thoughts and human personality in general which earned him his name “the Founding Father of Personality Psychology” (Cherry, 2018). In addition, Gordon Allport wrote multiple books which earned him many awards, including but not limited to the Gold Medal Award which was given to him by the American Psychological Foundation and earned the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award given to him by the American Psychological Association (“Gordon Allport (1897 – 1967)”, 2018). Sadly, Gordon Allport passed away on October 9, 1967 (at the age of 69 years old) in Cambridge, Massachusetts due to lung cancer (Cherry, 2018). Although Gordon Allport is no longer alive, he definitely left his mark in this planet and continues to teach many people, including myself, about personality and social psychology.
As mentioned before, Gordon Allport mainly focused on personality and social psychology. Gordon Allport believed that human personality is made up of the traits we have. He also believed that every person is unique and has their own personality traits and he had great interest in analyzing our personality, behavior, thoughts and mind. It all started when Allport traveled to Vienna, Austria to meet Sigmund Freud (who is the founder of psychoanalysis). In order to break the ice, Allport told Sigmund Freud a little story about a little boy he saw on the train. He told him that the boy was extremely cautious about where he sat because he did not want to sit somewhere dirty. Sigmund Freud asked Allport if he was talking about himself because Freud believed Allport was expressing his unconscious self through the boy in the story which Allport claimed to be false. This led to Allport realizing that psychoanalysis focused on deep meaning and Allport wanted to focus on the outer – level of personality . Allport believed that psychoanalysis went too deep into personality and behaviorism did not go deep enough so he created his own approach to personality which aimed to highlight personality traits in present time rather than the past and see how they affect our behavior, motives, thoughts, etc. Allport believed in understanding the conscious mind rather than the unconscious mind like Sigmund Freud (Farooqi, 1970). Due to his approach, Allport created a concept he called Functional Autonomy. Functional Autonomy is the idea that our behavior and motives as adults are not connected to our prior experiences as children (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2016). To clarify, he believes our motives as children are not the same as our motives as adults, we may do things for different reasons as adults than when we were children. In addition, Gordon Allport created his own definition of personality which was “‘the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his characteristic behavior and thought'” (McLeod, 1970). Allport’s unique perspective on personality has made it easier to understand different personality types, different people, motives and behaviors.
Gordon Allport contributed a lot to psychology, especially to personality psychology. He basically created personality psychology, Gordon Allport created many theories to understand each person’s unique persona. Although he has contributed plenty to psychology, one of Allport’s biggest contributions is the trait theory of personality he created, he is best known for his trait theory. Gordon Allport found more than 4,000 adjectives to describe personality and divided these adjectives into a hierarchy; cardinal traits, central traits, and secondary traits. According to Allport, the first set of traits is the cardinal traits. Cardinal traits are the main traits of a person and best describes the person and their life. These are the traits others use to describe a specific person, a person becomes known for having these traits and these traits affect human behavior and lives. A person’s cardinal traits can be kind, selfish, optimistic, rude, etc. For example, an optimistic person tends to look at problems in a positive way, they tell themselves they can and will solve this problem, unlike a pessimistic person who will look at problems in life and give up and not even try to solve their problems, that is how cardinal traits affect a person’s life. The next level in the hierarchy is central traits. Central traits are traits that make up a persons personality and also shape behavior. For example, shyness is a central trait which often leads to people being quiet. The last trait is secondary traits. Secondary traits are traits that only appear in certain situations. For example, a calm, easy going person may become short – tempered when stressed. This is one of the easiest ways to classify human personality traits which has become one of Allport’s biggest contributions to psychology (“Trait Theory of Personality”, 2017).
Gordon Allport was very important to personality psychology and over the years, his theories have become very well known. Allport was one of the first psychologists to focus on personality, hence he is known as one of the founding fathers of personality psychology. One cannot hear the words personality psychology without thinking of Gordon Allport. While working at Harvard, Gordon Allport taught one of the first personality psychology classes which also affected his students, his students were given an early insight on personality due to Gordon Allport (Cherry, 2018). Gordon Allport is so significant to psychology, personality psychology may have never existed if it wasn’t for him. Allport wrote a plethora of books which continue to be read today so even though he has passed away, he still continues to teach people about his views. Gordon Allport’s theories and contributions are taught in psychology classes all around the world which truly shows how important and significant Allport’s views on psychology really are.
Gordon Allport created many theories to understand personality. As mentioned earlier, one of Gordon Allport’s most famous theories is his trait theory, however, he has many other key theories that are just as important but may not be as popular. Gordon Allport also hypothesized the idea of genotypes and phenotypes. Genotypes are internal forces that determine how a person stores information and how they use that information to interact with other people. Phenotypes are external forces that determine one’s behavior and controls how one reacts to the people and environment surrounding them. Gordon Allport believed genotypes and phenotypes helped shape our behavior and our personality traits (“Gordon Allport: Biography”, n.d.).
Allport was also associated with social psychology. Another less known hypothesis Allport created is the Intergroup Contact Theory (also called the Contact Hypothesis). This theory stated that interaction between members of different groups can reduce racism and prejudice. Allport believed that if groups interacted more often they would really get to know and understand each other which would lead to less judgment and racism and more unity among the groups (Everett, n. d.).
In conclusion, Gordon Allport contributed many theories to both personality psychology and social psychology which has helped us understand each other and how the human mind works. Overall, it was very interesting to learn about Allport and his theories


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