Gordon allport he is widely known in the field of psychology, primarily for being one of the pioneers and founders of personality theory.
Not content with the behaviorist vision of American psychology or European psychoanalysis, he chose to combine the best of both perspectives, considering that it is necessary to start from an empirical point of view not without interpreting the results of the investigations. His main theory, which highlights how he categorizes traits based on their weight in the person, is perhaps the best known of his intellectual heritage.
Let’s take a closer look at the life of this American psychologist through this brief biography of Gordon Allport.
Gordon Allport biography
Allport has had an active professional life, working for prestigious Harvard University, in addition to making overseas visits and making great contributions to psychology.
Early years and training
Gordon Willard Allport was born in Montezuma, Indiana, United States on November 11, 1897, Although his family had to move after a few years to move to the state of Ohio. He was the younger brother of a family of four, his parents were a schoolteacher and doctor, who had opened his own home clinic.
Through his father’s work, Gordon Allport had contact with nurses and patients in his clinic, as well as useful information about medicine, although it was never his career that he decided to study. As for his mother, she marked him by offering him her marked Protestant values, which influenced Allport’s life through her vision of the good ethics that a psychologist must follow.
In his youth, the young Allport was a person who, although hardworking, is characterized by great reserve and isolation. During his teenage years, he took charge of his own printing press and collaborated as an editor in his high school newspaper. Due to his exceptional stubbornness in his studies, Allport finished second in his class in 1915, winning a scholarship to attend Harvard University. At this same university was his older brother, Floyd Henry, who later became a famous social psychologist. Gordon Allport received his doctorate in psychology from Harvard.
However, young Gordon Allport did not study psychology from the start, opting for studies in philosophy and economics, Completing them in 1919. He later had the opportunity to leave the United States to go to Istanbul, Turkey, to teach at the Robert College of Races from which he graduated.
His first publication, co-authored with his brother, Personality Traits: Their Classification and Measurements was published in 1921, making him and having significant recognition in the field of personality psychology still being a doctoral student. . later, returned to Harvard for a doctorate in psychology in 1922 under the supervision of Hugo Münsterberg.
After obtaining his doctorate, Allport had the opportunity to visit Austria in 1922. While in Bavaria, he traveled to Vienna to visit one of the most famous psychologists in history: Sigmund Freud. During the consultation with the psychoanalyst, Allport, worried about being in front of one of the older ones, began to tell him a case. with whom he had found himself traveling by train.
Sitting in the vehicle, he had encountered a boy who was going with his mother, who was afraid of getting dirty, refusing to sit where he had previously made him a seemingly untidy man. Based on this fact, Allport told Freud that he hypothesized that the child acquired this phobia from his mother, who had a domineering appearance.
After hearing the case, Freud looked at Allport thoughtfully, then asked “what was that boy you?”
Professional life and past years
Gordon Allport began working as a professor at the same university where he obtained his doctorate in 1924, although he later went to work in Dartmouth, New Hampshire. However, in 1930 he returned to his soul to watch where he would stay for the rest of his academic life. be there he exerted a great influence on some of his students, such as Stanley Milgram, Jerome Bruner or Leo Postman.
During the years he worked at Harvard University, he became a prominent and influential member of the institution, working there until 1967. In 1931 he served on the committee to inaugurate the department of sociology of this university.
In 1939 he had the honor of being elected president of the American Psychological Association (APA), in addition to being also published by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. In the late 1940s, he became one of the editors of the Journal of Anomalous and Social Psychology.
Gordon Allport died while still a professor at Harvard on October 9, 1967, at the age of 69.
Vision on psychology
Following a contact with Sigmund Freud, Gordon Allport was able to see how the Austrian psychoanalyst transformed a simple anecdote seen in a daily place into an analysis in search of a deep trauma or repression in the memory of the American. . This visit to Vienna was an important event in the life of Allport, because it was a raison d’être criticism with psychoanalysis, but also with behaviorism proposed by other great psychologists like Burrhus Frederic Skinner.
As for psychoanalysis, Allport considered that it tended to delve too deeply into the events of worldly life, without at least necessarily being linked to the life of the patient.
Unlike behaviorism, which was the dominant opinion in the United States, Allport believed that it focused too much on the results without contextualizing them, without giving any role to the unconscious processes that might explain the behavior.
Based on this, Allport did not completely reject both views, but opted for an eclectic perspective combining what they thought best offered psychoanalysis and behaviorism.
Personality Trait Theory
One of Gordon Allport’s major contributions to the field of psychology is his study of personality and the explanations behind it. This theory was developed by consulting the English dictionary, noting each word referring to a personality trait. This laborious task ended with the discovery of approximately 4,500 words related to the personality, Categorization into three types of traits:
1. Cardinal characteristics
The cardinal traits form the core of the person, affecting and defining for the most part their vast repertoire of behaviors. Therefore, they are the ones who carry the most weight in their personality.
fundamentally they would be defined in terms of obsessions or passions that the person wants to do, such as gaining fame, being very rich, having a large family.
2. Central features
The central features are sets of characteristics that influence a person’s behavior in different contexts. Among them there would be honesty, kindness, sociability, among others.
3. Secondary characters
Secondary traits would not be part of the general personality of the individualBut they can appear in certain very specific contexts, such as a rupture or a docking.
This whole set of factors in Allport’s theory attempts to understand personality as something complex, with each person shaped by a series of unique traits.
- Allport, GW (1961). Growth of role models and personality. New York: Holt.
- Bermúdez, J. (1996). The personal theory of GW Allport. In Bermúdez, J. (Ed.) Psychology of the personality. Madrid: UNED.
- Hernangómez, L. and Fernández, C. (2012). Personality and differential psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 07. CEDE: Madrid.