Biography of Gordon Allport
- born in Indiana in 1897, the youngest of four brothers, very shy and studious, teased a lot by other students at his school and lived an isolated childhood, father was a country doctor, Allport grew up with his father's patients, nurses, and doctor items around the house.When he was 22, Allport traveled to Vienna and arranged a meeting with Freud. Freud simply sat there and waited for Allport to say something, Allport stated an observation: a little boy on the bus was upset at having to sit where a dirty old man had previously sat. Gordon thought this was something that the boy had learned from his mother, Freud stated that the little boy was Allport. Allport wasn't expecting to be analyzed by Freud, this experience made him realize that deep psychology sometimes digs too deeply. Behaviorism, on the other hand, often doesn't dig deeply enough. He received his doctorate in 1922 from Harvard. He examined issues such as prejudice and developed personality traits and tests. Died in Cambridge, MA in 1967.
Theory of Allport
- Allport disagreed with the idea that one thing that motivates human beings was the tendency to satisfy biological survival needs.
- he referred to the satisfaction of these biological needs as Opportunistic functioning. He noted that opportunistic functioning can be characterized as reactive, past-oriented, and, of course, biological. This is unimportant for understanding human behavior. Most human behavior is motivated by something really different: propriate functioning.
Propriate functioning (Allport)
-Most of what we do in life is a matter of being who we are! Propriate functioning can be characterized as proactive, future-oriented, and psychological.
- comes from the word proprium, which is Allport's name for that essential concept, the self. For better or worse, the word proprium never caught on. Remember the last time you did something to express your self, the last time you told yourself, "that's really me!" Doing things in keeping with what you really are, that's propriate functioning.
The proprium (Allport)
Putting so much emphasis on the self or proprium, Allport defined it from two directions, phenomenologically and functionally.
Phenomenological perspective of defining proprium (Allport)
- the self as experienced. the self is composed of the aspects of your experiences that you see first as most essential to you, most central to you, most precious (or sometimes warm) to you
Functional perspective of defining proprium (Allport)
-it became a developmental theory all by itself. The self has seven functions, which tend to arise at certain times of one's life: 1. Sense of body 2. Self-identity 3. Self-esteem 4. Self-extension 5. Self-image 6. Rational coping 7. Propriate striving
Allport's function of self (proprium): 1) Sense of body
-develops in the first two years of life. We have one, we feel its closeness, its warmth. It has boundaries that pain and injury, touch and movement, make us aware of. Allport had a favorite demonstration of this aspect of self: Imagine spitting saliva into a cup -- and then drinking it down! What's the problem? It's the same stuff you swallow all day long! But, of course, it has gone out from your bodily self and become, thereby, foreign to you.
Allport's function of self (proprium): 2) Self-identity
-also develops in the first two years. There comes a point were we recognize ourselves as continuing, as having a past, present, and future. We see ourselves as individual entities, separate and different from others. We even have a name! Will you be the same person when you wake up tomorrow? Of course -- we take that continuity for granted.
Allport's function of self (proprium): 3) Self-esteem
-develops between two and four years old. There also comes a time when we recognize that we have value, to others and to ourselves. This is especially tied to a continuing development of our competencies. This, for Allport, is what the "anal" stage is really all about!
Allport's function of self (proprium): 4) Self-extension
-develops between four and six. Certain things, people, and events around us also come to be thought of as central and warm, essential to my existence. "My" is very close to "me!" Some people define themselves in terms of their parents, spouse, or children, their clan, gang, community, college, or nation. Some find their identity in activities: I'm a psychologist, a student, a bricklayer. Some find identity in a place: my house, my hometown. When my child does something wrong, why do I feel guilty? If someone scratches my car, why do I feel like they just punches me?
Allport's function of self (proprium): 5) Self-image
-also develops between four and six. This is the "looking-glass self," the me as others see me. This is the impression I make on others, my "look," my social esteem or status, including my sexual identity. It is the beginning of what others call conscience, ideal self, and persona.
Allport's function of self (proprium): 6) Rational coping
- is learned predominantly in the years from six till twelve. The child begins to develop his or her abilities to deal with life's problems rationally and effectively. This is analogous to Erikson's "industry."
Allport's function of self (proprium): 7) Propriate striving
-doesn't usually begin till after twelve years old. This is my self as goals, ideal, plans, vocations, callings, a sense of direction, a sense of purpose. The culmination of propriate striving, according to Allport, is the ability to say that I am the proprietor of my life -- i.e. the owner and operator!
Is Allport's theory a stage theory like Freud's?
One can't help but notice the time periods Allport uses -- they are very close to the time periods of Freud's stages! But please understand that Allport's scheme is not a stage theory -- just a description of the usual way people develop.)
-Now, as the proprium is developing in this way, we are also developing personal traits, or personal dispositions. Allport originally used the word traits, but found that so many people assumed he meant traits as perceived by someone looking at another person or measured by personality tests, rather than as unique, individual characteristics within a person, that he changed it to dispositions.
Definition of disposition (Allport)
-A personal disposition is defined as "a generalized neuropsychic structure (peculiar to the individual), with the capacity to render many stimuli functionally equivalent, and to initiate and guide consistent (equivalent) forms of adaptive and stylistic behavior."
What does a personal disposition produce?
-A personal disposition produces equivalences in function and meaning between various perceptions, beliefs, feelings, and actions that are not necessarily equivalent in the natural world, or in anyone else's mind. A person with the personal disposition "fear of communism" may equate Russians, liberals, professors, strikers, social activists, environmentalists, feminists, and so on. He may lump them all together and respond to any of them with a set of behaviors that express his fear: making speeches, writing letters, voting, arming himself, getting angry, etc. Another way to put it is to say that dispositions are concrete, easily recognized, consistencies in our behaviors.
Idiographic methods (Allport)
-Allport believes that traits are essentially unique to each individual: One person's "fear of communism" isn't the same as another's. And you can't really expect that knowledge of other people is going to help you understand any one particular person. For this reason, Allport strongly pushed what he called idiographic methods -- methods that focused on studying one person at a time, such as interviews, observation, analysis of letters or diaries, and so on. These are nowadays generally referred to as qualitative methods.
Common traits in any particular culture (Allport)
-within any particular culture, there are common traits or dispositions, ones that are a part of that culture, that everyone in that culture recognizes and names. In our culture, we commonly differentiate between introverts and extraverts or liberals and conservatives, and we all know (roughly) what we mean. But another culture may not recognize these. What, for example, would liberal and conservative mean in the middle ages?
Central traits (Allport)
-Allport recognizes that some traits are more closely tied to the proprium (one's self) than others. Central traits are the building blocks of your personality. When you describe someone, you are likely to use words that refer to these central traits: smart, dumb, wild, shy, sneaky, dopey, grumpy.... He noted that most people have somewhere between five and ten of these.
Secondary traits (Allport)
-There are also secondary traits, ones that aren't quite so obvious, or so general, or so consistent. Preferences, attitudes, situational traits are all secondary. For example, "he gets angry when you try to tickle him," "she has some very unusual sexual preferences," and "you can't take him to restaurants."
Cardinal traits (Allport)
-These are the traits that some people have which practically define their life. Someone who spends their life seeking fame, or fortune, or sex is such a person. Often we use specific historical people to name these cardinal traits: Scrooge (greed), Joan of Arc (heroic self-sacrifice), Mother Teresa (religious service), Marquis de Sade (sadism), Machiavelli (political ruthlessness), and so on. Relatively few people develop a cardinal trait. If they do, it tends to be late in life.
Functional autonomy (Allport)
-Allport didn't believe in looking too much into a person's past in order to understand his present. This belief is most strongly evident in the concept of functional autonomy: Your motives today are independent (autonomous) of their origins. It doesn't matter, for example, why you wanted to become a doctor, or why you developed a taste for olives or for kinky sex, the fact is that this is the way you are now!
Functional autonomy - 1) perseverative functional autonomy (Allport)
-This refers essentially to habits -- behaviors that no longer serve their original purpose, but still continue. You may have started smoking as a symbol of adolescent rebellion, for example, but now you smoke because you can't quit! Social rituals such as saying "bless you" when someone sneezes had a reason once upon a time (during the plague, a sneeze was a far more serious symptom than it is today!), but now continues because it is seen as polite.
Functional autonomy - 2) propriate functional autonomy (Allport)
-Propriate functional autonomy is something a bit more self-directed than habits. Values are the usual example. Perhaps you were punished for being selfish when you were a child. That doesn't in any way detract from your well-known generosity today -- it has become your value! Perhaps you can see how the idea of functional autonomy may have derived from Allport's frustration with Freud (or the behaviorists). Of course, that hardly means that it's only a defensive belief on Allport's part!
Categorization of values in propriate functional autonomy (Autonomy)
-1. the theoretical -- a scientist, for example, values truth; 2. the economic -- a businessperson may value usefulness; 3. the aesthetic -- an artist naturally values beauty; 4. the social -- a nurse may have a strong love of people; 5. the political -- a politician may value power; 6. the religious -- a monk or nun probably values unity; EXTRA: Most of us, of course, have several of these values at more moderate levels, plus we may value one or two of these quite negatively.
Allport is one of those theorists who was so right about so many things that his ideas have simply passed on into the spirit of the times. His theory is one of the first humanistic theories, and would influence many others, including Kelly, Maslow, and Rogers.