Gordon Allport was an American psychologist who lived from 1897 to 1967. He is sometimes called The Father of Personality Theory.
Allport believed that psychoanalysis looked at behaviour too deeply, whilst behaviourism was too mechanical. So he developed his own model for human development. This was wide ranging, but some elements have links to the strengths approach.
The three most obvious are his work on Personal Traits, the ‘Proprium’ and also Personal Values.
Personal Traits (Personal Dispositions)
Gordon originally used the word traits, but later changed it to dispositions. Individual to each person, these were consistent behaviours they demonstrated in situations.
* Cardinal Traits.
This is the core trait that dominates an individual’s entire life. They become totally obsessed by this one theme and it governs all their actions. Allport believed that only a few people develop such Cardinal Traits. Some people do so early, but for others this comes later in life.
* Central Traits.
These are common human traits, but each person will express these in their own way. Allport saw these as ‘the building blocks that shape our personality’. A person’s central traits can sometimes be denoted by the way others describe them. For example, they are ‘kind’, ‘honest’, ‘clever’, ‘creative’ or whatever.
* Secondary Traits.
These are characteristics only seen in certain circumstances. For example, feeling nervous in big groups, performing brilliantly or falling flat in specific situations. Allport believed these Secondary Traits needed to be included in order to cover all aspects of human complexity.
Allport used this word to describe the concept of self. He saw a person developing to the point where they could express themselves fully. They would then enter the state of propriate functioning and be able to say:
“This is me. This is what I was meant to do and be.”
The person eventually achieves a state of maturity. They have a sense of purpose and feel on the right track towards fulfilling their potential.
Allport was also fascinated by the values that drove people. He believed these could strongly influence their life philosophy, their Proprium and the way they expressed their traits.
His 1960 book A Study of Values, included a categorisation and test for values. He based much of his approach to values on the work of Eduard Spranger.
A German philosopher and psychologist, Spranger published his book Types Of Men in 1918. He listed six values that drove people and these would affect the routes they took in their work.
Allport built on these descriptions and, in some cases, added his own views. The six types were:
* The Theoretical Person.
They focus on cognitive abilities to discover, understand and systematise the truth.
* The Utilitarian Person.
(Allport’s term was ‘Economic Person’.)
They focus on getting a good return on investment in everything they do.
* The Aesthetic Person.
They focus on form, harmony, symmetry and what can be learned from it.
* The Social Person.
They focus on helping others to excel and fulfil their potential.
* The Individualistic Person.
(Allport’s term was ‘Political Person’.)
They focus on position, status and power.
* The Traditional Person.
(Allport’s term was ‘Religious Person’.)
They focus on finding and sometimes proclaiming a system for living. They also look for a sense of harmony and unity.
Gordon Allport's ideas influenced many people. These included Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and others who founded Humanistic Psychology.
He did pioneering work on Personal Traits, the Proprium and Personal Values. Whilst given different names by other practitioners, some of these themes appeared later in aspects of the strengths approach.
* Gordon Allport – An Overview.
Here is an excellent overview of Gordon’s work from George Boeree.