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Gordon Allport: Motivation and Personality
1. Describe the life of Allport.
2. Review the nature of personality.
3. Outline Allports personality traits.
4. Discuss and review motivation, according to Allport.
5. Analyze personality development.
6. Evaluate assessment of Allports theory.
7. Interpret research with Allports theories.
8. Reflect on Allports theory.
I. Gordon Allport
A. The Life of Allport (1897 1967)
1. Gordon Allport reports being isolated from children and did not fit in with his older three brothers as a child. However, little more is revealed by him about his childhood besides having a father who was a physician and a mother who had rigid spiritual beliefs. Allport was later to believe that childhood events do not affect normally healthy adults. Gordon Allport felt inferior to others on into adulthood, even when he became a noted psychologist. Allport attended Harvard and was active as a volunteer for a boys club, a group of factory workers, and a contingent of foreign students.
2. Allport met Freud in Vienna while visiting one of his brothers. Freud took the meeting as an opportunity to offer Allport a quick analysis for Allport. Allport resented this intrusion by Freud and later believed that psychoanalysis probed too deeply into the unconscious. Allports theory would reflect this opinion; he believed we should pay more attention to conscious or visible motivations.
3. Allport completed his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1922 and studied further in Germany and England. He spent forty years teaching at Harvard and received many distinguished honors for his contributions to the field of psychology.
B. The Nature of Personality
1. Allport gave this definition of personality: Personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determinecharacteristic behavior and thought, according to the text. Allport believed that heredity provides the personality with physique, intelligence and temperament; which can be shaped, expanded, or limited by the conditions of our environment. Our genetic endowment then works with our social environment, where no two people are exactly alike. Therefore, Allport concluded that to study personality, psychology must deal with the individual. Allport found no continuum of personality between childhood and adulthood, so the adult personality is not restrained by childhood experiences.
C. Personality Traits
1. According to Allport, traits are consistent, enduring ways of reacting to our environment. Traits are real and exist within ourselves. Traits determine or cause behavior and can be demonstrated empirically. Traits are interrelated, and may overlap, even though they represent different characteristics. Traits can also vary by the situation. Allport was to re-label traits as personal dispositions in three categories. A cardinal trait was described by Allport as a ruling passion. Everyone may possess central traits, such as aggressiveness, self-pity, and cynicism. The least influential individual traits are secondary traits, such as preferences for a particular food or for certain kinds of music.
2. Habits have a more limited impact than traits and personal dispositions because they are relatively inflexible and involve a specific response to a specific stimulus. Sometimes the concepts of attitudes and traits can be closely related. However, an attitude has some specific object of reference and can be positive or negative. An attitude involves a judgment or evaluation.
D. Motivation: The Functional Autonomy of Motives
1. Allport believed that whatever happened in the past (like toilet training, schooling, or some other childhood crisis) is no longer current and does not explain adult behavior unless it exists as a current motivating force. Allports concept of functional autonomy proposes that the motives of mature, emotionally healthy adults are not functionally connected to the prior experiences in which they initially appeared. Perserverative functional autonomy is concerned with such behaviors as addictions and repetitive physical actions such as habitual ways of performing some everyday task.
2. Allport considered propriate functional autonomy more important than perseverative functional autonomy and is essential to the understanding of adult motivation. Our propriate motives are organizing processes that maintain our sense of self. This determines how we perceive our world, what we remember from our experiences, and how our thoughts are directed. This is an organizing process that includes organizing, mastery and competence, and patterning which describes a striving for consistency and integration of the personality. Reflexes, fixations, neurosis, and other behaviors may not arise through functional autonomy but are from biological drives.
E. Personality Development in Childhood: The Unique Self
1. Allport proposed seven stages of the nature and development of the proprium from infancy through adolescence. The infant begins to emerge, without the proprium, with no awareness of self. Allport described infants as pleasure seeking, destructive, selfish, impatient, and dependent. They are simply driven by reflexes to reduce tension and maximize pleasure. During the first three stages from infancy to age four, the bodily self develops when infants begin to be aware of what Allport referred to as the (1) bodily me.
2. Children then gain (2) self-identity when they learn their name and (3) self-esteem develops when they discover that they can accomplish things on their own. The (4) extension-of-self stage involves the growing awareness of objects and people in the environment and the identification of them as belonging to the child. The self-extension and (5) self-image stage typically occur between the ages of 4 and 6. A child develops an actual and an ideal image of themselves in this stage. The (7) self as rational stage occurs between ages 6 and 12 while the (8) propriate striving stage follows, when adolescents begin to formulate plans and goals for the future. Parent-child interaction is vitally important throughout the stages of development of the proprium.
3. In adulthood, we function independently from childhood motives. We become rational, aware and consciously make lifestyle choices.
4. Parent-child interactions are vitally important throughout the stages of development. The infant-mother bond is crucial for affection and security. If a child becomes frustrated, they may become insecure, aggressive, demanding, or self-centered. The self will not develop into adulthood and may stay undifferentiated.
F. The Healthy Adult Personality
1. We change from a biologically dominated organism in infancy to a mature psychological organism in adulthood. In adulthood, we are no longer dominated by childhood drives. Allport described six criteria for the normal, mature, emotionally healthy, adult personality: The mature adult (a) extends their self to people and to activities beyond themselves and then (b) relates warmly to other people. A mature adults self-acceptance (c) helps to achieve emotional security. The mature adult holds a (d) realistic view of life, (e) has a sense of humor and self-objectification, and (f) subscribes to a unifying philosophy of life.
G. Questions About Human Nature
1. According to Allport, in the act of becoming; all humans can become rational, and therefore are able to plan for the future. Allport believed in the uniqueness of each person. Tension is used by a person to help in setting goals and achieving them. His viewpoint was humanistic, liberal, and was part of his own personality as a caring person.
F. Assessment and Research in Allports Theory
1. Allport believed that the personality is very complex. We can
evaluate personality through the use of 11 major methods. The
Personal-document technique is used to study a persons written or spoken records. Allport opposed the use of case studies and projective techniques with emotionally disturbed persons and opted for the study of emotionally healthy persons. Allport favored the ideographic approach the study of the individual case as indicated by personal documents. Allport conducted research on expressive behavior, which is described as behavior that expresses our personality traits. With coping behavior, Allport identified a behavior orientation that has a specific purpose and is consciously planned and carried out. Expressive behavior is spontaneous, difficult to change, has no specific purpose, and is usually displayed without awareness.
Considerable research and experimental work on expressive behavior has become popular today. This research has shown that personality can be assessed from audiotapes, films, and
videotapes. Reliable research has been done with expressive behaviors linked to specific traits. Studies have shown that observers can accurately assess personality factors (such as
anxiety) from watching brief films of a person, or form impressions
of strangers by photographs. In further research findings, Type A
behavior patterns can be discerned from Type B behavior by their
expressions of disgust, glaring, grimacing, and scowling.
However, cultural differences have been found in the study of
facial expressions and personality between Chinese infants who
showed consistently less facial expression than American infants.
Research into facial recognition, and transmission of emotional states in simulated chat rooms concludes that people express emotions in computer-mediated communication in a similar way as in face-to-face situations.
G. Reflections on Allports Theory
1. Allports theory of ideographic research and his study of
emotionally healthy adults ran counter to the prevailing
position, at the time, of studying the neurotic and psychotic
patient. Other criticisms have been made on his theory of
functional autonomy and on the exclusivity of the individual.
However, Allports theory has been well received in the
academic community. His viewpoints that people are
shaped more by future expectations than by past events is
congenial with a hopeful and humanistic philosophy.
Lecture Topic 7.1
Have a discussion concerning the meeting of Freud and Allport. Detail the
story that Allport gave about the little boy who was on the train with him to Vienna. Also, repeat Freuds analysis of this story. Did Freud really believe that this story was a dream or fantasy of Allport, or did he perceive this story by Allport to be an accurate and detailed report of an incident from Allports real-life experiences? Even if Freud perceived this as an accurate and authentic story from Allport, was he correct in assuming Allport fit this profile of a little boy. What would have happened if Allport received this report as a genuine analysis of himself by Freud? Would Allport have changed his theory to say childhood memories do indeed, impact adulthood? Allport seems to have gone in a completely opposite direction than Freud on the impact of childhood, except for biological predispositions. Have the students discuss the impact of what they might spontaneously say or perceive about a person when meeting them for the first time. Was Freud being presumptuous in his analysis of Allport? Have a further discussion of how Allport believes we can tell more about a person by their facial expressions than analyzing their past. Have a debate over Freuds perspective and Allports perspective on personality development.
Lecture Topic 7.2
Apply various traits and personal dispositions to match people you know. Can these profiles be perceived as accurately reflecting the problems in which these people are identified with in the first place? Would these people be better identified with projective tests and interpretation from psychoanalysis? Justify why or why not. Are the theories of Allport and his use of more spontaneous and apparent measures, (such as judging facial expressions); a reliable measure across groups of people? Why or why not?
Internet site for Lecture Topic 7.2:
Lecture Topic 7.3
Devise a list of Allports traits and read some case studies in a journal or diary to analyze the person. In the use of Allports traits and personal dispositions, do we understand and know these people more accurately than would be known by administering projective techniques? Have a discussion on the merits of projectives as opposed to Allports use of measures like his Study of Values or other personal-document techniques for normally healthy people.
Internet Sites for Lecture Topic 7.3:
Student Project 7.1
Students may want further resources in relation to Allports Theory on traits and personal dispositions as they become adjusted into college life. Have students analyze the ideal traits and personal dispositions to look for when choosing teachers for courses or for selecting a counselor. Here are some resources for students:
Internet Sites for Student Project 7.1:
Student Project 7.2
The following two articles allow students to understand Allport and the Open system he created:
Journal of Social Issues, Fall 1999 v55 i3 p415
Gordon Willard Allport: A Tribute. Thomas F. Pettigrew.
Record number A58549253
The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Summer 1997 v37 n3 p61 (19)
Humanistic psychology and intellectual identity: the open system of Gordon Allport. Ian Nicholson.
Record number A19632999
Student Project 7.3
Students may use the following websites to understand more about Allport and to create their own projective tests, using pictures or photos of people in various situations. They can use the format outlined by Allport to ask questions of fellow students concerning what they perceive in these pictures to see if the student responses accurately portray themselves (projection) into the photos or pictures.
Internet Sites for Student Project 7.3:
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