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Gordon Allport
Gordon Allport.gif
Born November 11, 1897
Died October 9, 1967(1967-10-09) (aged 69)
Nationality United States
Alma mater Harvard
Scientific career
Fields Psychology

Gordon Willard Allport (November 11, 1897 – October 9, 1967) was an American psychologist. Allport was one of the first psychologists to focus on the study of the personality, and is often referred to as one of the founding figures of personality psychology. He contributed to the formation of values scales and rejected both a psychoanalytic approach to personality, which he thought often was too deeply interpretive, and a behavioral approach, which he thought did not provide deep enough interpretations from their data. Instead of these popular approaches, he developed an eclectic theory based on traits. He emphasized the uniqueness of each individual, and the importance of the present context, as opposed to past history, for understanding the personality.

Allport had a profound and lasting influence on the field of psychology, even though his work is cited much less often than that of other well-known figures. Part of his influence stemmed from his knack for exploring and broadly conceptualizing important and interesting topics (e.g. rumor, prejudice, religion, traits). Another part of his influence resulted from the deep and lasting impression he made on his students during his long teaching career, many of whom went on to have important careers in psychology. Among his many students were Jerome S. Bruner, Anthony Greenwald, Stanley Milgram, Leo Postman [fr], Thomas Pettigrew, and M. Brewster Smith. His brother Floyd Henry Allport, was professor of social psychology and political psychology at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (in Syracuse, New York) from 1924 until 1956, and visiting professor at University of California, Berkeley. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Allport as the 11th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.

Allport's trait theory

Allport is known as a "trait" psychologist. He did not believe that people can be classified according to a small number of trait dimensions, maintaining that each person is unique and distinguished by peculiar traits.

One of his early projects was to go through the dictionary and locate every term that he thought could describe a person. From this, he developed a list of 4500 trait like words. He organized these into three levels of traits. This is similar to Goldberg's fundamental lexical hypothesis, or the hypothesis that over time, humans develop widely used, generic terms for individual differences in their daily interactions.

Allport's three trait levels are:

1. Cardinal trait - This is the trait that dominates and shapes a person's behavior. These are the ruling passions/obsessions, such as a need for money, fame etc.

2. Central trait - This is a general characteristic found in some degree in every person. These are the basic building blocks that shape most of our behavior although they are not as overwhelming as cardinal traits. An example of a central trait would be honesty.

3. Secondary trait - These are characteristics seen only in certain circumstances (such as particular likes or dislikes that a very close friend may know). They must be included to provide a complete picture of human complexity.

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