Gordon Willard Allport (November 11, 1897 - October 9, 1967) was an American psychologist, who played a major role in shaping the fields of personality psychology and social psychology. A long time and influential member of the faculty at Harvard University, he had wide-ranging interests in eidetic imagery, religion, social attitudes, rumor, and radio. His basic works include Pattern and Growth in Personality and his most influential book, The Nature of Prejudice. Allport proposed a theory that was far removed from the Behaviorism of his day. He saw such attempts at understanding human learning as inadequate without study of the person who was doing the learning. He also rejected the Freudian psychoanalytic approach as relying too much on the effects of the past without giving sufficient attention to issues of the current context.
He rejected extreme "scientific" approaches to understanding personality, recognizing that universal laws alone could never tell the whole story of the diversity and uniqueness of individual human beings, although he strove to find universal personality "traits" that could be combined in various ways to determine the uniqueness of each individual. Infusing a humanist element into his work, Allport strove to understand the human self as a person who had certain attitudes, even prejudices about situations and people, based on both their internal character and their previous experiences. Allport's work laid important foundations for later research.
Gordon Williard Allport, the youngest of four brothers, was born in Montezuma, Indiana, in 1897. One of his elder brothers, Floyd Henry Allport, who had a positive impact on Gordon's professional orientation, was an important and influential psychologist.
Gordon Allport's undergraduate and doctoral degrees were both from Harvard University, where he studied with Hugo Münsterberg, Herbert Langfeld, and William McDougall.
For two years, Allport traveled and studied in Turkey, Germany, and England. Through college, teaching in Turkey, and postgraduate study at the University of Berlin, University of Hamburg, and University of Cambridge during the years immediately after World War I, he became familiar with Gestalt Psychology and other important developments in German psychology. These intellectual experiences and personal contacts had an enduring impact on his own later work and his contributions to American psychology. Apart from a few years at Dartmouth College, Gordon Allport's entire academic career was spent at Harvard. During that period, he received numerous honorary doctorates.
Allport told the story in his autobiographical essay in Pattern and Growth in Personality of his visit as a young, recent college graduate to the already famous Sigmund Freud in Vienna. To break the ice upon meeting Freud, Allport recounted how he had met a boy on the train on the way to Vienna who was afraid of getting dirty. He refused to sit down near anyone dirty, despite his mother's reassurances. Allport suggested that perhaps the boy had learned this dirt phobia from his mother, a very neat and apparently rather domineering type. After studying Allport for a minute, Freud asked, "And was that little boy you?" Allport experienced Freud's attempt to reduce this small bit of observed interaction to some unconscious episode from his own remote childhood as being dismissive of his current motivations, intentions, and experience. Allport remembered that experience as a reminder of the way that psychoanalysis in his view tended to dig too deeply into both the past and the unconscious, overlooking in the process the often more important conscious and immediate aspects of experience. While Allport never denied that unconscious and historical variables might have a role to play in human psychology (particularly in the immature and disordered), his own work would always emphasize conscious motivations and current context.
In 1939, Allport...