Gordon Allport was one of the first trait theorists. Allport and Henry Odbert labored thru two of the most complete dictionaries of the English language accessible and extracted around 18,000 personalities describing words. From this list, they decreased the number of phrases to approximately 4,500 personality-describing adjectives which they viewed to describe observable and exceptionally everlasting character traits.


Trait: An identifying characteristic, habit, or trend. Gordon Allport described characteristics as “a generalized neuropsychic system (peculiar to an individual), with the potential to render many stimuli functionally equivalent, and to provoke and guide constant (equivalent) types of adaptive and expressive behavior”.

Factor analysis: A statistical technique used to describe variability amongst discovered correlated variables in terms of one or extra unobserved variables.


  • Allport statedthat the traits of a person are not fictional but real and inherent within a person.
  • The traits are consistent and present even if there is no one around to see them.
  • While some traits are hereditary, there are others that are evoked by a social situation.

“The dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his unique adjustments to the environment.”



To Allport, distinguishing characteristics that guide behavior. Traits are measured on a continuum and are a concern with social, environmental, and cultural influences. IIn 1937, he summarized the characteristics of qualities as follows

  1. Personality traits are actual and exist inside everyone of us. They are not theoretical constructs or labels made up to account for behavior.
  2. Traits decide or cause behavior. They do now not arise solely in response to a stimuli. They inspire us to seek appropriate stimuli, and they engage with the surroundings to produce behavior.
  3. Traits can be demonstrated scientifically by observing behavior over time, we can reason the presence of traits in the consistency of a person’s responses to the same or alike stimuli.
  4. Traits are interrelated; they may overlap, even though they represent distinct characteristics. For example, aggressiveness and hostility are diffferent but related that can be frequently observed together in a person’s behavior.
  5. Traits difffers with the situation. For example, a person may display the trait of neatness in one situation and disorderliness in other.

Initially, Allport proposed two kinds of traits: individual and common.

  • Common Traits: Characteristics that are more general and found in a larger population.
  • Individual Traits: Behavioural characteristics that are unique to an individual.

Because Allport realized that some confusion may result from calling each of these phenomena traits, he later revised his terminology. He relabeled common traits as traits and individual traits as personal dispositions.


Personal dispositions: Traits that are different to an individual, as opposed to traits shared by a variety of people. They may be cardinal traits, central traits, or secondary traits.

Allport organized these traits into a hierarchy of three levels:

  • Cardinal traits influence and form an individual’s behavior, such as Ebenezer Scrooge’s greed or Mother Theresa’s altruism. They stand at the top of the hierarchy and are together called the individual’s master control. They are regarded to be an individual’s ruling passions. Cardinal traits are powerful, however, have personalities dominated by a single trait. Instead, our personalities are typically composed of multiple traits.
  • Central traits next in the hierarchy are general characteristics found in various ranges in each person (such as loyalty, kindness, agreeableness, friendliness, sneakiness, wildness, or grouchiness). They are fundamental blocks that form most of our behavior.
  • Secondary traits last in the hierarchy and are not quite as apparent or steady as central traits. They are abundant however are only present underneath particular circumstances; they include things like preferences and attitudes. These secondary traits give an explanation for why an individual at times shows behavior that seems incongruent with their normal behaviors. For example, a friendly individual gets angry when people try to tickle him; another is not an anxious person however always feels nervous talking publicly.


As Allport developed his system, he argued that traits and personal dispositions are different from other traits, such as habits and attitudes. He agreed, however, that habits and attitudes are also capable of developing and guiding behavior.

  • Habits: Specific, rigid responses to particular stimuli; several habits may mix to shape a trait.
  • Attitudes: To Allport, attitudes are similar to traits. However, attitudes have particular objects of reference and have either positive or negative evaluations.

It is possible to differentiate the traits and attitudes in two general ways. First, attitudes have some particular object of reference. A person who has an attitude that shows common traits are prone to social, environmental, and cultural influences.


Allport was one of the first researchers to differentiate between Motive and Drive. He proposed that a drive forms as a reaction to a motive, which may outgrow the motive as the reason for a behavior. The drive then becomes autonomous and different from the motive, whether the motive was instinct or something else. The idea that drives can become independent of the original motives for a particular behavior is known as “functional autonomy.”

Allport gives the example of a man who seeks to perfect his task or craft. His original motive may be a sense of inferiority engrained in his childhood, but his diligence in his work and the motive it acquires, later on, is a need to excel in his chosen profession, which becomes the man’s drive.

Allport proposed two levels of functional autonomy: perseverative functional autonomy and propriate functional autonomy.

Perseverative functional autonomy, the more primary level, is concerned with such behaviors as addictions and repetitive physical actions such as habitual ways of performing some everyday task. The behaviors persist or persevere on their own without any external reward. The actions once served a purpose but no longer do so and are at too low a level to be considered an integral part of personality. Allport referred both animal and human examples as evidence for perseverative functional autonomy.

Propriate functional autonomy is more important than perseverative functional autonomy and is important to understand adult motivation. The word propriate derives from proprium, Allport’s term for the ego or self. Propriate motives are distinct to every person. The ego decides which motives will be maintained and which will be discarded.

Our propriate functioning is an organizing process that maintains our sense of self. It determines how we perceive the world, what we take into account from our experiences, and how our thoughts are directed. These perceptual and cognitive approaches are selective. This organizing process is governed by using these three principles:

  • Organizing the energy level : explains how we acquire new motives. These motives rise from needs, to help consume surplus energy that we might otherwise express in damaging and harmful ways.
  • Mastery and competence : refers to the degree at which we choose to gratify motives. It isnt enough for us to gain at a sufficient level.
  • Propriate patterning : describes a strive for consistency and integration of the personality. We arrange our perceptual and cognitive approach around the self, maintaing what improves our self-image and rejecting others. Thus, our propriate motives are dependent on the structure or pattern of the self.


Allport stated that internal and external forces affect a person’s behavior and personality, and referred to them as genotypes and phenotypes.

  • Genotypes are internal forces that connect how a person grasps information and uses it to interact with the world.
  • Phenotypes are external forces that connect to the way an individual accepts his or her surroundings and how others influence his or her behavior.


Allport described the nature and development of the proprium in seven stages from infancy to adolescence.


Allport described six criteria for the normal, mature, emotionally healthy, adult personality:

  1. They extends their sense of self to people and to activities beyond the self.
  2. They relates warmly to other people, exhibiting intimacy, compassion, and tolerance.
  3. Self-acceptance helps them achieve emotional security.
  4. They hold a realistic perception of life, develops personal skills, and makes a commitment to some type of work.
  5. Have a sense of humor and self-objectification (an understanding of or insight into the self).
  6. They subscribes to a unifying philosophy of life, which is responsible for directing the personality toward future goals.

By meeting these six criteria, adults can be distinguished as emotionally healthy and functionally autonomous, independent of childhood motives. As a result, they can cope with the present and plan for the future without being victimized by the experiences of their past years.



  • Allport’s research is believed to be one of the major works in the field of trait personality.
  • He depended on statistical or objective data, rather than personal experience.


  • The theory is not based on scientific research, and he published very little research to evident his theory.
  • It failed to tell a person’s state, or the way he/she behaves in a temporary way.
  • It does not mark development or guidance for a means for change.

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