Gordon Willard Allport

An American humanist psychologist who developed a personality theory that emphasizes individuality.

Gordon Willard Allport was one of the great personality theorists of the twentieth century. His work was a synthesis of individual personality traits and the traditional psychology of William James, which emphasized psychological traits that are common among humans. He also examined complex social interactions. As a humanistic psychologist, he opposed both behavioral and psychoanalytical theories of psychology. Above all, Allport believed in the uniqueness of the individual. A prolific and gifted writer, he was the recipient of numerous professional awards.

Born in 1897 in Montezuma, Indiana, Allport was the youngest of four sons in the family of John Edwards and Nellie Edith (Wise) Allport. He was educated in Cleveland, Ohio, where the family moved when he was six years old. John Allport was a physician with a clinic in the family home, and, as they were growing up, his sons assisted him in his practice. Gordon Allport's mother, a former school teacher, maintained a home environment that emphasized religion and intellectual development. As a teenager, Allport ran his own printing business and edited his high school newspaper. Following his graduation in 1915, scholarships enabled him to join his brother Floyd at Harvard College. Although his education was interrupted for military service during the World War I, Allport earned his A.B. degree in 1919, with majors in philosophy and economics.

Following a year of teaching English and sociology at Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey, Allport returned to Harvard with a fellowship to study psychology. He was influenced both by his brother Floyd and by the noted experimental psychologist Hugo Mu¨ nsterberg. He coauthored his first publication, “Personality Traits: Their Classification and Measurement” with his brother in 1921. Allport received his M.A. degree in 1921 and his Ph.D. in 1922, for his study of personality traits under the direction of Herbert S. Langfeld.

Dr. Gordon W. Allport, Harvard University psychologist, seen Sept. 1, 1963 in Philadelphia, received the gold medal of the American Psychological Foundation.

Dr. Gordon W. Allport, Harvard University psychologist, seen Sept. 1, 1963 in Philadelphia, received the gold medal of the American Psychological Foundation.
(© AP Photo/Bill Ingraham)

Allport's theory of personality

Allport's first major book, Personality: A Psychological Interpretation (1937), distinguished between traits that are common to many people, such as assertiveness, and personal dispositions, which are traits that are characteristic of the individual. The latter were classified according to their degree of influence on an individual personality. Allport also identified how individuals develop self-awareness throughout childhood and adolescence. One of Allport's important concepts, functional autonomy, encompassed his theories of motivation. Finally, he attempted to define the mature personality. Personality: A Psychological Interpretation remained the standard text on personality theory for many years. In 1961, following years of study and research, Allport published a major revision of this work, Pattern and Growth in Personality. He also helped to develop methods of personality assessment, including the A-S Reaction Study (1928), with his brother Floyd Allport.

Examination of the nature of prejudice

Allport had diverse interests. During World War II, as a member of the National Research Council, he began studying the social problem of spreading rumors. In 1947, he published The Psychology of Rumor with Leo Postman. Allport also was concerned with racial and religious prejudice. His 1954 book, The Nature of Prejudice, was a milestone study. As a visiting consultant at the University of Natal in South Africa in 1956, Allport predicted that the white supremacist cultures of both South Africa and the American South would be overthrown. Like his predecessor William James, Allport also examined the psychology of religion in The Individual and His Religion: A Psychological Interpretation (1950), in which he warned of the prejudices that can be fostered by institutionalized religions.

During his career, Allport published 12 books and more than 200 papers on psychology and held important positions in U.S. and foreign psychological associations. Allport was editor of the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology from 1937 until 1949. Boston University awarded him an honorary L.H.D. degree in 1958. He also held honorary doctorates from Ohio Wesleyan University, Colby College, and the University of Durham in England. He died of lung cancer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1967.

See also Personality development ; Prejudice and discrimination .



Allport, Gordon, W. The Nature of Prejudice, 25th anniversary ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979.

Dovidio, John F., Peter Glick, and Laurie A. Rudman, eds. On the Nature of Prejudice: Fifty Years After Allport. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

Evans, Richard I. Gordon Allport: The Man and His Ideas. New York: Dutton, 1971.

Nicholson, Ian. Inventing Personality: Gordon Allport and the Science of Selfhood. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2003.


Ford, Donna Y. “Multicultural Issues: Gifted Underrepresentation and Prejudice—Learning from Allport and Merton.” Gifted Child Today 36, no.1 (January 2013): 62–67.

Roets, Arne, and Alain Van Hiel. “Allport's Prejudiced Personality Today: Need for Closure as the Motivated Cognitive Basis of Prejudice.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 20, no.6 (December 2011): 349–54.


Goodtherapy.org. “Gordon Allport (1897–1967).” http://www.goodtherapy.org/famous-psychologists/gordonallport.html# (accessed June 12, 2015).

Huff, Chuck. “Why Should We Care About Gordon Allport.” https://www.stolaf.edu/people/huff/misc/Allporttalk.html (accessed June 12, 2015).