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Perspective Trait Theory

Theory Psychology of the Individual
Proponent(s) Gordon Allport
Year of first Publication 19

Theory Overview

According to Allport, Personality involves active organization, which is constantly evolving

and changing, and involves motivation and self-regulation of both psychological and physical
aspects of personality that includes habits, attitudes, sentiments, and dispositions of various
kinds that determine his characteristic behavior and thought (Feist, 2008). Allport viewed a
trait as both a form of readiness and a determining tendency. There are a number of other
concepts that share some similarity with traits, such as habits, attitudes, needs, types, and
instincts. Allport then returned to each individual’s unique personality by addressing
personal dispositions: Cardinal, Central and Secondary.

Personality Description

Not all traits are the same intensity or significance in an individual. Some are more
masterful, meaningful and powerful than others. Allport posited three types of personal
dispositions: Cardinal, Central and Secondary (Feist, 2008). Cardinal traits is that one that is
pervasive, general and extremely influential that every aspect of a person’s life is touched
by it. Central traits is less general and pervasive which everyone possesses in small
numbers and it is the kind of characteristics one would mention in writing a letter of
recommendation who knew the person quite well. Lastly, the secondary trait which is
displayed less conspicuously and less consistently than the other types and so slightly
revealed that only a close friend might notice them.

Personality Dynamics

Allport emphasized the importance of conscious motivation. Healthy adults are generally
aware of what they are doing and their reasons for doing it. Allport did not ignore the
existence or even the importance of unconscious processes. He recognized the fact that
some motivation is driven by hidden impulses and sublimated drives. He believed that most
compulsive behaviors are automatic repetitions, usually self-defeating, and motivated by
unconscious tendencies. They often originate in childhood and retain a childish flavor into
adult years (Feist, 2008).

Concept of Humanity

determinism vs Allport position stands in the middle however he adopted the idea of
free choice limited freedom approach. Even though freedom is limited, Allport
maintained that it can be expanded. The more self-insight a person
develops, the greater that person’s freedom of choice.
pessimism vs Maintaining the idea that people have at least limited freedom, people
optimism strives to develop throughout the time of their life.
causality vs Personality, to some extent, is influenced by past experiences, but the
teleology behaviors that make us human are those that are motivated by our
expectations of the future.
conscious vs Since Human beings are goal oriented, proactive, and motivated by a
unconscious variety of forces, most of which are within their realm of consciousness
biological vs Both. But Allport stand moderate in social setting, He recognized the
social importance of environmental influences in helping to shape
influences personality, but he insisted that personality has some life of its own.
uniqueness vs Each person is unique and distinguished by peculiar traits.

Feist, J. & Feist, G. (2008) Theories of Personality, Seventh Edition [PDF file]. Retrieved from: