In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gordon Allport

  • Introduction
  • Data Sources
  • Autobiographical and Personal Works
  • Awards and Honors
  • Biographical Works
  • Books on Allport
  • Audiovisual Materials
  • The Department of Social Relations at Harvard
  • The 1920s: Establishing a Scholarly Agenda
  • Psychology of Religion

Psychology Gordon Allport
Vincent W. Hevern
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 October 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0177


Gordon Willard Allport (b. 1897–d. 1967) stands as one of the most important psychologists of the 20th century, and, in the 21st, he continues to influence crucial aspects of personality and social psychology as well as research methodology. Raised in Ohio, Gordon was educated at Harvard as an undergraduate majoring in social ethics (from 1915 to 1919) and a doctoral student in psychology (from 1920 to 1922). As a postgraduate Sheldon Travelling Fellowship during 1922–1923, he came into contact with pioneering researchers in Gestalt psychology, personality theory, and advocacy for Geisteswissenshaften (“the human sciences” or “the sciences of the mind”), particularly in Berlin with Eduard Spranger and in Hamburg with Wilhelm Stern. In German scholarship, the capacious notion of the Geisteswissenschaften, which had an enduring effect upon Allport’s thinking, embraced both the humanities and the social sciences. When his fellowship was renewed for 1923–1924, he witnessed nascent efforts by British psychologists at Cambridge University to enact a laboratory-based experimental program, an experience that had a less enduring impact on his thinking. He taught one of the very earliest courses in personality during 1924–1926 in Harvard’s Department of Social Ethics. After four years as an instructor at Dartmouth College (from 1926 to 1930), Allport returned to Harvard in 1930, where he remained for the rest of his career. Allport endorsed the need for psychology to advance the scientific goals of description, prediction, and control. But, he argued, the regularities observed in normally distributed traits and other aspects of human populations incompletely explain the lawfulness of human behavior. Every individual person develops according to ipsative dynamic processes and demonstrates a distinctive configuration of personal traits and motivations that emerge interactively from biological substrates and the individual’s own history. Hence, psychology as a science must simultaneously attempt to understand the unique (idiographic) as well as the general (nomothetic) in human conduct. Allport made major direct contributions to personality theory, applied social psychology, the psychology of religion, and research methodology. His 1937 textbook on personality was one of the first two (along with that of Ross Stagner) to be published in psychology and, in it, he advocated a dynamic theory of traits as fundamental units of behavioral motivation. His writings from the late 1930s onward mirrored Allport’s judgment that Western democratic society was threatened by a range of totalitarian alternatives, both internally and from afar. He argued that the social problems of democratic societies could be profoundly ameliorated by the contributions of psychological science. Thus, after establishing a framework for personality theory, Allport increasingly emphasized the importance of applying psychology to a range of social issues, and he pioneered studies in prejudice, values and attitudes, social rumor, communication media, and civilian morale in wartime. He proposed methodological innovations to achieve idiographic understandings of the person in the form of case studies and the use of personal documents. His many graduate students included figures such as Jerome Bruner, Hadley Cantril, Sheldon Korchin, Gardner Lindzey, Thomas Pettigrew, and Philip Vernon. His leadership roles included service as Psychology Department chair and co-founder of the Social Relations Department at Harvard and nationally as president of the American Psychological Association (APA), Eastern Psychological Association, and Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. His broad collaborative efforts across the social sciences and his extensive writings and lectures for popular audiences enhanced his enduring influence and reputation as well.

Data Sources

Data sources about Allport are varied. Allport 1922 is the doctoral thesis that is available in the Harvard University Archives (HUA). The Papers of Gordon W. Allport, 1907–c. 1974 (inclusive) in the HUA (Harvard University Archives) is the largest collection of Allport materials available to scholars. The Houghton Library at Harvard contains the original 1940 submissions to the My Life in Germany Contest Papers, 1940 (Harvard College Library and Houghton Library), which Allport and others later analyzed. An important interview with Allport can be found in the Ann Roe Papers, 1949–1971 (American Philosophical Society) at the headquarters of the American Philosophical Society.

  • Allport, Gordon W. 1922. An experimental study of the traits of Personality: With special reference to the problem of social diagnosis. PhD diss. Harvard Univ.

    Allport’s thesis is available in the Harvard University Archives as HU 90.1429.

  • American Philosophical Society. Ann Roe Papers, 1949–1971. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

    An extended 1952 interview with Allport is archived among the Ann Roe Papers. It was part of the data she collected for her 1953 study of sixty-four eminent scientists (The Making of a Scientist [Westport, CT: Greenwood]).

  • Harvard College Library and Houghton Library. My life in Germany contest papers, 1940: Guide (MS Ger 91). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ.

    The original manuscripts that served as the data analyzed in Allport, et al. 1941 (cited under Personal Documents and Case Studies) are archived here.

  • Harvard University Archives (HUA). Allport, Gordon W. (Gordon Willard), 1897–1967: Papers of Gordon W. Allport, 1907–ca. 1974 (inclusive). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ.

    Contains the bulk of Allport’s papers that are archived under the search designation of HUG 4118.xx. An unpublished shelf list and inventory to all these materials are available at the HUA. Additional materials (unprocessed as of early 2015) are also deposited in the HUA. Note that materials from or about Allport (correspondence, articles, etc.) are scattered throughout the HUA in the papers of other Harvard-related individuals and organizations and can be located though the Online Archival Search Information System at Harvard. Available online.

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