Gordon Allport: Biography & Theory

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Kinder
Explore the life of world-renowned psychologist, Gordon Allport. Review Allport's impact on the field of psychology and personality theory. Additionally, understand the basic principles of Allport's trait theory of personality.

Gordon Allport: Introduction

Gordon Allport was a world-renowned and highly influential scholar in understanding the factors influencing personality, motivation, and psychological health. This lesson will help you get to know Allport, his contributions to psychology, and his general theories of personality development.

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  • 0:00 Gordon Allport: Introduction
  • 0:20 Gordon Allport: Biography
  • 3:46 Gordon Allport: Theory
  • 5:25 Lesson Summary
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Gordon Allport: Biography

Gordon Allport was born in Montezuma, Indiana, on November 11, 1897. He was raised by his biological parents, John Edwards and Nellie Edith, along with four older brothers. They were practicing Protestants. Allport's mother worked as a school teacher, and his father a country doctor. Due to his father's strong work ethic and dedication to his patients, Allport's childhood home was converted into a makeshift hospital. Patients and nurses roamed freely throughout the home. His father's appreciation of and dedication to science and health likely influenced Allport to be a pioneer in psychology and personality theory.

Allport easily shared his father's spirit for hard work, as he was an early entrepreneur. When Allport was a teenager, he owned his own printing business and was editor of the school paper. Despite these extracurricular commitments, Allport graduated second in his class and earned a scholarship to the highly prestigious Harvard University.

Allport initially struggled adjusting to the cultural differences and academic challenges of Harvard. Instead of earning top grades as he had done in high school, he was managing Cs and Ds. However, as Allport became more comfortable at Harvard, he again began to excel in his studies. His hard work earned him two bachelor's degrees, economics and philosophy, in 1919.

After earning his bachelor's degrees, Allport spent time teaching Sociology in Istanbul, Turkey. When he returned, he was influenced by his older brother to study psychology. He continued on at Harvard to earn his master's degree in 1921 and his Ph.D. in 1922, both in psychology.

In 1924, Allport began teaching in the Department of Social Ethics at Harvard. He developed and taught the first ever psychology course on personality. Shortly thereafter, he also taught social psychology and personality courses at Dartmouth College. Due to his contributions to psychology, he quickly climbed the ranks as a professor at Harvard. He earned the title of Assistant Professor in Psychology in 1930. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1937. Then Allport earned Full Professor of Psychology in 1943. He held this position until his death in 1967. During his tenure at Harvard, he also contributed to scholarly activities at Cambridge University, the University of Berlin, and University of Hamburg.

In addition to teaching, Allport was heavily involved in the care of refugee scholars displaced by WWII. Several of his scholars would continue on to become influential leaders in the field of psychology. Allport was also very active in the psychology community. In 1937, he was the president of the national organization for all psychologists, the American Psychological Association. He was also the president of the Eastern Psychological Association in 1943.

Allport authored five books, which explained his theories on personality, social psychology, prejudice, and religion. Allport served as the editor of the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. He was honored in the 1960s for his lifetime dedication to psychological science and practice when he received the American Psychological Foundation's Gold Medal and the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award.

Allport passed away shortly after receiving these high honors. He died on October 9, 1967, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of lung cancer.

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