Allport’s Trait Theory
With its emphasis on observable behavior, not unconscious drives, and its focus on the here and now, rather than events of the past, Allport’s trait theory possesses an accessibility and a popular appeal that other theories sometimes lack. For many, trait theory “makes sense” in ways that other theories do not because it provides a system through which behavior can be categorized and defined according to its prevailing characteristics.
Allport’s theory does not only offer an explanation of how characteristics guide behavior, but also of the mechanisms that drive, or motivate, individuals to perform certain actions. According to Allport, each person is driven to perform actions that correlate to his or her unique values and that develop his or her self-esteem in positive ways. The proprium, or self, is largely responsible for why people act in the ways that they do; Allport’s theory posits that humans are self-directed above all else and, thus, free of the constraints of childhood events or past trauma. This characteristic, called functional autonomy, is one of Allport’s main criteria for mature, emotionally healthy adults.
In this Application Assignment, you read the case study of 38-year-old Monica, a stay-at-home mother of four children, and interpret her behavior through the lens of Allport’s trait theory.
To prepare for this assignment:
Review the Introduction in your course text, Theories of Personality, focusing on the information related to culture and gender.
Review Chapter 7 in your course text, Theories of Personality, focusing on Allport’s trait theory.
Review the website Personality Theories: Gordon Allport, focusing on Allport’s idea of propriate functional autonomy and his categorization of values.
Keep Allport’s distinction of various types of traits, as well as his ideas on motivation and the characteristics for normal, healthy adults in mind as you read and take notes on Case Study: Gordon Allport.
Reflect on what you have read and consider how trait theory can help explain Monica’s thoughts and behaviors. In addition, consider how Allport’s conception of a normal, healthy adult might be culturally biased, and how culture might influence which values are dominant in an individual.
The assignment (3 pages):
Briefly describe both Monica’s housekeeping routine and her relationship with her friends and family in terms of cardinal traits, central traits, and secondary traits.
Allport conceptualized the motivation of adults into two categories: perseverative functional autonomy and propriate functional autonomy. Choose one of Monica’s behaviors, identify which autonomy it represents, and briefly explain why.
Briefly explain how Monica does or does not fulfill the criteria of a normal, mature, and emotionally healthy adult according to Allport’s specifications. Justify your response by citing the specific criterion.
Briefly explain your view on how Allport’s conception of a normal, mature, emotionally healthy adult may reflect cultural bias. Support your view with at least one specific example.
Identify and briefly explain which values are likely dominant in Monica based on Allport’s Study of Values. Then, briefly explain how Monica’s cultural background or her gender might contribute to the dominance of these values.
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