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Chapter 10
Theories of Personality






Allport and Murray believed that personality was complex, and needed to be studied from an interdisciplinary approach. They were extremely critical of the narrow concepts that had been used in the past to study personality.


Allport described and classified over fifty definitions of personality before finalizing his own definition: "Personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysiscal systems that determine his characteristic behavior and thought".

Allport made a distinction between continuity theory and discontinuity theories of personality.

Continuity theory suggests that personality is closed and permits little change.

Discontinuity theory suggests that personality is open, experiences change and provides for extensive growth.





Traits in Allports definition are determining tendencies or pre-dispositions to respond to the world in a certain way.

Although no two people can be said to possess identical traits, there are comparable traits that allow us to evaluate pre-dispositions that are similar among individuals. These pre-dispositions are known as "common traits".

"Common traits" are hypothetical constructs that permit us to compare individuals within a given culture.

Comparisons may be made among individuals, but no two individuals are exactly alike. "Personal disposition", is, like a trait, a general characteristic, but it describes an individuals uniqueness.

Whereas common traits place individuals into comparable categories, personal dispositions separate individuals.

Personal dispositions are divided into three categories:

Cardinal dispositions

Central dispositions

Secondary dispositions


Cardinal dispositions: a disposition so pervasive that almost every behavior of the individual appears to be influenced by it. Example

An extreme lust for power, so intense that virtually every act of the individual can be seen to be governed by that desire


Central dispositions refers to the characteristic tendencies of an individual (i.e. intelligent, responsible, independent, sensitive, caring, things you might put in a letter of recommendation for an individual).

Secondary dispositions: are more specific, focused tendencies that are often situational in character and less crucial to personality structure. Example

A man might be domineering and aggressive at home in his role as father but behave submissively when confronted by a police officer who is giving him a ticket


Allport coined the term "proprium" to refer to the central experience of self-awareness that a person has in growing and moving forward. He describes seven propriate functions:

Sense of bodily self




Self-as a rational coper

Propriate striving




Allport coined a term known as functional autonomy", which implies that motivation is not necessarily tied to the past.

In other words a given behavior may become a goal in itself regardless of its original intentions. Example

A young boy originally plays basketball to please his father because his father was a basketball player and his playing gains attention from his dad. Later, in school, he plays the game because it made him friends. And later still, he plays for the L A Lakers. It makes no sense to insist that the motive for playing baseball continued to be that of pleasing his father. It would be more reasonable to suggest he plays because he enjoys the game and the financial reward that it brings.





Allport felt that personality theorists spent too much time on the characteristics of neurotic personalities and that many implied that healthy personality simply suggested the absence of neurotic symptoms.

Consequently he put forth his concept of maturity which consist of six criteria:

Extension of the sense of self

Warming relating of self to others

Emotional security (self acceptance)

Realistic perception, skills, and assignments

Self objectification (insight and humor)

Unifying philosophy of life

Another outgrowth of Allports personality theory has been his interest in religion as a healthy, productive aspect of human life.

Allport suggests that Churchgoers on average are more prejudice than non Churchgoers, even though most advocates of treating people equally are religiously motivated



Murray, like Allport, emphasized the complexity of personality and the need to study it from an interdisciplinary approach.

Murray coined the term "personology" which emphasized the study of human lives and the factors that influence their course.



Perhaps Murrays most significant contribution to the study of personality was his extensive research on human needs.

Murray defined need as a construct representing a force in the brain that organizes our perception, understanding, and behavior in such a way as to change an unsatisfying situation and increase our satisfaction.

Murray constructed a list of twenty basic needs. Although this list has been revised and modified since 1938, it remains highly representative of a comprehensive overview of human needs (see Table 10.1)







































Examples of "press" might be cultural discord, family discord, poverty, or religious training.

As we think about presses it is important to distinguish between what Murray calls "alpha press", and "beta press".

"Alpha presses" are actual properties or attributes of the environment.

"Beta presses" are an individuals subjective perception of the environment.

Beta presses are the determinant of behavior

Murray developed several techniques for assessing personality, however, his best known technique is the "Thematic Appreciation Test" (TAT).

The TAT consists of a series of ambiguous pictures, telling what led up to an event, what is happening, what the characters in the pictures are thinking and feeling, and how the event will turn out.

Look at the picture below and describe what it means to you by making up a story for it. What does the picture suggests? What are the characters thinking or feeling? What might be the outcome of the story?








Picture from page 295












According to Murray your responses suggests how you think in relation to the physical and social environment.

Because the stimuli are ambiguous and you are free to respond in any way, it is believed that any meaning you give to the picture must come from within.

Both Allport and Murray emphasized that personality is very complex and urged that its study be interdisciplinary and idiographic.

Because each emphasized the uniqueness of the individual, this stimulated a great deal of interest and research in American personality psychology.



















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