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Friday, June 5, 2015

REVIEW: Gordon Allport

Source: http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/allport.html

One thing that motivates human beings is the tendency to satisfy biological survival needs, which Allport referred to as opportunistic functioning.  He noted that opportunistic functioning can be characterized as reactive, past-oriented, and, of course, biological.

Most human behavior, he believed, is motivated by something very different -- functioning in a manner expressive of the self -- which he called propriate functioning.  Most of what we do in life is a matter of being who we are!  Propriate functioning can be characterized as proactive, future-oriented, and psychological.

To get an intuitive feel for what propriate functioning means, think of the last time you wanted to do something or become something because you really felt that doing or becoming that something would be expressive of the things about yourself that you believe to be most important.  Remember the last time you did something to express your self, the last time you told yourself, “that’s really me!”  Doing things in keeping with what you really are, that’s propriate functioning.

He suggested that the self is composed of the aspects of your experiencing that you see as most essential (as opposed to incidental or accidental), warm(or “precious,” as opposed to  emotionally cool), and central (as opposed to peripheral).
His functional definition became a developmental theory all by itself.  The self has seven functions, which tend to arise at certain times of one’s life:
 1.  Sense of body
 2.  Self-identity
 3.  Self-esteem
 4.  Self-extension
 5.  Self-image
 6.  Rational coping
 7.  Propriate striving

Sense of body develops in the first two years of life.  We have one, we feel its closeness, its warmth.  It has boundaries that pain and injury, touch and movement, make us aware of.

Self-identity also develops in the first two years.  There comes a point were we recognize ourselves as continuing, as having a past, present, and future.

Self-esteem develops between two and four years old.  There also comes a time when we recognize that we have value, to others and to ourselves.

Self-extension develops between four and six.  Certain things, people, and events around us also come to be thought of as central and warm, essential to my existence.  “My” is very close to “me!”

Self-image also develops between four and six.  This is the “looking-glass self,” the me as others see me.

Rational coping is learned predominantly in the years from six till twelve.  The child begins to develop his or her abilities to deal with life’s problems rationally and effectively.  This  is analogous to Erikson’s “industry.”

Propriate striving doesn’t usually begin till after twelve years old.  This is my self as goals, ideal, plans, vocations, callings, a sense of direction, a sense of purpose.  The culmination of propriate striving, according to Allport, is the ability to say that I am the proprietor of my life -- i.e. the owner and operator!

 understand that Allport's scheme is not a stage theory -- just a description of the usual way people develop.)

A personal disposition is defined as “a generalized neuropsychic structure (peculiar to the individual), with the capacity to render many stimuli functionally equivalent, and to initiate and guide consistent (equivalent) forms of adaptive and stylistic behavior.”

there are common traits or dispositions, ones that are a part of that culture, that everyone in that culture recognizes and names.

Allport recognizes that some traits are more closely tied to the proprium (one’s self) than others.  Central traits are the building blocks of your personality.

There are also secondary traits, ones that aren’t quite so obvious, or so general, or so consistent.  Preferences, attitudes, situational traits are all secondary.

But then there are cardinal traits.  These are the traits that some people have which practically define their life.

Psychological maturity
If you have a well-developed proprium and a rich, adaptive set of dispositions, you have attained psychological maturity, Allport’s term for mental health.  He lists seven characteristics:
1.  Specific, enduring extensions of self, i.e. involvement.
2.  Dependable techniques for warm relating to others (e.g. trust, empathy, genuineness, tolerance...).
3.  Emotional security and self-acceptance.
4.  Habits of realistic perception (as opposed to defensiveness).
5.  Problem-centeredness, and the development of problem-solving skills.
6.  Self-objectification -- insight into one’s own behavior, the ability to laugh at oneself, etc.
7.  A unifying philosophy of life, including a particular value orientation, differentiated religious sentiment, and a personalized conscience.

Functional autonomy
Allport didn’t believe in looking too much into a person’s past in order to understand his present.  This belief is most strongly evident in the concept of functional autonomy:  Your motives today are independent (autonomous) of their origins.  It doesn’t matter, for example, why you wanted to become a doctor, or why you developed a taste for olives or for kinky sex, the fact is that this is the way you are now


Functional autonomy comes in two flavors:  The first is perseverative functional autonomy.  This refers essentially to habits -- behaviors that no longer serve their original purpose, but still continue.

Propriate functional autonomy is something a bit more self-directed than habits.  Values are the usual example.

The idea of propriate functional autonomy -- values -- lead Allport and his associates Vernon and Lindzey to develop a categorization of values (in a book called A Study of Values, 1960) and a test of values. 

1.  the theoretical -- a scientist, for example, values truth.
2.  the economic -- a businessperson may value usefulness.
3.  the aesthetic -- an artist naturally values beauty.
4.  the social -- a nurse may have a strong love of people.
5.  the political -- a politician may value power.
6.  the religious -- a monk or nun probably values unity.

Allport is one of those theorists who was so right about so many things that his ideas have simply passed on into the spirit of the times.  His theory is one of the first humanistic theories, and would influence many others, including Kelly, Maslow, and Rogers.

source: http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/valuestest.html adapted from Allport, Vernon, and Lindzey’s test, A Study of Values.

Values Survey Results

Religious = 13
Social = 11
Theoretical = 10
Aesthetic = 9
Political = 9
Economic = 8

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