DONALD G. PATERSON, University of Minnesota
Allport's Personality is a scholarly, comprehensive, challenging, and provocative treatise on a topic that is everywhere receiving most earnest consideration. It is safe to say that it will rank high among psychological contributions from the point of view of its influence in psychological circles and even more so among educators and personnel workers. Space limitations preclude adequate review and criticism so we must content ourselves with a mere glimpse of its purpose, scope, and implications.
The book consists of five parts subdivided into twenty chapters. The first part devotes one hundred pages to the task of making a case for the scientific study of the individual in contrast to mind-in-general, to the recording of fifty definitions of personality that have come down to us through the ages (Number 50 is Mr. Allport's definition), and to a history of characterology. In passing, it may be said that Allport's definition of personality turns out to be a definition of individuality, a distinction which, if it had been made and consistently adopted, would have clarified the treatment for the reader. Part II deals with the general principles underlying the development of personality. Part Ill on the structure of personality may well be said to be the heart of the book. Here he competently discusses and rejects the theory of identical elements in the problem of transfer and develops his theory of traits. The crux of his thesis is that there are two kinds of traits for the understanding of personality, individual traits and common traits. Allport seizes every opportunity to minimize the significance of common traits (those possessed to varying degrees by all of us) and to extol the virtues of individual traits (those which exist on an all-or-none basis and which truly set each of us off from the other, thus giving us uniqueness). Part IV describes 52 methods of personality analysis. Separate chapters are devoted to psychographic methods based upon common traits, analysis by ratings, tests, and experiments, and the methods of expressive movements. Part V discusses understanding personality by considering the ability to judge people, the role of inference and intuition, and a final resume of the person in psychology.
What is new in this book? What is worth while? These two questions cannot be answered in brief fashion with full justice to Allport's position. To the reviewer it seems that Allport has made a distinct contribution in his emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual and that this uniqueness has too long been neglected by orthodox psychology as a legitimate object of scientific study. His emphasis on the clinical approach utilizing.the case history method, hitherto developed most extensively by applied sociology and medicine, deserves commendation. The historical treatment of the subject and the comprehensive summary of available methods of personality analysis likewise rank high in utility. Allport's insistence that the unique characteristics of a given individual can only be revealed by utilizing individual traits and by virtually rejecting common traits may be said to be the high point of the book. The frank admittance of intuition as a scientific method into the study of personality will likewise lead the mystics to rejoice.
To the reviewer there are many things to deplore. Allport's diatribes against habit as a dynamic factor in personality, his constant minimization of the importance of statistics, factor analysis, and measurement scales, and his rejection of or at least belittling of the achievements of differential psychology seem uncalled for and, what is more important, are likely to block progress in the vigorous developments now actually under way. For example, Ruth Strang in her recent personnel book entitled Behavior and Background of Students in College and Secondary School states on page 223,
The makers of tests have, in general, failed to use the knowledge which we already have. They have failed to distinguish between what Allport and Odbert have called universal and particular traits. The universal traits are the only ones that can be measured; the particular traits are the most important for personality. Accordingly, the test makers are measuring irrelevancies in most cases.
While no one can quarrel with his definition of intuition yet it is most unfortunate that this word with all of its mystical connotations should be resurrected and reintroduced into psychology. It is unfortunate that he did not use some such term as "clinical synthesis" or "clinical judgment" instead of intuition to cover the need that exists for "sizing up the total personality" from all the available evidence that can be gathered by a variety of personality-analysis methods. Finally, the central thesis of the book, namely, the overwhelming importance of individual traits in contrast to common traits in the delineation of individuality, seems to be suspended in mid-air without any substantial foundation of fact. The reviewer was eager to note just what these individual traits looked like and was considerably disappointed to discover that the illustrations used by Allport were all in the nature of extreme statements of characteristics that exist in degree and hence are, in reality, common traits.
As said before, the emphasis on the unique characteristics of the individual (patterning of traits as found in the individual by psychographic methods, case history notes, and the like) is a most wholesome emphasis. But it is an emphasis that is far from novel. Differential psychology has been struggling with this problem for years and as long ago as 1911 Thorndike in a book entitled Individuality, clearly showed that the use of measurement scales for common traits was entirely adequate to account for the fact of individuality and uniqueness. No reference to this brief but significant contribution is to be found in Allport's book. Furthermore, at the very moment Allport's book is published we find Richard G. Sagebeer describing a machine for pattern analysis whereby deviations in a number of common traits may be weighted and summed to provide a quantitative index of "uniqueness of pattern." In short, the reviewer would insist that the objective measurement approach inaugurated by Cattell and Thorndike is still in its infancy and those interested in understanding the individual have more to gain by forging ahead along these lines than by becoming lost in a maze of trait names, intuition, and clinical judgments unsupported by available measurements of common traits.
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|Author:||W. Allport, Gordon|
|Publication:||Journal of Higher Education|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1999|
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