Personality Theories

 Allport was a psychologist who specialized in personality theories. He studied the psychological background of personalities. From the dictionaries he found that there existed many words used to describe personalities but from this he categorized human behavior and personality into three categories.

Allport argued that the personality of human beings does not change from one individual to another but mostly from one situation to another. The reactions of people in different situations are what cause personality change and not the underlying factors of personality. When put in different situations the individuals may react differently and this is what people argue to be personality when in essence it is just expressive behavior.

Expressive behavior in personality

Allport may have focused entirely on personality traits and their effects but in addition, he recognized the importance of the environment and socialization in influencing individuals. The personality of an individual develops when the psychological composition of an individual adjusts to the social influences and the environment. Through reactions and adaptations the individual determines his personality traits.

Expressive behavior arises therefore when the individual perceives a situation and provides a reaction. What we see in the reaction is called expressive behavior. For example when John hits Joshua, we may conclude that John has an aggressive personality. This Allport proclaims is not entirely true. The aggression is a reaction to a situation and therefore just a small part of his personality. Aggression is an expressive behavior.

Personality traits are the main determinants of behavior. Some of these traits can be inherited biologically while some are determined through socialization. How an individual is structured determines their reaction to different situations and the outside environment. This is often termed as circular reasoning. For example when John hit Joshua we concluded that he has an expressive behavior known as aggression when asked why the conclusion, the answer is definitely because he hit Joshua. Expressive behavior is often defined by the action and the action is defined by the behavior. The two: traits and behavior in Allport’s theory support and define each other.

Personalities develop and are defined by expressive behavior which is determined through adjustments to the environment. When children are born they are socialized to society and in the process they develop their needs based on the situations they are exposed to. To adapt to this social needs and environment, children begin to learn expressive behavior such as crying or laughing to make their needs known. With time the expressive behavior becomes a part of their vocabulary slowly translating to a trait.

Allport categorized personality traits into three categories: the first are cardinal traits which are the traits that are present a person’s entire and complete life. People are often known for their reactions to different situations. The traits express themselves in personality. People are often known and described from the expressive behavior. For example drawing from famous expressions, Mother Theresa is often associated with kindness. The associations are so dramatic that her name is evoked all the time when people are discussing or presenting humanitarian issues. Allport defined cardinal traits as the reactions often expected from individuals when they face a particular situation, such include anger and aggression.

The second form of traits is the central traits that are not cardinal traits but are often used to describe other individuals. Observing such traits comes from the secondary observation of tasks given for performance. These traits include intelligence and honesty. It is through the means that one completes certain tasks that one can be described as either honest or intelligent. Psychologists normally apply cardinal traits to measure anxiety and emotional intelligence.

Finally are secondary traits which are used in essence to define an individual as perceived from their attitude. Such traits arise only from certain situations. When in other situations unlike cardinal traits they do not rear their head. For example there are people who have phobias. Phobias are developed from secondary traits. Social phobias for example define a class of people who develop anxiety when put in the situations where they are meant to interact with others. They may have stage or just public fright. On the other hand the same people are not shy at all with family members. They may prepare a practice in front of family members and friend confidently but fail when trying to do the same in public.

Motives and autonomy of personality

Allport believed that an individual’s past did not  affect the expressive behavior he developed in adulthood. For example simple techniques in toilet training and early school, experiences often explained the behaviors expressed by adults. Children who were for example bullied by others in school did not often grow to become much less stronger individuals often shying away from aggressive situations and unable to stand up for themselves. In most cases the development of expressive behavior was autonomic meaning that it was not influenced by the past but only the current situations.

To Allport holistic mature and healthy individuals did not draw on their past for current behavior. Allport claimed that those who did this were not properly developed individuals. They are not psychologically holistic and instead. Drawing on past experiences Allport claimed was what caused addictions and psychological disorders such as schizophrenia. Allport claimed that the brain of a human being is not structured to withstand habitual ways.

Allport instead introduced the propriate functional autonomy which defines the way individuals perceive the world and situations. The propriate function often determines an individual’s reaction to different situations. Propriate function also determines what we remember and how our memory selects the things to turn into experiences. It organizes the memory creating competence and drawing from patterns to create mastery of situations. The patterns then develop into personality traits.

Development of expressive behavior from childhood

Allport developed some stages of the development of the expressive behavior. When a child is born they posses no behaviors that can actually be used to define them. they are driven by simple reflexes that are the desire to experience pleasure and reduce tension. All infants are not only selfish but extremely dependent. Their nature does not allow the infants to develop independence. From infancy therefore to around 4years Allport refereed this to the bodily nature.

Between the age 4 to 6, the child develops an identity; he learns to identify with his name and develops a code of behavior that often defines his traits. He becomes more and more independent while retaining an aspect of dependence on the guardians. The rational stage occurs between the ages 7 and 12. children begin to rationalize their actions, setting goals and making plans. At this stage children begin to understand their expressive behavior is used to judge their overall personality.

Human beings emerge to adulthood  changing from a biological human being to a more psychological being. The mature adults extend beyond themselves to others outside them. through this extension the adult is able to extend emotional security and develops a philosophy by which he defines his life. The philosophy of life generally arises from the uniformity of expressed behavior.

Some Forms Of Expressive Behavior

Jealousy And Envy

This refers to thoughts and emotions arising from an individual that are not positive. Jealousy according to Allport arises from inbuilt anger and self loathing often expression itself in the form of jealousy and envy. Jealousy arises when the individual feels that someone else is better than themselves. When jealousy develops to a cardinal trait individuals become hard to live with and often very judgmental of others and themselves.


Allport studied the origins of  aggression though roughly. As a behavior he chose to define aggression as the nature of a human being that resorts to violence when trying to solve a particular problem or define their own territory. Aggression he stated comes from the feeling that other people are not taking the individual seriously or are ignoring the persons. Aggressive people do not necessarily have violent and explosive tempers. Faced with particular situation sit is obvious that they will react with violence yet when in other situations they remain calm.


There are individuals who despite being faced by whatever forms of discouragement remain motivated to pursue a certain line of action. For example there are individuals who even with their careers do not seem to be succeeding, yet they pursue such careers relentlessly often believing that they are very close to success, Allport termed motivation as the number one source of addictive behavior such as gambling. Motivated individuals are often very successful but also more susceptible to severe discouragement when failure arises.

Independence And Dependence

There are cases of people who find it hard to complete a task by themselves. They rely extensively on the expertise of others and their nature demands that they rely on the advice and decisions of others. On the other hand are individuals who even in childhood have the desire and ability to make proper decisions and take responsibility for the outcome of these decisions. They rely not on anyone else but themselves.

Allport claimed that over-independence created narcissist individuals who believed that they are always right. Dependence on the other hand often comes from fear of making wrong decisions. Individuals often rely completely on others and are paralyzed by the fear of a wrong decision to the point of not seeing the alternatives before them.


Allport Gordon, the psychologist is often termed as the father of personality. In his theory he insists that expressive behavior defines personality traits. It is through the outward reactions of an individual that people are able to define the person. expressive behavior often develops to cardinal and secondary traits.  For individuals to understand themselves better, they must observe their own expressive behavior. One can easily change their expressive behavior by learning to control their emotions and reactions in different situations. When the expressive behaviors change so does the personality of a person. Therefore it is entirely possible with the help of therapy for individuals to develop entirely new personalities.


Allport Gordon (1960). Becoming: Basic Considerations For A Psychology Of Personality. YaleUniversity Press.

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