Criticism of Allport’s Trait Theory of Personality

Gordon Allport was a remarkable psychologist and personality theorist who broke most of the rules established by other theorists, including the father of personality theories, Sigmund Freud. He also rejected the behaviorist's notion that personality entirely depends on learned and observable behaviors. All psychological theories have strengths and weaknesses and supporters and critics. There can be criticisms related to the manner of research, generalizability, the number of participants, the results, how subjective or objective the theory is or how applicable it is in the current scenario.

In order to evaluate the criticism of Allport's trait theory of personality, it is really important to understand first the theory and to know more about the theorist.

Gordon Allport: The Man Behind the Trait Theory of Personality

Gordon Allport was an American psychologist best known for his personality trait theory. He believed each possessed a unique set of characteristics, which he classified as cardinal, central, and secondary. He emphasized the importance of individual differences as well as situational factors.

Trait Theory of Personality

Allport introduced the "trait theory" for understanding human personality, and he reduced it to 4500 personality traits. Allport believed that people had a variety of traits that were important to their thought patterns. Motivations, behaviors, and individuality. He believed that while personality has a biological basis, it can be shaped by a person's experiences in life. He believed that there are three types of traits: cardinal traits, central traits, and secondary traits.

Problems related to empirical research on the trait theory of personality

The main flaw of Allport's trait theory of personality is that it is not directly based on empirical research; he published very little evidence to support his theory. In his first publication, he collaborated with his brother Floyd Allport to study the central characteristics of 55 male college students. Based on their findings, they concluded that most people's traits were measurable. The primary goal of this research was to develop a personality scale.

Jenny Gove Masterson's letters: Another intriguing Gordon Allport project was to examine a series of letters written by a woman named Jenny Gove Masterson. Jenny wrote 301 letters to a married couple during the eleven years of her life, which Allport acquired and analyzed. Jenny was characterized by 36 people based on the traits they were able to identify.

These methods were not considered to be empirical by several scientists. They stated that Allport's theory was based on raw data and observations. Additionally, critics pointed out that the theory was based on many generalizations.

Later, writers criticized the concept of trait theory, pointing out inconsistencies. They concluded that, rather than the generality of people's behavior in various situations, they discovered differences and inconsistencies in traits.

Other Criticisms

Several studies show that the trait theory does not apply to all situations. No evidence has been provided regarding the degree of the different traits because people have different traits to varying degrees. There are no actual tests for measuring these characteristics, so that no conclusions can be drawn.

Other criticisms of trait theory focus on the fact that traits are often poor predictors of behavior. For example, even if a person scores highly on evaluations of a specific trait, they may not always behave in that manner in every situation. Another criticism leveled at trait theories is that they do not explain how or why individuals differ in their personalities. Another criticism leveled at trait theories is that they do not explain how or why individual personality differences emerge.

Since this theory is based on statistics rather than theory, this theory fails to explain personality development. Most theories argue for development (past), current personality (present), and a means of change (future); the trait approach is only concerned with the present.

Several critics have stated that personality traits are a relative concept because several personality traits are reflected even in the unconscious or subconscious state of mind.


Personality traits are important ways to distinguish people. Many theorists have proposed theories to explain the concept of personality; each theory has its strengths and weaknesses. Personality trait theory has been very useful in identifying several traits and their influence on human behavior. However, there are several flaws in the theory. Firstly, it does not explain the development of these traits or dispositions. Secondly, it does not give clarity on the changeability of these traits.

Additionally, how many traits or clusters of traits exist that distinguish one individual from others is unclear and difficult to determine. Many critics state that traits are mere features of personality and not factors that differentiate one human from another. Having said this, Gordon Allport has provided us with a very objective view of studying personality, and his approach was very different compared to other theorists present at that time.

Updated on: 07-Dec-2022

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