Mother -Infant Bonding: Allport’s Theory

Mother -Infant Bonding: Allport’s Theory

We can consider the example of college graduates starting a career in business who are driven to put in much effort to succeed financially. They eventually see a return on their time and effort, accumulating enough wealth to retire by age 50. Still, they put in the same effort as they did when they were first hired. Such behavior can no longer be for the same goal—the goal of financial security has been reached and surpassed. The drive to work hard, which was once a means to an end (getting paid), has evolved into an end in and of itself. Its original cause is no longer necessary for motivation. Therefore, examining a person's childhood will not help us understand adult motivations. The only way to understand them is to investigate why people behave as they do today.

Allport’s Theory

According to Allport, the fundamental issue with personality theories is how they approach the idea of motivation. It does not matter what happened in the past during potty training, school, or another childhood crisis; what matters is the person's current situation. Everything that occurred in the past is just that—the past, and it is no longer active and does not explain adult behavior unless it is a current, motivating force.

Allport criticized theories like Freud's that prioritized unconscious, irrational forces over conscious, rational ones. Intentions on purpose are a crucial component of who we are, and what we want and strive for are the keys to understanding our behavior. Thus, rather than using the past to explain the present, Allport tried to do so using the future. According to Allport's concept of functional autonomy, mature, emotionally stable adults' motivations are not functionally related to the earlier experiences they first surfaced. Early-life motivating factors become autonomous, or separate from their initial circumstances.

Similar to how we become independent of our parents as we get older. We are still related to them, but we are no longer dependent on them in a practical sense, and they should not direct or control our lives anymore. Allport proposed two levels of functional autonomy: perspective functional autonomy and propriate functional autonomy.

Propriate Functional Autonomy

Proprium, Allport's term for the ego or self, is where the word propriate comes from. Allport uses this term to refer to those behaviors and characteristics regarded as warm, central, and important in our lives. He conceived of the proprium as including all aspects of personality that contribute to a sense of inward unity, marking the consistency associated with the individual's traits, intentions, and long-range goals that account for personality's peculiar unity and distinctiveness.

Personality Development in Childhood

For the self or ego, Allport used the term proprium. The distinctive aspects of personality that are suitable for our emotional lives are included in the proprium. The attitudes, perceptions, and intentions are unified by these features, which are particular to each individual.

Stages of Development

Allport divided the proprium's nature and growth into seven stages, from infancy to adolescence.

The infant has no self-consciousness before the proprium starts to appear. Without an ego to mediate between stimulus and response, infants automatically and reflexively respond to the sensory impressions they receive from their environment. Allport characterized children as gratifying, destructive, egocentric, impatient, and dependent. Although there is some of what could be called a "personality" in infancy, our genetic inheritance, which is the foundation of our eventual personality, does not.

The Development of the Proprium

When infants become conscious of what Allport called a "bodily me," the bodily self develops. Infants, for instance, start to tell their own fingers apart from what they hold. A feeling of identity continuity follows the self-identity stage. Children understand that despite changes to their bodies and abilities, they are still the same. Learning their name and realizing their uniqueness from others helps kids develop a stronger sense of self.

When they realize they can complete tasks on their own, self-esteem grows. The development of a sense of self-worth can be thwarted if parents resist their child's urge to explore at this point, leading instead to feelings of humiliation and resentment. The extension-of-self stage involves the child becoming increasingly aware of the things and people around them and recognizing them as their own. The next step is the development of a self-image that includes how the kids see and want to see themselves. These real and ideal self-images emerge from interactions with parents, who make their children aware of their expectations and the degree to which they are being met or not.

Parent-Child Interactions

Through all of the phases of the proprium's development or the process of becoming our own self, our social interactions with our parents are crucial. The mother-infant relationship is particularly important as a source of love and security. The proprium will develop gradually and steadily if the mother or other primary caregiver offers enough affection and security, and the child will experience positive psychological growth. Childhood aspirations will be allowed to evolve into the independent, self-sufficient goals of adulthood. An emotionally stable adult will emerge as a result of a pattern of personal dispositions.

However, if a child's needs are not met, the proprium will not develop normally. The child develops traits like jealousy, resentment, aggression, and self-centeredness. The development of the mind is stifled. As a result, the person becomes a neurotic adult with childlike motivations. Adult motivations do not develop functional autonomy but are bound to their initial circumstances. The personality does not differentiate from its infancy state, nor do traits or personality tendencies.


According to Allport, a healthy personality develops from a biologically predominate organism during childhood to a fully developed psychological organism during adulthood. An individual’s motivations shift away from their early years and toward the future. As mentioned before, the proprium will develop successfully if the needs for security and affection from childhood have been satisfied.


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