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Explain the stages of proprium and structure of personality given by Allport.

 The Proprium: Allport pointed out that traits in a personality have between them a consistency, unity and integration. The personality has a clear organisation and structure and is governed by certain important principles. Allport called the entire orgnisation as the Proprium. Allport defined proprium as the highest in the personality structure which has all aspects of personality and that brings about inward unity and consistency in the individual’s personality. The entire organisation of personality is governed by these aspects together in the proprium. The proprium has within it dynamic and is reflected in almost all aspects of human behaviour.

According to Allport, proprium develops through the following sevens stages:

(i) Sense of body

(ii) Self-identity

(iii) Self-esteem

(iv) Self-extension

(v) Self-image

(vi) Rational coping

(vii) Propriate striving

The child initially is a bundle of living being and develops through these stages. The child gradually differentiates between his own body and the other things in the environment.

(i) Sense of body: (First 2 years of life): In the beginning, the child has no idea about which is his body and which is that of another. He may think the pillow he uses is part of himself but when the pillow is taken away by the mother he realises that it is not part of his body. He develops as a result of experiences with the environment. Allport said that the central aspects the child experiences are the ones which are central and provide him comfort. The sense of body has boundaries and the child feels the pain, touch and many other sensations including movement which all contribute to his awareness of his own selves.

(ii) Self-identity: In the first two years, the child develops his own self which Allport called self-identity. The becomes aware that pillow is not himself and mother is not himself. The self awareness leads to the recognition of oneself as having a past, present and a future. With this, the child differentiates the self from the whole. Every individual has a name and a family and this identity is entirely the individual’s own.

(iii) Self-esteem (2 to 4 years of age): The child develops his self-esteem between 2 and 4 years of age. The child makes both refined and non-refined movements and is able to reach his goals. The child feels good with many achievements and accomplishments he feels good about himself. He becomes more confident and tries to do things like climbing the stairs. He starts controlling many of his reflexes like bowel and bladder. The child feels good about himself when he gets appreciation and thus develops a good concept about himself that he is capable and is appreciated. He develops self-esteem which is positive. The negative direction the self-esteem would also have been negative.

(iv) Self-extension: (4 to 6 years): The child develops his self between four and six years of age. The environment supplements and complements to the growth and development of an individual. The child identifies his parents by name. They are his own. He lives in his own place and he has a room in which he studies and does a lot of things including listening to music. As the child grows he identifies himself as a sportsman, an athlete, a swimmer, a doctor, a teacher or a politician.

(v) Self-Image ( 4 to 6 years): The self-Image, or how others view “me” is another aspect of selfhood that emerges during childhood. Self-image develops between four and six. This is the “looking-glass self,” the me as others see me. This is the impression I make on others, my “look,” my social esteem or status, including my sexual identity. It is the beginning of what conscience, ideal self and persona.

(vi) Rational coping (6-12 years): The sense of self as a Rational-Coper occurs between the ages of six and twelve in which the child begins to realize fully that he has the rational capacity to find solutions to life’s problems, so that they can cope effectively with reality demands. 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.”

(vii) Proprium: Every individual has to be responsible for his thinking, actions and behaviours. After the varied experience, the individual is able to look back on his goals, achievements and accomplish-ments and say now is the time he would try to spend on activities that gives him internal satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment.


Allport considered the structure of personality into three parts: (i) Definition of Personality, (ii) Personality Traits and (iii) Proprium.

Definition of Personality

Allport defines personality as the dynamic organisation within the individual of those psycho-physical systems that determine his unique adjustment to his environment. This definition has put forward many aspects.

(i) Psychophysical Systems: Personality has both psychological and physical aspects, which interact between themselves. The interacting factors include at the physiological level the endocrine system and the various glands in the system. In the psychological aspects, the interacting factors include traits, emotions, intellect, temperament, character and motives. All these interact with the physiological aspects and lead to development of personality and behaviour.

(ii) Dynamic Organisation: Different elements of psychological system are independent but function in an interlocking manner with physiological and other systems and among themselves and are subject to change. However, this change can happen in a gradual manner over a long period of time.

(iii) Unique Adjustment to Environment: Every individual has a dynamic organisation of psychological traits and he makes his adjustment accordingly. The experiences of every person are unique and thus their reaction to the environment is also unique. Even the identical twins show considerable variations in their behaviour because of such unique aspects in their personality. Traits or Dispositions Traits, according to Allport, are the basic unit of individual’s personality. Traits are the predisposition to respond and react in the same or similar manner to stimuli in the environment. Two types of traits are: (i) Common Traits (ii) Personal Traits or Dispositions.

Some characteristics of traits are:

  • Traits are real and found within the individual and they are not theoretical structures or constructs.
  • Traits shape behaviour and make the individual to behave in a particular manner.
  • Traits are verified empirically.
  • Different traits have overlapping functions and are not absolutely independent of each other.
  • Traits change over time.

(i) Common Traits: Common traits are found among the members of a community. People from a certain country or a community behave similarly in a number of situations. They behave in like manner as others since cultural factors play a very significant role in the development of personality. Allport gave considerable importance to this cultural factor and he asserted that within any particular culture, there are certain behaviours that are commonly obtained as part of that culture and everyone in that culture recognises the same and even can label them. For example, greeting with a namaste by Indians and a hand shake by the Europeans.

Common traits show social values and originate from social pressure on members to behave in a particular manner. As common traits are only surface manifestations, Allport did not attach much importance to common traits. We thus differentiate between introverts and extraverts or modern and traditional behaviours.

(ii) Personal Traits or Dispositions: According to Allport, personal disposition is unique to a person and this disposition makes him behave consistently in different situations. Allport suggested that it is a generalised neuropsychic structure that is unique to the individual concerned and this makes for the difference in the behaviours. For example, people will have different reactions to a TV programme when a sad scene is shown. A person may cry, another may turn the other way from the TV, and the third criticizes the scene as most unreasonable and unrealistic. These different reactions happen because of the personal disposition. Allport defined this personal disposition as “A generalized neuropsychic structure, unique to the individual, with the capacity to render many stimuli functionally equivalent, and to initiate and guide consistent or equivalent forms of adaptive and stylistic behaviour.”

Important features of personal disposition:

(i) Personal dispositions are morphological traits. A personal disposition shows equivalences in function and meaning between various perceptions, beliefs, feelings and actions which are not equivalent naturally. 

(ii) Personal dispositions influence a person’s adjustment acts.

(iii) Personal dispositions show the personality structure and organisation.

Allport called personal characteristics as traits but later he substituted the word dispositions in place of traits and the trait was used for common traits.

A person with the personal disposition of fear of speaking in public may consider all people who have such a fear as similar to himself and react to them in the same way. Allport held a different argument by saying that one person may be an introvert and may not want to talk in public, another may be not efficient to speak in that language and so may have that fear and yet the third person may find the topic uninteresting and may hesitate to speak in public. Hence, the individual concerned will have to interact with them differently and not in the same manner as he would respond to a person like him who is afraid of talking in public. Thus the personal dispositions are concrete, can be easily recognised and they are invariably consistent.

According to Allport, traits are unique to each individual. For example, fear of speaking in public may not be the same for two individuals. The study of the individual in detail and in depth is important if one has to understand the person and his behaviour. Interviewing, or observing the person or analysing his speeches and writings to get a clear view of what is making the person afraid to speak in public are important in understanding a person. All port called this method as the idiographic method. Allport divided the personal dispositions into three groups: (i) Cardinal Traits (ii) Central Traits and (iii) Secondary Traits.

(i) Cardinal Traits: These are the basic and core traits of an individual. They get reflected in almost all situations and in the personality. For example, if we take anger as a cardinal trait in a person, the anger will be manifested in almost all aspects of the individual’s behaviour, as for instance, if he sees a child begging, he will not offer her some eatable or money. He will get angry at seeing the child begging and he may shout at him.

Cardinal traits influence overwhelmingly on the behaviour of the individual. These are considered as building blocks of the individual’s personality. These traits such as aristocratic, street smart, timid, aggressive, arrogant etc can be used to describe a person.

Allport believed each individual has about 5 to 10 such cardinal traits in them. Cardinal traits also reveal the personality structure and organisation.

(ii) Central Trait: This is general characteristic found in some degree in everybody. These are the basic building blocks that shape most of our behaviour although that are not over whelming as cardinal traits.

(iii) Secondary Traits–Secondary traits do not have overwhelming influence but it can be reflected or seen in the various preferences and attitudes of the individual concerned. These are specific to situations. For example, showing a disdainful attitude towards a particular community person are not as consistent. They can change in certain special situations. He may not show his disdainful attitude when he is with others who are in favour of that community person. 

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