Allport, Floyd H.

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Allport, Floyd H.



Floyd H. Allport is rightly regarded as the founder of social psychology as a scientific discipline. The early theoretical works of McDougall (1908) and Ross (1908) had indicated the need for this special field of study, but not until the appearance of Allport’s Social Psychology, in 1924, was there a systematic treatise based upon experimentation and operational concepts for studying man’s relations with man. Not only did Allport’s book help to create the field, but his continuing contributions in the form of theory and research marked the major avenues along which social psychology was to travel through its youth and early maturity. His pioneer efforts in methodology were so deep and broad that most of the methods in use today are refinements of his early work in group experimentation, field studies, attitude measurement, and behavioral observation. Nevertheless, his greatest gift has been in the origination of theory and its outcomes in research. His early formulation of a sophisticated behaviorism and his later event-system theory anticipated developments in the field and in some respects are still in advance of it.

The major intellectual influences affecting Floyd Allport came in his graduate days at Harvard from two of psychology’s great figures, Edwin Bissell Holt and Hugo Münsterberg. From Holt he derived his epistemological wisdom, his understanding of science, and his social behaviorism. From Münsterberg he learned the skills of the true experimentalist in operationalizing concepts for research testing and received the heritage of the German work on group influence. Mention should be made also of McDougall, against whose doctrines Allport rebelled, but in rebelling moved toward a constructive reformulation of the insights of that British evolutionist.

Allport was born in Milwaukee in 1890. He received his ph.d. from Harvard in 1919 and remained there as instructor until 1922, when he left to accept an associate professorship at the University of North Carolina. In 1924 he was called to a chair at Syracuse University’s new school for the social sciences. As professor of social and political psychology in the Maxwell Graduate School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, he directed the first doctoral program in social psychology in the United States. He remained at Syracuse until his retirement, in 1956.

Although Allport’s experimental work first appeared in 1920, his major impact came with the appearance of his Social Psychology, in 1924. This book was an excellent integration of the relevant psychological knowledge of the time—of group experimentation, personality research, and related areas in general psychology, child development, and applied psychology. It was much stronger on the psychological than on the sociological side, and its behavioristic translation of Freudian concepts of conflict and its use of Freudian mechanisms in relation to social problems set the stage for later attempts at linking the two approaches. Among other topics, this volume presented Allport’s own classic experiments on group influence—research that made group experimentation one of the central streams of social psychology for most of the years of its history. In fact, the well-known experiments of Sherif on the formation of group norms (1935) and of Asch on the power of the group (1952) were but extensions of Allport’s findings. And Dashiell’s work on experimental juries in the evaluation of testimony (1935) followed directly from Allport’s work.

Finally, Allport’s Social Psychology provided a set of useful concepts for research—specifically, his notions of social facilitation, social increment and decrement, prepotent reflexes and habits, afferent and efferent conditioning, circular and linear social behavior, coacting and interacting groups, the impression of universality, attitudes of conformity, and self-expressive social attitudes.

Allport’s contributions did not cease, of course, with the appearance of his famous text. Two of his interests in the late 1920s and early 1930s were the investigation of social attitudes and the study of institutional behavior. There had been scattered attacks upon attitudes as intervening variables mediating between personality and social situation, but Allport and his students attempted the first systematic exploration of this area. In a research paper with D. H. Hartman, Allport demonstrated the similarity between extremists of the left and extremists of the right with respect to basic personality characteristics, thus foreshadowing the present work on the authoritarianism of the left (Allport & Hartman 1925). In another investigation Allport and Katz utilized attitude measurement to describe the student culture of a large university and of its subsystems (Katz & Allport 1931). George B. Vetter, another of Allport’s students, assembled the first conclusive evidence of the generality of attitude patterns over a wide range of specific issues (1930). Allport turned to L. L. Thurstone for help on technical problems of attitude measurement; Thurstone’s attitude scales and his development of psychophysical methods for social objects were the result (Thurstone & Chave 1929; Thurstone 1928).

In the late 1920s and early 1930s Allport waged a continuing battle against the use in the social sciences of group fictions and reified concepts. He demonstrated the persistence of the old tautology of the group mind in current concepts of social institutions (Allport 1927).

He argued vigorously against the confusion of concepts and percepts and anticipated the later developments in operationalism by insisting upon such criteria as explicit denotation for making concepts scientifically usable (Allport & Hartman 1931). This led to his work Institutional Behavior, in which he analyzed such institutions as the nation, the church, the law, and the industrial complex in terms of the motivations, attitudes, and habits of people (Allport 1933). Although his attack on group fictions was extreme, he played a major role in getting social scientists to rethink their conceptualizations and to move from their armchairs to empirical research to test their theories. In a sense he was one of the first political behaviorists. He conceptualized the public opinion process in individual but dynamic terms with reference to crystallized beliefs concerning some proposed social action, thus distinguishing it from a mere collection of individual opinions (Allport 1937).

Institutional Behavior was based partly upon Allport’s theoretical study of accepted doctrines about social institutions and partly upon the research of his students on legal compliance, conformity in industrial settings, ceremonial religious observance, and the factors determining normative behavior in a small community. In this program of research Allport developed the concepts of pluralistic ignorance, partial inclusion, and public and private attitudes and the J-curve theory of con-forming behavior (Allport et al. 1932; Allport 1934; Schanck 1932).

As F. H. Allport became involved in studies of social behavior outside the laboratory, he became increasingly dissatisfied with his earlier behavioristic theory, which neglected the problem of relationships and the problem of social structure. He was still unhappy with the traditional social science approach of meeting the difficulty with what he regarded as word-magic. Nor was he satisfied with the field theorist who recognized the problem of relationships but solved it in phenomenological fashion. Hence he became absorbed in the development of a new theory of behavior that would take account of the structure of social action in an objective and scientific manner.

To introduce his highly abstract event-system theory to the world of academic psychology, with its many specialized interests, Allport attempted a review of theories of perception as a focus of concern for many psychologists in his well-known Theories of Perception (1955). This volume has been widely regarded as the most scholarly and the most incisive analysis of theories of perception thus far available. It also presents some of Allport’s own theory of individual and social behavior.

His theory, which he terms an event-system theory, is still in the process of refinement. It is something of an open-system approach that sees social structure as being made up of cycles of events that return upon themselves to complete each cycle (Allport 1954). Social structure has no anatomical or physical basis apart from the events themselves, so that social systems are made up of the interstructuring of specific acts: “Causation, in the structural view, is not historical nor linear, but continuous, time independent, and reciprocally cyclical. One looks for it neither in society nor in the individual, as traditionally seen as separate levels or agencies, but in the compounded patterns of structuring which are the essential reality underlying both” (Allport 1962, p. 19). Individuals relate to one another to maintain the intrinsic rewards from their patterned behavior as well as the more indirect rewards, including the assurances that the structure will be maintained. For Allport a group norm does not so much determine the behavior of individuals as provide a stipulation that will conduce to the creation or preservation of a structure (patterned activity) in which individuals have some degree of involvement. From this theory Allport has proceeded to measure degree of structurance—i.e., potency of involvement— through a negative-causation technique. The relevance of behavior to the structure in question is measured by an index of interstructure to get at the reinforcing or inhibiting effects received from related structures.

The individual is thus seen as a matrix of involvements in many collective structures, with his own personality system a tangential structure. In one study, for example, Morse and Allport showed that hostility toward minority groups was a function of involvement in the national structure, whereas feelings of aversion toward minority group members were more clearly related to the personality syndromes of the prejudiced people (Morse & Allport 1952).

Allport’s contributions have had two major consequences: (1) He shaped the field of social psychology as an area concerned with the basic problems of social influence in which measurement of individuals is the primary focus. Such measurement should be guided by theories of social process, but the data to be gathered are always at the individual level. (2) He furnished the rationale and the example for the behavioral trend in the social sciences. Allport’s insistence upon translating institutional concepts into the measurable behavior of people, his refusal to permit social scientists to fall back upon an undefined higher level of constructs, and his research, as well as that of his students, have not been without effect. The concept of the behavioral sciences is the logical outcome of Allport’s teachings. The voice crying in the wilderness forty years ago proved to be the voice both of the leader and of the prophet.

Daniel Katz

[For the historical context of Allport’s work, see the biographiesholt; Mcdougall; MÜnsterberg. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeAttitudes; Groups; Social psychology.]


1920 The Influence of the Group Upon Association and Thought. Journal of Experimental Psychology 3:159–182.

1924 Social Psychology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

1925 Allport, Floyd H.; and Hartman, D. A. The Measurement and Motivation of Atypical Opinion in a Certain Group. American Political Science Review 19:735–760.

1927 “Group” and “Institution” as Concepts in a Natural Science of Social Phenomena. American Sociological Society Publications 22:83–99.

1931 Allport, Floyd H.; and Hartman, D. A. The Prediction of Cultural Change. Pages 307–350 in S. A. Rice (editor), Methods in Social Science. Univ. of Chicago Press.

1931 Katz, Daniel; and Allport, Floyd H. Students’ Attitudes: A Report of the Syracuse University Reaction Study. Syracuse, N.Y.: Craftsman Press.

1932 Allport, Floyd H.; Dickens, Milton C.; and Schanck, Richard L. Psychology in Relation to Social and Political Problems. Pages 199–252 in Paul S. Achilles (editor), Psychology at Work. New York and London: McGraw-Hill.

1933 Institutional Behavior. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

1934 The J-curve Hypothesis of Con-forming Behavior. Journal of Social Psychology 5:141–183. → The article includes summaries in French and German.

1937 Toward a Science of Public Opinion. Public Opinion Quarterly 1:7–23.

1952 Morse, Nancy C.; and Allport, Floyd H. The Causation of Anti-Semitism: An Investigation of Seven Hypotheses. Journal of Psychology 34:197–233.

1954 The Structuring of Events: Outline of a General Theory With Applications to Psychology. Psychological Review 61:281–303.

1955 Theories of Perception and the Concept of Structure. New York: Wiley.

1962 A Structuronomic Conception of Behavior; Individual and Collective: 1. Structural Theory and the Master Problem of Social Psychology. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 64:3–30.


Asch, Solomon E. (1952) 1959 Social Psychology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Dashiell, J. F. 1935 Experimental Studies of the Influence of Social Situations on the Behavior of Individual Human Adults. Pages 1097-1158 in Carl Murchison (editor), A Handbook of Social Psychology. Worcester, Mass.: Clark Univ. Press.

Mcdougall, William (1908) 1936 An Introduction to Social Psychology. 23d ed., enl. London: Methuen. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Barnes and Noble.

Ross, Edward A. 1908 Social Psychology. New York: Macmillan.

Schanck, Richard L. 1932 A Study of a Community and Its Groups and Institutions Conceived of as Behaviors of Individuals. Psychological Monographs 43, no. 2:1–133.

Sherif, Muzafer 1935 A Study of Some Social Factors in Perception. Archives of Psychology 27, no. 187:1–60.

Thurstone, Leon L. 1928 The Measurement of Opinion. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 22: 415–430.

Thurstone, Leon L.; and Chave, E. J. 1929 The Measurement of Attitude. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Vetter, George B. 1930 The Measurement of Social and Political Attitudes and the Related Personality Factors. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 25:149–189.