Personality: Contemporary Viewpoints

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Personality: Contemporary Viewpoints

I. A Unique and Open SystemGordon W. Allport


II. Components of an Evolving Personological SystemHenry A. Murray



My approach to personality theory has been called both humanistic and personalistic. It is humanistic in the sense that it demands full recognition of all aspects of man’s being, including his potential for becoming more than he is. It is personalistic in the sense that its goal is to understand and predict the development of the concrete, individual person. The approach has likewise been labeled individual or trait psychology and sometimes a psychology of becoming. I prefer to regard it as an eclecticism based upon the conception of personality as a unique and open system (Allport 1964).

An open system is one in which constant intake and output of energy occur, as do homeostatic (tension-reduction) processes. While all theories of personality allow for these two criteria of open system, the present view proposes two additional criteria: progressive internal organization over time and creative transaction with the environment (1960a). [SeeSystems analysis, articles ongeneral systems theoryandpsychological systems.]

Unlike most major theories, my view is derived not from clinical experience with disordered personalities (as are the views of Freud, Jung, Fromm, Sullivan, etc.) but from the traditions of academic psychology. There is an affinity between my position and the theories of Wilhelm Stern, Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Carl R. Rogers, Henry A. Murray, and the contemporary existentialists. Sometimes these views as a group have been labeled the “third force” in psychology (the first two being psychoanalysis and stimulus–response behaviorism).

Internationalism. Influenced by historical developments in psychology in continental Europe (especially the schools of act, gestalt, and personalistic psychology), I have tried to relate these movements to Anglo–American empiricism, whose methods I prefer; but I insist that the European view of the person as a self-active (rather than merely reactive) being is sounder than the exaggerated environmentalism and associationism that mark American theories of personality.

Some American critics complain that I lean toward German romanticism. Some Europeans, on the other hand, resent my “Americanization” of their thought. Broadly speaking, however, this work is welcomed as a bridge between psychological cultures, and honorary memberships in psychological societies of Great Britain, Germany, France, Austria, and Italy attest to this fact.

Presuppositions. While my approach is academic, historical, international, and eclectic, it rests also upon the conviction that science as yet lacks an adequate image of the nature of man. For this reason no doors of method or theory should be closed. It is premature and unseemly for psychologists to present their partial and incomplete theories as if these theories were the final word. Because of this conviction my writing is often polemic in tone, for example in my attacks upon reinforcement theory of learning, projective techniques, animal models, and common actuarial assumptions—insofar as such particularistic doctrines seem to be overextended in current theorizing.

Psychoanalysis, with its heavy emphasis on the unconscious and on ego defenses, contributes much to our understanding of certain human qualities and occasionally provides the best theoretical fit for a given personality; but in general its biologism and reductionism are unsafe guides to follow. Most human conflicts are well configurated in consciousness and for this reason phenomenological report is important. “If you want to know what a person is like, ask him.”

In place of particularism and reductionism, I advocate a systematic pluralism or systematic eclecticism, which regards human personality as an open system whose potentiality limits are not known. Because any given personality is always in the process of “becoming” (1955), the science of personality should leave doors open for expansion. Since, as a rule, it is purposivists who leave doors open and mechanists who close them, I am aligned with the former, although I do not exclude any valid evidence from any school of thought. I would allow for both the automatic and for the autonomous in human nature.

All theories of personality are nothing more than empirically based philosophies of man. Philosophies of materialism, egotism, hedonism, and positivism are too narrow to accommodate all the evidence. More adequate are philosophies of process, growth, and personhood.

The unique and the general. This background accounts for the emphasis upon the study of the individual case in preference to the contrived average case. While most writers pay lip service to uniqueness, they do not in fact allow for it in their dimensional methods or in their assertions concerning the laws (or tendencies) of mind in general. Because of the manifest uniqueness of genotype, environment, and experience, the problem is not to justify the study of individual pattern but rather to justify our abstract and approximate nomothesis. We can do so by observing that people have similar (although never identical) physiological needs, comparable learning capacities, and culturally similar environments. Hence they may develop comparable interests and traits. On this basis we are justified in measuring common traits within a population. But while we engage in this familiar practice of differential psychology we should remember that the primary challenge is to invent morphogenic methods for the reliable and valid study of personal dispositions and individual life styles. Just as morphogenic biology lags behind molecular biology, so too does morphogenic psychology lag behind molecular (dimensional) psychology (1961, chapter 1).

The morphogenic (sometimes called idiographic) point of view holds that the single life itself should serve as the base line for studies of a person’s course of development and also that an individual life is the proper matrix in which to search for the structure and functioning of personal motives and dispositions. I do not deny that the usual dimensional (nomothetic) approaches have their uses, but I argue for increased study of individual patterns of growth.

Research. Morphogenic methods are not easy to invent. Some possibilities lie in personal documents, such as diaries, autobiographies, and letters (Allport 1942; Masterson 1946). The widely used Allport-Vernon-Lindzey test (see A Study of Values 1931), is partly morphogenic, partly dimensional. One of my papers (Allport 1962) lists a wide variety of techniques that I consider wholly or partly morphogenic, among them methods such as matching, self-anchoring scales, and personal structure analysis. Eventually such methods should prove to be scientifically more acceptable than the prevalent dimensional (actuarial) methods, since they should enhance powers of prediction, understanding, and control, the three goals of science (1940).

As important as such methods are, they are not to be used exclusively. The bulk of my empirical investigations follow the more traditional method of seeking uniformities in such areas as children’s imagery, expressive movement, social attitudes, common traits, social perception, rumor, prejudice, and the religious sentiment. These and other research contributions are listed in the extensive bibliography accompanying Personality and Social Encounter (1960b).

An early and wholly characteristic field of research is reported in Studies in Expressive Movement (Allport & Vernon 1933), in which quantitative measures are made of handwriting, drawing, gait, gesture, and posture. Correlations of these measures disclose certain common traits of movement, such as expansiveness (versus constrictedness), centrifugality (versus centripetality), and forcefulness (versus light pressure). In general, individuals are consistent in the degree to which their movement manifests such characteristics. But even when an individual does not follow the common statistical trend, one can usually detect a congruence in his personal movement pattern. Thus while most people are consistent in the force they exert in holding a pen in their fingers and in applying it to paper, an artist may grasp the pen firmly but apply it lightly (a reflection of his own professional style). In this example we note the dual emphasis upon both dimensional and morphogenic interpretations.

Social psychology. My investigations bridge the topic of personality with the field of social psychology. I define the latter discipline as “the attempt to understand and explain how the thought, feeling, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of other human beings (1954a, p. 5). In this definition the focus is upon the individual rather than upon societal structures or social processes. The contention that the concept of “role” adequately covers the functioning of personality in the social system is rejected. Nor is there acceptance of a definition of personality stated merely in terms of its effect on other people. For me personality “is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his characteristic behavior and thought” (1961, p. 28). Thus the field of personality study is related to, but not identical with, the field of social psychology.

While The Nature of Prejudice (1954b) endeavors to give due weight to societal factors, it is the attitudes, traits, and character structure of persons that receive major attention. Cultural forces are ineffective unless they are embodied in the habits, attitudes, and motives of individual men.

Structure of personality

My main interest is in the organization of personality. This fact is responsible for the somewhat misleading statement that I advocate a trait psychology. I define a trait as “a neuropsychic structure having the capacity to render many stimuli functionally equivalent, and to initiate and guide equivalent (meaningfully consistent) forms of adaptive and expressive behavior” (1961, p. 347). An attitude is regarded as a special class of traits, involving an approach or avoidance tendency toward a specifiable object or class of objects.

Common traits and attitudes, therefore, are those aspects of personality in respect to which most people within a given culture can be profitably compared. Although I have done a considerable amount of work in this conventional area of differential psychology, this should not obscure my special and more original emphasis on “personal dispositions,” or “individual traits” (1937; 1961), conceived as genuine and unique neuropsychic units that guide, direct, and motivate specific acts of adjustment. While common traits are useful as coarse and approximate dimensions for convenient comparison of individuals, the ultimate units we seek are personal dispositions—the actual, organized foci of the individual’s life. While objective methods are preferable in determining these dispositions, subjective experience and self-report are not to be denied their place.

I am inclined to believe that a relatively few (perhaps six to ten) central dispositions can normally account for the congruence and stability found in personal conduct (1960b, chapter 7). In a few lives one “cardinal” disposition seems to dominate (Hitler’s mania for power, the compassion of St. Francis, Albert Schweitzer’s reverence for life). Most lives also have “secondary” dispositions, which reflect minor foci of interest or stylistic qualities of behavior (1961, chapter 15).

Since even a cardinal disposition never accounts for all of behavior, the full unification of personality is never attained. Somewhat after the manner of Carl G. Jung, I assume that the nearest approach to unity consists in the never realized striving for unity.


Most empirical psychology relies on fragmentary and short-run experiments; and clinical psychology and psychiatry rely for their data chiefly on anamnesis and backward tracing of lives. Hence, central motives, thrusting toward the future, are often lost from view. To trace motives into the past (to discover Oedipal conflicts or the history of rewards and punishments) is contrary to the structure of most lives, which strain toward the future. Hence much current theorizing allows only scantily for goals, plans, intentions, ideals, and hopes that mark the course of becoming. Values (defined as “meanings perceived as related to the self”) should be considered a chief ingredient in personality structure. Here I am clearly aligned with the third force in psychology.


Traditional theories of motivation postulate instincts, impulses, and needs, all of which press toward gratification. Equilibrium, tension reduction, or homeostasis, is said to be the goal of all activity. This is the position of most theories of personality, systems which I consider “quasi-closed.” Open-system theories insist that men are normally not content with restful equilibrium. Homeostasis, when achieved, merely guarantees, as Walter B. Cannon has said, that man is then free for the “priceless nonessentials” of life.

Even the most basic biological drives are individually patterned; food, drink, sex, and sleep involve countless individual tastes. And beyond drives there are innumerable psychogenic interests that defy uniform classification. One should not, therefore, postulate a basic list of motives, as many theories do.

Instead I propose that all structural dispositions are in some degree motivational, in that they all “cause” behavior. Those dispositions involving greater momentary tension (including drives with their respective canalized tastes) have a prepotent saliency. Dispositions that we call interests, ambitions, and values—all involving long-range intention—are also persistently dynamic but ordinarily nonsalient. In addition there are stylistic dispositions (e.g., the tendency to act politely) that are directive in conduct rather than dynamic or driving. Stylistic dispositions that reflect qualities of temperament are best studied through expressive movements (vide supra).

Functional autonomy

To allow for the continual growth of motives, I have introduced the concept of “functional autonomy.” It refers to “any acquired system of motivation in which the tensions involved are not of the same kind as the antecedent tensions from which the acquired system developed” (1961, p. 229). The existence of functional autonomy has been acknowledged by various authors in various ways, e.g., Franz Brentano, Edward C. Tolman, Wilhelm Stern, and Robert S. Woodworth.

The principle of functional autonomy comprises the following points: (1) The character of motives alters so radically from infancy to maturity that we may regard adult motives as supplanting the motives of infancy; this view allows for the variety of goals and interests in adult personality better than any doctrine of fixed instinct or conditioned drive. (2) Even biological drives (breathing, hunger, sex) take on an individuality of patterning. (3) The “go” of a motive is always contemporary, and therefore tracing back to Oedipal conflicts, identifications, or childhood conditioning (except in rare neurotic instances) does not provide an explanation for current motivation. (4) Ontogenetic emergence (here postulated) does not contradict continuity in personality development.

One should distinguish perseverative from propriate functional autonomy. The former is due to reverberatory (feedback) mechanisms in the nervous system. The latter is based on the dynamic properties of the self-image and on propriate striving.

Except in certain neurotic conditions, a person is not tied to earlier motives, whether these are regarded as conditioned, channeled, or sublimated. Rather, the essence of his nature is to master and extract meaning from his environment and to orient himself toward the future. Propriate functional autonomy is possible because the energy potential possessed by an individual is in excess of his survival needs, drives, and the demands of immediate adjustment.

In short, functional autonomy is “a way of stating that men’s motives change and grow in the course of life because it is the nature of man that they should do so. Only theorists wedded to a reactive, homeostatic, quasi-closed model of man find difficulty in agreeing” (1961, pp. 252–253). It should be noted that post-Freudian ego psychology has modified psychoanalytic theory in the direction of functional autonomy (Heinz Hartmann, Erich Fromm, David Rapaport, Karen Horney). Ego psychology no longer looks for motivation exclusively in the unconscious, nor does it regard adult purposes as mere cathexes or sublimations of the instinctive impulses of sex and aggression.

Functional autonomy is a declaration of independence for the normal personality. As a model it allows for authentic maturity and growth. Criteria for the mature personality are extension of the sense of self, warm relating of self to others, emotional security, realistic perception, self-objectification (insight and humor), and a unifying philosophy of life (1961, chapter 12).

The proprium

The term “proprium” is used to avoid the historic ambiguities of self or ego. Proprium is defined as the self-as-known—that which is experienced as warm and central, as of importance. Ego involved (propriate) states are measurably different from states that are merely task involved, i.e., peripheral to the proprium (1943). Propriate functions include body sense, self-identity, self-esteem, self-extension, rational coping, self-image, and long-range propriate striving.

These propriate functions (which must not be attributed to a separate self or agent) develop gradually, beginning at the end of the first year of life. Early sensorimotor behavior is nonpropriate, as is much of the opportunistic functioning of later life. Most of the investigations conducted in general and experimental psychology deal with nonpropriate behavior. For this reason many psychological principles of learning, motivation, and cognitive operation are not fully adequate to a psychology of the propriate aspects of personality. For example, theories of learning place too much emphasis upon the concept of reward and punishment and neglect the effect on learning of the congruence of an act with the self-image.

In the normal course of development, external sanctions give way to internal directives. A student who first seeks the teacher’s approval may end up by searching for knowledge for its own sake (functional autonomy). To take a further example: childhood conscience is at first a disposition based on prohibition, fear, and parental sanctions. With time, however, this primitive “must” conscience gives way to an adult “ought” conscience, which is based not on fear of sanctions but upon a generic image of one’s preferred life style. Thus the mature sense of moral obligation reaches far beyond the childhood superego. And so too with all complex sentiments. They are not mere channelings of early formations but are selective, critical, and often adventurous ways of handling the onrush of existence.

The interweaving of the propriate functions performs the task of unifying personality (insofar as it is unified) in much the same way as William McDougall’s master sentiment of “self-regard.”

As an academician and eclectic I respect and utilize contributions from the many particularistic approaches. It is, however, a persistent demand for adequacy of outlook that leads me to emphasize what I regard as neglected hypotheses and interpretations. My historical orientation is reflected in my sympathetic biographical interpretations of the work of William James, John Dewey, Wilhelm Stern, and Kurt Lewin—writers with whom I feel intellectual kinship. While I do not claim to have achieved a final eclecticism, I believe that the opensystem view of personality holds hope for such a development (Allport 1964). An open system, as opposed to a quasi-closed system, allows for an increase of internal organization over time and for transactional commerce with the environment beyond the level of mere reactivity (1960a).

Gordon W. Allport

[Other relevant material may be found inField Theory; Gestalt Theory; Personality; Traits.]


The most general statement of Allport’s position is in Allport 1961. A complete bibliography through 1963 is contained in the 1964 edition of Allport 1960b.

Allport, Gordon W. 1937 Personality: A Psychological Interpretation. New York: Holt.

Allport, Gordon W. 1940 The Psychologist’s Frame of Reference. Psychological Bulletin 37:1–28.

Allport, Gordon W. 1942 The Use of Personal Documents in Psychological Science. Bulletin No. 49. New York: Social Science Research Council.

Allport, Gordon W. 1943 The Ego in Contemporary Psychology. Psychological Review 50:451–478.

Allport, Gordon W. 1954a The Historical Background of Modern Social Psychology. Volume 1, pages 3–56 in Gardner Lindzey (editor), Handbook of Social Psychology. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Allport, Gordon W. 1954b The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley. → An abridged paperback edition was published in 1958 by Doubleday.

Allport, Gordon W. 1955 Becoming: Basic Considerations for a Psychology of Personality. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Allport, Gordon W. 1960a The Open System in Personality Theory. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 61:301–310.

Allport, Gordon W. (1960b) 1964 Personality and Social Encounter: Selected Essays. Boston: Beacon.

Allport, Gordon W. 1961 Pattern and Growth in Personality. New York: Holt.

Allport, Gordon W. 1962 The General and the Unique in Psychological Science. Journal of Personality 30: 405–422.

Allport, Gordon W. 1964 The Fruits of Eclecticism: Bitter or Sweet? Pages 27–44 in International Congress of Psychology, 17th, Proceedings. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing.

Allport, Gordon W.; Bruner, Jerome S.; and Jandorf, E. M. 1941 Personality Under Social Catastrophe: Ninety Life-histories of the Nazi Revolution. Character and Personality 10:1–22.

Allport, Gordon W.; and Vernon, Philip E. 1933 Studies in Expressive Movement. New York: Macmillan.

Allport, Gordon W.; Vernon, Philip E.; and Lindzey, Gardner (1931) 1960 A Study of Values. 3d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. → Allport and Vernon were the authors of the 1931 edition.

Bertocci, Peter A.; and Millard, Richard M. 1963 Personality and the Good. New York: McKay. → See chapter 6.

Hall, Calvin S.; and Lindzey, Gardner 1957 Theories of Personality. New York: Wiley. See chapter 7.

Maddi, Salvatore R. 1963 Humanistic Psychology: Allport and Murray. Pages 162–205 in J. M. Wepman and R. W. Heine (editors), Concepts of Personality. Chicago: Aldine.

Masterson, Jenny (Gove) [pseud.] (1946) 1965 Letters From Jenny. Edited and interpreted by Gordon W. Allport. New York: Harcourt. → First published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology.


Without doubt, the ground for my inclusion among contemporary “personality theorists” in this encyclopedia as well as in four recent surveys of the field (Hall & Lindzey 1957; Wepman & Heine 1963; Bischof 1964; Sahakian 1965) is the array of concepts and conceptual relations that were presented in Explorations in Personality (1938), the product of a collaboration for which I have received in print more credit than I can reasonably claim. Since that time, the conceptual scheme that we had designed (for a restricted purpose) has undergone, needless to say, countless expansions, revisions, and reconstructions on its way to the still embryonic and evolving personological system (PS) to which I currently subscribe. I welcome the opportunity to report this much—a bare minimum—in order to accent my belief that today is no time for theoretical fixations. On the contrary, in my case an itch for comprehensiveness has resulted in such a multiplication of idenes, or basic gene-like ideas–stolen goods for the most part–that at this juncture I find myself utterly incapable of packing them coherently into an essay of this length. The present assignment, then, came as a Procrustean bed which called for major surgery, regardless of the prospect that a successful series of amputations, or theoriectomies, would be pretty sure to kill the patient (this PS). The most radical theoriectomy performed for this occasion involved the excision of that large, widely propagated portion of the Freudian system which is concerned with psychopathological phenomena and their determinants. What were left to represent and understand after this huge excision were the more venturesome, progressive, ambitious, proudful, affectionate, joyful, self-actualizing, and creative potentialities of human nature, as well as of some of its higher-level, social and cultural, adult activities. In short, the task here is to set forth something which might serve as a health-oriented extension of, and complement to, the illness-oriented Freudian system. Further reductions of my corpus of ideas have been accomplished by extracting a number of biological, physiological, sociological, evolutionary, and general systems concepts and theories, by deleting expositions and justifications of ideas that are already in the literature, and by condensing nearly everything that needed to be said into the briefest sentences, without the numerous qualifications that accuracy demands. And so, as a consequence of so much surgery, I am afraid that the standing of this present assemblage of mentations must depend on whatever imaginative supports the reader is prepared to proffer.

A theoretical conception


A personality at any designated moment of its history (in middle life, for example) is the then-existing brain-located, imperceptible and problematical hierarchical constitution of an individual’s entire complex stock of interrelated substance-dependent and structure-dependent psychological properties (elementary, associational, and organizational). Each elementary property is a differentiated (selectively focused), situationally oriented disposition (readiness) and capacity (power) to participate as a process in conjunction with other processes (each in its own way) in a variety of functional exercises or endeavors which will presumptively enhance that individual’s feeling of well-being in his world. The vast majority of these selectively focused dispositions and capacities— for example, a multiplicity of more or less energizing interests, valuations, passions, wants, and needs; of more or less adequate imaginal or conceptual representations of objects, persons, events, or abstract ideas; of beliefs, judgments, decisions, or plans of action; and of more or less competent organizations of subsidiary mental, verbal, and motor processes, that is, special skills—will be dormant (unactivated) at any given time. But a few of them will be operating momentarily in one of the internal or external situational proceedings (temporal units of activity), the ongoing processions of which constitute the daily waking life of that particular individual.

Psychological properties. The properties and processes of personality are those that are capable of becoming conscious (experientially discriminated) in the natural course of events or when existing resistances are overcome. In short, this PS conforms to the principle that a scientist should adhere to a thoroughly self-consistent terminology, one that is suitable to the conceptual analysis and reconstruction of the class of phenomena (in this case psychological phenomena) he is investigating. This principle prohibits neither his identification of determinants or of analogous events at other levels of discourse, nor his adoption of the language of general systems theory in addition to his own terms [seeSystems analysis, article onpsychological systems].

Brain-located properties. Brain-located substance-and-structure dependence simply means that there would be no psychological properties or processes without the operations of the properties of material substances and structures on lower (electronic, chemical, physiological) levels of reality, including the circulating blood and its various essential constituents, such as oxygen, water, energy-bearing food particles, salts, vitamins, and hormones (if no animate brain, then no personality); and consequently that alterations of encephalic functioning beyond a certain critical limit— for example, as a result of anoxemia, lobotomy, arteriosclerosis, drugs, etc.—will change the personality temporarily or permanently in some respects. Furthermore, this dependence on the brain means that increasing knowledge of encephalic structures and their properties—for example, ascending reticular activating system—and various centers of hedonic, emotional, and erotic excitation in subcortical areas—should provide ground for hypothetical conceptions of the hierarchical systems of a personality that not only will conform more and more closely to the operations of the organic structures on which these systems are dependent but will advance our understanding of their situational activities. [SeeNervous system, article onstructure and function of the brain.]

Comprehensiveness of properties. In this PS, “personality,” the most comprehensive term we have in psychology, is given a functional meaning embracing everything from basic temperamental variables—for example, energy level, hedonic level, affective state of being—to such higher mental processes as may be devoted to superpersonal (cultural) endeavors—for example, artistic, historical, scientific, philosophical. Consequently, even by restricting one’s attention (as one inevitably must do and should do) to the most important properties, a personality cannot yet be adequately represented as a functional and temporal whole in less than 5,000 words, let us say; certainly not by a short list of traits.

Hierarchical constitution. Hierarchical constitution refers to the conception of three “vertical” divisions (differentiated establishments) of a personality, the states of which in childhood are quite comparable to the Freudian id, ego, and superego. The number, nature, object attachments, relative potency, and interrelationships of the components of each of these establishments change progressively with maturation and learning, stratum upon stratum, in opposition to an underlying tendency (augmented by frustration, etc.) to regress to lower strata, as manifested in sleep, reaction to extreme stress, neurosis, and psychosis. In these regressions the mind is overrun by mythological (archetypal) images from the stratum in which the narcissistic infant’s entire world consisted of the providing and depriving mother (matriarchal superego) and the anlage of the ego was nothing but a little actuator of its vocal and its oral muscles.

In this PS the adult id embraces the entire stratified population of instinctual (genetically given, viscerogenic, subcortical, unbidden and involuntary) affective dispositions (hedonic, wishful, emotional, evaluative) with their engendered orienting fantasies, some forms of which have been repressed for years and may or may not be operating influentially “below” the boundary of the ego, but others of which have access to consciousness. The adult ego is the more or less fact-perceptive, knowledgeable, rational, articulate, future-oriented regnant system of the personality with energies of its own (during the waking hours) to fulfill its role as both governor and servant of the id. As the self-conscious “I,” who leaves most things to habit (dynamic mechanisms), the adult ego will, on signal occasions, try as far as possible to function as the autonomous (uncoerced) and self-sufficient (unaided) determiner of his destiny—especially as “I” the decision maker (the identifier, interpreter, evaluator, rejector of the “worse” and chooser of the “better” pressing id components) and as “I” the plan-composer for the “better” ones, the executor and adjuster of the plans, and, finally, the achiever of effects which are sufficiently satisfying to self-respect and to the destructive and constructive id, greedy for pleasure, companionship, love, possessions, parenthood, power, and prestige. The adult superego (superregnant system of the personality) consists of stratified imaginal representors of the rulers (parent, king, god) and verbal representors of the ruling culture (moral precepts, laws, beliefs, sentiments, principles) of the world (family, group, nation, mankind) of which each ego is a member. Its function is to commit the individual to the support and service of these values. [SeePsychoanalysis, article onego psychology.]

Imperceptible, problematical properties. Imperceptible and problematical properties are encountered especially in highly speculative, theoretical constructs, all too complicated to be properly expounded in this article.

Personality operations

The operations of a personality during any designated period in its career are the history of the brain-located participations (with more or less frequency, intensity, persistence, and effectiveness) of many, but not all, of its manifold, currently existing properties, a few of these at a time—as manifested objectively and/or subjectively during the waking hours—in each of the succession of different (unique or recurrent) external (e.g., overt interactional) and internal (e.g., covert contemplative) situational proceedings, which, with their varying hedonic accompaniments and effects (negative or positive reinforcements), compose the more or less self-conscious life of an individual as it is carried on in relation to an influential environment of natural, artifactual, human, and cultural entities and events. To be included among the manifest operations and relations of a person’s constitutional properties are prolonged emotional states (e.g., melancholy, anxiety, internal conflict, passionate love, creative zest); long spans of proactive, progressive serial proceedings, that is, the continuing, though interrupted, operation of complex systems of interest and enterprise with subsidiary processes (e.g., working for a degree, a long courtship, building a house, a voyage of discovery, writing a novel, etc.); and verbal disclosures of prevalent enduring dispositions (e.g., sentiments, beliefs, ambitions), as well as manifestations of thematic imagination, of knowledge, and of skill in various testing situations.

Not all possible operations are included, because nowhere near all classes of situations (e.g., opportunities, tasks, perils) will be encountered by any one person in his lifetime: numerous possible shames and triumphs will be buried with him. Almost as revealing as the classes of situations that a person proactively chooses to encounter may be those he consistently avoids.

Succession of proceedings. A person’s waking life is characterized by a continuous procession of varying psychic states, processes, and representors. Some of these processions will occur when he is privately absorbed in a random, undirected (involuntary) stream of covert feelings, images, and ideas (e.g., daydreaming) and others, when he is privately absorbed in a directed (voluntary) endeavor to “make up his mind” about something. Temporal strips of this nature are termed undirected or directed internal proceedings. In contrast to these are external proceedings, during each of which the person is proactively or reactively engaged in an environmental transaction, marked by actuations of overt, situationally oriented, motor and/or verbal processes, actuations which may be more or less spontaneous, random, impulsively expressive, aimless, or deliberately directed, intentional, and purposeful. External proceedings have two aspects: an imperceptible experiential aspect and a perceptible and/or audible behavioral aspect. Internal proceedings, however, have only a scarcely appreciable behavioral aspect. There is no space here for an account of how these major (sometimes overlapping) classes of situational proceedings have been classified into families, genera, species, varieties, etc. What needs to be stressed here is that this PS embraces both conventional behavioral psychology and (more particularly) experiential psychology–that is, it uses detailed reports, expertly obtained, of internal proceedings and of the subjective aspect of external proceedings. [SeePhenomenology.]


Chronological records of the more important (revealing, consequential), successful or unsuccessful, satisfying or dissatisfying, single and serial proceedings (e.g., overt social interactions, sexual experiences of all sorts, covert dreams, fantasies, conflicts, feelings, self-evaluations, apperceptions of the world, choices of long-range purposes, etc.) in a person’s life during the designated timespan, taken in conjunction with his responses to technical procedures, constitute the bulk of the data, the facts, to be analyzed into psychological variables, which, whenever possible, will be incorporated into the systemic components of a total formulation of the existing constitution of a person’s more important properties. But, of course, the constitution will be changing, and strictly speaking, this great task of assessment and formulation should be repeated at each of the (Shakespearean seven, let us say) ages of the subject, since personality, as denned by this PS, has not only a comprehensive scope but a comprehensive span: the history of the personality is the personality. I shall now turn to a much abbreviated conception of the historic changes of the constitution of a personality, paying special attention to their genetical and experiential (learning) determinants.

The developmental process

A personality constitutionally and operationally considered as a temporal whole from birth to death is the brain-located history of the successive and cumulative constitutional products (say, a few molecules and structural alterations at a time, in cells, axons and dendrites) of two interdependent ongoing, psychometabolic processes: the genetical and experiential systems.

The nature and order of the products of the more fundamental of these two interdependent systems are largely determined, in a basic and a general way, by the inbuilt, genetical program of consecutive events (DNA code of instructions), a program which is roughly divisible into three successive but overlapping temporal eras.

The first era is marked by the emergence and multiplication of potentialities for a high proportion of new, developmental (associational and organizational), structural compositions, each with its consequential psychological properties. The second era (middle age) is marked by a relatively high proportion of conservative recompositions of the already developed structures and functions. And, finally, the third era (senescence) is marked by a decrease of potentialities for new compositions and recompositions (e.g., less learning and retention) and an increase of decompositions (atrophy) of some previously existing forms and functions. [SeeAdolescence; Aging; Developmental psychology; Genetics, article ongenetics and behavior; Infancy; Intellectual development; Life cycle; Personality, article onpersonality development; Sensory and motor development.]

Presumably, the progress of the genetical program of events determines the earliest age at which a number of nascent dispositions and aptitudes will successively emerge and be capable of development under favorable conditions (e.g., now is the time to learn to crawl, now to start babbling, now comes the onset of puberty, etc.); the limits of excellence to which a number of special skills (e.g., athletic, musical, mathematical, poetical, etc.) may be perfected under the most facilitating circumstances; a number of temperamental dispositions and susceptibilities; and finally, besides much else perhaps, the onset of senescence and the age of death under the most fortunate conditions.

The nature and order of the constructive and conservative products of the experiential interdependent system of psychometabolic processes (the system involved in learning) are largely and specifically determined by the succession and recurrence of diverse concrete environmental encounters, instinctive outbursts, functional endeavors, and their hedonic effects (negative and positive reinforcements, including punishments and rewards for good behavior). Thus, within limits set by the existing potentialities, the operations and fortunes —or misfortunes—of a few, interdependent properties of the personality in each of the critical proceedings of its ongoing life largely determine what will be learned (internally composed, retained, and replicated); then, in a reciprocal manner, what a person learns on one occasion will determine or modify his performance on a subsequent occasion of the same class.

Metabolic model

The term “ongoing” points to the fact that the brain-located nature of a human being is marked by a procession of vital processes, from the cessation of which (for example, as a result of even a short span of oxygen deprivation) there is no recovery. Ontogenetically considered, these given vital processes date from the fertilization of the ovum, but phylogenetically considered, they have a presumptive molecular (DNA or RNA) and cytoplasmic thread of historic continuity of some two or three billion years, which started, we may suppose, with the emergence of the genetical systems of a cluster of primordial units of living matter. To represent the sine qua non of life within the boundary of an animal organism, including its brain, and to account for the free energy that sustains its multivarious operations, there are no better general terms than those of biochemical metabolism, the incessant operation in each cell and tissue of catabolic (structure-decomposing, energyreleasing) and anabolic (structure-composing, energy-binding) processes.

The succession of intracellular catabolic processes (designated here by De) may be likened to a tiny fire in which energy-rich particles (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) are decomposed with the aid of enzymes in a watery medium of mineral salts, vitamins, and other substances. To keep these home fires burning brightly in the cells of the brain and other organs, there must be an almost continuous cellular ingestion (symbolized by Ca) of the above-mentioned necessities—especially oxygen— as well as an almost continuous cellular egestion (symbolized by Ru) of waste products—carbon dioxide, water, and incompletely oxidized nitrogen compounds.

Of an opposite nature to the analytic processes of catabolism (De) are the synthetic, moleculebinding, structure-building processes of anabolism (symbolized by Co); the energy for these, as for every other variety of activity, is derived from catabolism. Basically attributable to synthetic processes at the molecular level (e.g., millions of multiplications of giant DNA and RNA molecules, etc.), according to this theory, are all the above-mentioned maturational formations, and, in conjunction with concrete environmental transactions (perceptual and actuational), all the structural compositions and recompositions, the properties of which constitute the specific and general products of experience: what a person has actually learned to attend to selectively, to recognize, to understand, to represent conceptually, to evaluate positively or negatively, to love or to hate, to anticipate with pleasure or with dread, to accomplish with his muscles, to express with words, and to choose as realizable aims—all of which are important focused variables of personality. On the extent and fitness of such acquisitions and also very largely on favorable circumstances and good fortune will depend the possibility of actualizing whatever geneticallygiven, latent resources there may be for love, joy, achievement, and service to mankind.

As to the three, above-defined overlapping temporal eras of the life cycle, each of these can be most simply, though roughly, conceptualized in terms of a ratio of the two metabolic terms Co and De: during the era of growth and development of character and powers, Co > De; during the era of maintenance of character and the fruitful use of powers, Co = De; during the phase of induration and decay, Co < De. These are some of the chief reasons why the concurrent, complementary processes of biological metabolism Co and De have been taken as the main components of this PS’s basic paradigm, or model, a model that conforms with a conception of reality that is not expressible in terms of spatial structures of matter as such but in terms of the interdependent, operating properties of matter—that is, in terms of process, time, and energy. It is a fundamental animate model that accounts for the vital, vegetative processes (e.g., maturation, growth, differentiation, repair, etc.) that inanimate models do not fittingly represent. It is also applicable, with suitable modifications, to higher levels of mental activity, especially— when taken in conjunction with the widespread need for novelty (change, exploration, experiment) —to those analytic and synthetic imaginations which lead to cultural (scientific, artistic, ideological, ethical, etc.) innovations of all types [seeAestheticsandEthics].

Finally, this model (with its emphasis on the energy-building, antientropic processes of progressive development and creativity) provides the biological ground for what is so conspicuously absent in the purely psychoanalytic system (with its emphasis on energy-reducing, entropic processes, as well as on fixation, repetition compulsion, regression, disintegration) [seeCreativityandStimulation drives].

Learning and hedonic effects

It is provisionally proposed that among the genetical determinants of the development of personality, none is more influential than the morphology of the primitive brain (subcortex), with its increasing differentiations and integrations of centers (clusters of cellular containers of specialized chemical compounds called micronic structures), each of which will sooner or later constitute an inbuilt readiness to be converted into a more or less distinctive energizing (feeling) state. The most basic centers, related to all others, are those that yield hedonic feelings (pleasure, delight, satisfaction, joy) and those that yield anhedonic feelings (displeasure, distress, dissatisfaction, misery), with expressive movements in each case. From infancy on, hedonic learning, on which so much depends, will consist in the discovery (represented in the brain by more or less enduring spatial structures reconvertible into temporal associations and organizations) of what generates hedonic feelings and what generates anhedonic feelings (of this or that intensity or grade) within the self and then within numerous other selves whose feelings are important to the self.

There are many kinds of hedonic and anhedonic determinants (generators), most of which, though analytically distinguishable, operate in relations with a few others, interdependently or consequentially. Some may be experienced together (as compounded sources of joy or misery) or some sequentially, the first being either a necessary forerunner of the second (e.g., tedious rehearsals of a skill before exhibiting it successfully in public) or the “cause” of the second (e.g., the pleasure of bullying a younger sister, followed by a humiliating punishment, a negative social repercussion). Growing up involves, among other things, gradual increases in the prospective time-span; the capacity to foresee the future; the power to postpone the gratification of certain wants, for one reason or another; and the ability to discriminate between pleasures and displeasures which have satisfying or beneficial consequences and those which have dissatisfying or harmful consequences and eventually to regulate one’s life so that neither the present nor the future is sacrificed for the other.

Of course the operation of a generator, hedonic or anhedonic, will usually depend on a number of conditions or factors in addition to the past history and developmental age of the subject, factors such as the place, time, duration, and mode of its occurrence, the absence or presence of one or more particular persons, etc. But taking these and other qualifications into account, it might be said that each properly differentiated class of satisfiers (positive reinforcements) and of dissatisfiers (negative reinforcements), taken separately or in combination, deserves some place among the interdependent ends or counterends of individual or collective human living and endeavor.

Hedonic and anhedonic generators may be suitably classified in several ways, one being according to their temporal reference: they may be retrospective, involving memories of past experiences which generate present pleasure or displeasure; spective, involving awareness of current delighters or distressors; or prospective, involving anticipations of future experiences which generate present pleasure or displeasure. Current generators may be classified according to their predominant location in space: in the subject, in the environment, or, more often, in subject–environment (especially interpersonal) transactions. Each of these major orders of determinants is divisible into several families, genera, etc. For example, generators in the subject may be located in the body (somatic determinants), in some emotional (e.g., love, hate, fear) center of the subcortex (central determinants), in some type of sensory, imaginal, conceptual, verbal, or motor process (processional determinants), or in the judgments of conscience (superregnant determinants).

Environmental determinants. Most of these determinants are dynamically interrelated with environmental determinants. These are dominant in the early months of life when the child’s capabilities are pretty much limited to piteous petitioning and to sucking. The hedonic generators in early life consist of whatever provisions (delighters) are gratuitously transmitted by the mother and receptively enjoyed by the child: chiefly bodily provisions (contact, firm support, stimulation, nipple, milk) and affectional provisions (presence, rapt attention, expressions of love, and later of admiration and approval, etc.). The anhedonic generators are constituted either by the absence in the proximal environment of an urgently wanted delighter (e.g., food, mother), whose arrival starts a strip of process pleasure, or by the presence of an unwanted distressor (e.g., pain, loud noise), whose removal restores the status quo. Somewhat later, however, the child may be confronted by an irremovable distressor, in the form of an interloping newborn sibling and/or (for a boy) of a father, who is perceived as a successful contender for the mother’s love.

Central determinants. This brings us to a discussion of central determinants. It is assumed that, by necessity, the child is wholly egocentric (self-centeredly oblivious of other selves and selfishly demanding a complete monopoly of his mother’s attention when he wants it); thus, he bellows furiously when he is kept waiting, and the sight of a displacing rival is not unlikely to arouse in him a fiendish jealousy coupled with a profound resentment which engenders murderous fantasies directed toward the rival or revengefully toward the mother as betrayer of his trust. It seems that these fantasies and dreams are promoted, in part, by an inbuilt propensity to compose a bewildering procession of extravagant mythological images, many of which are related to the parents or more generally to the “myth of the hero,” who, after performing extraordinary, superhuman exploits (e.g., flying, magic, etc.), kills a king and marries his queen. Complexes resulting from the vicissitudes and disastrous outcomes of these imagined heroic deeds and crimes may reside in the lowest strata of the id for a long time. Among other things, growing up calls for an increasing ability to distinguish between imagined events and actual events “out there,” as well as a gradual progression from an utterly dependent state (“What will my parents do for me?”) toward a relatively self-sufficient state (“What can I do for myself?”).

Achievement determinants. An achievement determinant includes references to the (immediate or distant) past, present, and future and has its location in the subject’s impression of whether he is moving toward his goal—whatever this may be—and, if so, whether he is moving faster or slower than he expected; with more ease or difficulty, from moment to moment, day to day, or year to year; or, more generally, whether he is getting better, no better, or worse in some respect. One can observe in the child the beginnings of experiences of this nature: the progressive organization of processes—of elementary sensory processes to arrive at the perception and recognition of an object; of sensorimotor processes (with feedback loops) to arrive at the moment when an object can be confidently reached, seized, and variously dealt with; of vocal processes to form words and sentences, etc.—which constitute, in each case, a stepwise gain of volitional power, which is experienced by the child as a pleasure-enhancing minor achievement, and, as such, is often applauded by a parent (a minor recognition). The central determinant here is ambition in the child, first to achieve greater and greater control of his own processes by concentration and persistence (i.e., to develop a variety of afferent and efferent skills in dealing with small portions of the encountered environment) and thus to attain a measure of autonomy and independence (which inaugurates the development of the ego, the executive of the regnant system of the personality) and later to use these skills (athletic, social, and intellectual) in competing with his peers for acknowledged superiority (victory or some form of higher order recognition, such as prizes, election to membership or office, or academic marks and honors), as well as to use these skills in satisfying other (material, social, or cultural) wants. The ways–means–end learning cannot begin until a certain amount of functional learning (walking and moving objects) has occurred, and then, what has to be learned year after year to gain positive social feedback (repercussions) from parents, teachers, or peers becomes progressively more difficult. Under competitive conditions, the prizes and, later, the best jobs and much else are reserved for those who have pushed some relevant types of functional learning to a sufficient degree of competence. In short, positive social reinforcements depend on individual differences in ambition (want to achieve), work enjoyment (process pleasure), persistence, innate aptitude, etc. [SeeAchievement motivationandSensory and motor development.]

Transactional determinants. Transactional determinants are delighters and distressors that come from dealing (successfully or unsuccessfully) with the environment of things, people, or ideas; from enjoyed or not enjoyed dyadic reciprocations with another person—that is, transmissions and receptions of erotic stimulation (mutual orgasm), of affection or disaffection, of interesting or banal information, self-revelations, or opinions, of comic or pointless stories, etc.; from the processes or outcomes of cooperative endeavors; from the repercussions of socialized (ethical, considerate, conventional) or unsocialized (criminal, offensive, obnoxious) forms or styles of behavior, especially the miseries of ostracism, disgrace, imprisonment, etc.; from the processes and effects of transmitting delighters to those who need them or deserve them (a very common, genuine form of enjoyment not covered by current psychological theories), and much else besides [seeSympathy and empathy]. Let these suffice as illustrations of a few elementary varieties of hedonic and anhedonic determinants. In this PS, those that emanate from others (alters) and are directed toward the subject are classified as press (plural, press); positive press include acceptance, inclusion, promotion, respect, affection, lust—love, and negative press include rejection, exclusion, demotion, contempt, hate.

As a personality develops, associations and organizations will constitute the ground for a large number of general and particular (unique), enduring or unenduring positive and negative interests, evaluations (sentiments and tastes), personal affections, beliefs, wants, modes of behavior, and aims (a negative aim being an orientation toward the riddance in the present or the prevention in the future of the operation of a distressor).

Learning. The term “learning” commonly implies that its results are “valuable” (in some sense), regardless of the self-evident fact that a person may learn a good deal that “ain’t so” or “ain’t good”: superstitions, prejudices, repulsive tastes, the craft of forgery, etc.—all of which had better be unlearned. Also, in psychology, the term generally implies that its results determine a young person’s subsequent behavior, that he or she very soon becomes a creature of habits, with emotions and aims fixated by experienced distressors or delighters and tactics fixated by experienced successes, etc. This might be pretty nearly the whole truth if the genetical program, with its potentialities for self-actualization, ceased to operate at puberty; if the subject were not easily bored and not eager for new sights and new ventures; if the subject were commonly rewarded for frequent repetitions of the same information (old news), the same jokes, etc.; if the human environment, parents, teachers, and peers were unanimous in their support of the same beliefs, codes, manners, political sentiments, and tastes; if the person were not ambitious to emulate successively the more impressive performances and deeds of others; if for the subject the very meaning of achievement (something to be proud of) did not consist in the accomplishment of something new, extraordinary, more difficult or hazardous; if the person were not enticed by future-oriented imagents (fantasies) of unexperienced delights or of untried ways and means; if no person were ever radically transformed by a “second birth,” “great emancipation,” or religious conversion; and finally, if no person were ever to discover that the creation of an unprecedented, propitious form of living or of culture (scientific, literary, etc.) could be more profoundly joyous than any experience he had had. If it were not for these and other self-realizing, novelty-seeking, ambitious, proudful, imaginative, and creative dispositions in human beings, all of us would stagnate with learned incapacities and a few enthralling memories of infantile attachments. This is not to deny the essential truth of one of Freud’s greatest discoveries: the lasting underlying influence (either beneficial or harmful) of early terrors, conditionings, loves and hates, erotized fantasies, and much else. What is being stressed at this point is the amount of unlearning (hedonic, cognitive, and tactical), experimentation, courage, endurance, and constructiveness that is required for a full life. [SeeCreativity; Fantasy; Stimulation drives.]

Variables, assessments, and representations

Among the criteria in terms of which the worth of a personological system may be suitably evaluated are: (1) the comprehensiveness (coverage, scope), structure (interrelatedness), adequacy (congruence with reality, significance), and operational definiteness (clarity, precision) of its assemblage of concepts and propositions; (2) the efficiency (in corresponding terms) of its assessment system (data-collecting, data-processing, data-evaluating, and data-integrating processes); and (3) the over-all satisfactoriness (in corresponding terms)—the plausibility and verifiability—of the representations of different personalities (explanatory conceptual biographies) that are composed out of the harvest of facts and interpretations yielded by the assessment process.

In this PS, the central set of concepts are classified into abstract elementary orders (e.g., propelling energizers and evaluators; representors; movers; organizers; etc.) and these into families, genera, etc., of decreasing generality. The simplest, recurrent associations of these properties with each other or with the properties of environmental entities (e.g., an interest in Z, a positive evaluation of X, a want to gain Y, images of W, the effectiveness of V processes, etc.) are the kinds of abstracted personality variables which are usually obtained with ratings from questionnaires and tests, and in terms of which an individual is ordinarily described in a social conversation. The aim in this PS, however, is to discover how these structural components, converted into their operating properties, interdependently participate in this or that energized, oriented, organized, temporal unit (organizational variable). This synthetic mode of thought eventually results in the conceptualization of a hierarchy of purposive organizations, the largest and longest of which are systems of concern (of planning, activity, enjoyment, and achievement). It is chiefly of these that a personality-in-progress is composed.

Of necessity, large portions of this PS have been omitted; but enough may have been said to indicate that it is basically a psychometabolic system, with energy released for drives, emotions, and movements (electrical and muscular) and for the composition of new convertible structures of all sorts. From this it follows that its root concepts are dynamic, genetical, developmental, organismal (systemic, semiholistic), and hierarchical. It stresses the experiential (existential, subjective), hedonistic, and voluntaristic aspects of a person’s life (partly because of their contemporary neglect); but heretofore in practice it has done more justice to unconscious psychological processes, as well as to overt behavior with its situational and sociological (membership and role) determinants.

Henry A. Murray

[Directly related is the entryPersonality. Other relevant material may be found inMotivation, article OnHuman motivation; Nervous system; Psychoanalysis; Systems analysis; and in the biographies ofFreud; Huxley; Jung; Lewin; Morgan, C. Lloyd; Whitehead.]


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Explorations in Personality: A Clinical and Experimental Study of Fifty Men of College Age, by Henry A. Murray et al. 1938 London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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