Last updated: June 6, 2003

Narrative Psychology Search


[Narrative Psychology]

 Historical Background

  Personality Theory: 1920-1975


          Background  ||  Internet  ||  Bibliographical  ||  Theorists

Background Issues

The resources on this page focus upon the development of personality theory, particularly in American psychology, during the period from about 1920 until 1975 --a important background to the eventual emergence of the narrative perspective.

In addition to concern for general issues in personality theory development, two major subsections of this page pay particular attention to

Theorists*Key Figures

Internet Resouces

Personal Construct Psychology Webpage
University of Calgary, Canada

Personal Construct Psychology Research Group
University of Wollongong, Australia

Personality Theories (Dr. C. George Boeree, Shippensburg University, PA) General resource which summarizes the major personality theories and their proponents during the past hundred years.

Great Ideas in Personality (G. Scott Acton, UCSF). Guide to ten fudamental contemporary theories in personality.

The Personality Project (Willliam Revelle, Northwestern U). Broadly conceived collection of resources relating to personality.

Why should we care about Gordon Allport? (Chuck Huff) A talk given at the March 14th, 2001 Allport Award Dinner to the St. Olaf Psychology Department Facultyand Students

Bibliographical Resources

[anchor] General Issues in the Development of Personality Theory

A valuable tool in appreciating the divergent directions in the study of the personality from a psychological point of view remains the classic text: Hall, C. S., & Lindzey, G. (1978). Theories of personality (3rd ed.). New York: John Wiley.

Barker, R. G. (1968). Ecological psychology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Barker, R. G., & Wright, H. F. (1955). Midwest and its children. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, & Co.

Barresi, J., & Juckes, T. J. (1997). Personology and the narrative interpretation of lives. Journal of Personality, 65, 693-719.

Traces the historical development of the notions of narrative and personology in the theories and formulations of psychologists from Freud through Murray and Erikson to contemporary figures such as McAdams and Hermans.

Lewin K. (1938). The conceptual representation and measurement of psychological forces. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


[Anchor] Gordon Allport, Henry Murray, and Contemporaries

The work of early and mid-century American psychologists interested in theories of personality including Gordon W. Allport (1887-1967), Henry Alexander Murray (1893-1988), Abraham H. Maslow (1908-1970), Robert W. White (1904-2001), and others, raised questions about the sequencing of personal identity and the multiplicity of paths by which humans develop. Allport's concern for the uniqueness of the individual and his challenges to the prevailing experimental operationism of American psychology reflects his wide sympathy for the German program of Dilthey, Wundt, his post-doctoral host, William Stern, and the Bühlers, Kurt and Charlotte.

Allport, F. H., & Allport, G. W. (1921). Personality traits: Their classification and measurement. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 16, 6-40. Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology site.

Allport, G. W. (1927). Concepts of trait and personality. Psychological Bulletin, 24, 284-293. Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology site.

Allport, G. W. (1937). Personality: A psychological interpretation. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Allport, G. W. (1937). The functional autonomy of motives. American Journal of Psychology, 50, 141-156. Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology site.

Allport, G. W. (1940). The psychologist's frame of reference. Psychological Bulletin, 37, 1-28. [Allport's APA Presidential Address.] Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology site.

+Allport, G. W. (1951). The use of personal documents in psychological science: Prepared for the Committee on Appraisal of Research. New York: Social Science Research Council. [BF76.5.A44]

Allport, G. W. (1955). Becoming: Basic considerations for a psychology of personality. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Allport, G. W. (1961). Pattern and growth in personality. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Allport, G. W. (1967). Autobiography. In E. G. Boring & G. Lindzey (Eds.), A history of psychology in autobiography (Vol. 5, pp. 3-25). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Anderson, J. W. (1992). The life of Henry A. Murray: 1893-1988. In R. A. Zucker, A. I. Rabin, et al. (Eds.), Personality structure in the life course: Essays on personology in the Murray tradition (pp. 304-334). New York: Springer Publishing Co.

Bales, R. F, Maybury-Lewis, D. H. P., Maher, B. A., & White, S. H. (2002, May 23). FAS memorial minute: Robert Winthrop White. Harvard Gazette Archives. Available online.

A short obituary and appreciation of Harvard psychologist Robert W. White.

Harrison, P. (2000, Fall). Revealing hidden lives: Who was Henry A. Murray? Radcliffe Quarterly, 89(2). Available online. A brief biographical sketch.

Kazin, A. (1993, January 28). Love at Harvard [book review of Forrest G. Robison's Love Story Told: A Life of Henry A. Murray]. New York Review of Books, 40, 3-5.

In reviewing Forrest G. Robinison's biography of Henry A. Murray (see below), Kazin details his psychological work, the strange relationship he maintained with Christiana Morgan, and the ways in which their fantasy life contributed to his theories of "personology."

Maddi, S. R. (1972). Humanism in personology: Allport, Maslow, and Murray. Chicago, IL: Aldine/Atherton. [BF698.M2367]

Maslow, A. H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). New York: Harper & Row. (Originally published in 1951).

Morgan, W. G. (1995). Origin and history of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) images. Journal of Personality Assessment, 65, 237-254.

Murray, H. A. (1938). Explorations in personality: A clinical and experimental study of fifty men of college age. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nicholson, I. A. M. (2000). "A coherent datum of perception": Gordon Allport, Floyd Allport, and the politics of "personality." Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 36, 463-470.

Nicholson traces the development of Gordon Allport's interest in the study of personality, the role of the brothers' interpersonal exchange and intellectual disagreements over this issue, and the status of "personality" as a field of study in the 1920s.

Nicholson, I. A. M. (2002). Inventing personality: Gordon Allport and the science of selfhood. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

The long-awaited (and only available) biography of Allport which covers his life to the late 1930s. "Nicholson masterfully combines biography with intellectual history to reveal the ways in which Allport's science was embedded in the cultural politics of America in the 1920s and the 1930s. He argues that personality's emergence as an object of science was linked to the gradual demise of character and the self-sacrificing, morally grounded self that it supported." (from APA blurb)

Robinison, F. G. (1992). Love's story told: A life of Henry A. Murray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [BF109.M86 R63 1992; see Kazin (1993) above]

This biography tells the story of Murray's long-time extramarital relationship with Christiana Morgan and describes a range of Murray's psychological and philosophical interests and influences.

R. W. White, personality psychologist, dies at 96. (2001, March 1). Harvard Gazette Archives. Available online.

Shneidman, E. S. (Ed.). (1981). Endeavors in psychology: Selections from the personology of Henry A. Murray. New York: Harper & Row.

Smith, A. H. (1997). Gordon W. Allport: A becoming personality. In W. G. Bringman, H. L. Lück, R. Miller, R., & C. E. Early, (Eds.), A pictorial history of psychology (pp. 356-363). Chicago, IL: Quintessence Publishing Co.

Smith, M. B. (1993). Allport and Murray on Allport's "Personality": A confrontation in 1946-1947. In K. H. Craik, R. Hogan, et al., (Eds.), Fifty years of personality psychology (pp. 57-65). New York: Plenum Press.

Triplet, R. G. (1992). Henry A. Murray: The making of a psychologist? American Psychologist, 47, 299-307.

This article, derived from the author's doctoral dissertation, details the ways in which Murray's work at the Harvard Psychological Clinic shaped the direction of both clinical and abnormal psychology as well as theories of personality within American Psychology. Triplet also discusses the stormy, if not bitter, relationship between Murray and the experimentally- oriented faculty of the Harvard Department of Psychology.

White, R. W. (1975). Lives in progress: A study of the natural growth of personality (3rd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. [BF698.W46]

Harvard psychologist Robert White provides the third report of the life development of two men ("Hartley Hale, Physician and Scientist" and "Joseph Kidd, Businessman") and one women ("Joyce Kingsley, Housewife and Social Worker") whom he has been following since their college years (the first edition was in 1952 and the second in 1966). Now in middle age, these three subjects serve as rich case studies for White's attempt to understand the biological, social, and depth psychological/psychoanalytic dimensions of personality development. This is a classic study.

White, R. W. (1992). Exploring personality the long way: The study of lives. In R. A. Zucker, A. I. Rabin, et al. (Eds.), Personality structure in the life course: Essays on personology in the Murray tradition (pp. 3-21). New York: Springer Publishing Co.

Murray's colleague, Robert W. White, discusses the importance of Explorations in Personality (1938) and Murray's sophisticated conceptualization of what such studies would require.

Winter, D. G., & Barenbaum, N. B. (1999). History of modern personality theory and research. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (2nd ed., pp. 3-27). New York: Guilford Press.

This historical summary outlines the growth of personality as a focus of psychological research and provides an excellent overview not only of the 19th century origins of this effort, but its crucial emergence during the 1920s-1950s as a distinctive subfield within the broader discipline of psychology.


[anchor] George Kelly (1905-1967) and Personal Construct Theory

As the Personal Construct Psychology page at the Knowledge Science Institute (KSI) at the University of Calgary notes, George Kelly (1955) proposed that "a person's processes are psychologically channelized by the way in which he anticipates events." (p.46) Each of us, he maintains, "looks at [our own] world through transparent templets which [we create] and then [attempt] to fit over the realities of which the world is composed" (pp.8-9). These personal constructs "are used for predictions of things to come, and the world keeps on rolling on and revealing these predictions to be either correct or misleading. This fact provides the basis for the revision of constructs and, eventually, of whole construct systems" (p.14).

Banister, D., & Fransella, F. (1986). Inquiring man: The psychology of personal constructs (3rd ed.). Dover, NH: Croom Helm. [BF698.B3143 1986]

Feixas, G. (1992). Personal construct approaches to family therapy. In R. A. Neimeyer & G.J. Neimeyer (Eds.),. Advances in personal construct psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 217-255). Greenwich, CT: JAI.

Fransella, F. (1996). Georege Kelly's contribution to psychotherapy. London: Sage Publications.

Kelly, G. A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. (vols. 1-2). New York: Norton.
(BF698.K43 v. 1-2)

Kelly, G. A. (1963). A theory of personality. New York: Norton Kelly, G. A. (1969). Clinical psychology and personality: The selected papers of George Kelly (Brendan Maher, Ed.). New York: Wiley.

Martin, J. (1994). The construction and understanding of psychotherapeutic change: Conversations, memories, and theories. New York: Teachers College Press. [RC480.5.M336 1994]

Employs the personal construct theory of Kelly in its analysis of therapeutic change.

Neimeyer, R. A. (1985). The development of personal construct psychology. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. [BF698.9.P47.N45 1985]

Neimeyer, R. A., & Jackson, T. T. (1997). George A. Kelly and the development of personal construct theory. In W. G. Bringman, H. L. Lück, R. Miller, R., & C. E. Early, (Eds.), A pictorial history of psychology (pp. 364-372). Chicago, IL: Quintessence Publishing Co.

A succinct overview of Kelly's life and place within psychology. A rich set of bibliographical references.

Oades, L. (1995). Personal construct therapy. [On-line] Available <>

This short summary describes therapy from the personal construct point of view.

Shaw, L. G., & Gaines, B. R. [1992, October]. Kelly's "geometry of psychological space" and its significance for cognitive modeling. [On-line] Available <>

This paper provides a historic overview of Kelly's work and its links to cognitive psychological and intensional logic. [on-line blurb]

Stewart, A. E., & Barry, J. R. (1991). Origins of George Kelly's constructivism in the work of Korzybski and Moreno. International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 4, 121-136.

Viney, L. L. (1993). Life stories: Personal construct therapy with the elderly. New York: Wiley. [RC489.P46]



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When citing this document, you may wish to consider this form for the reference (derived from APA Style [5th ed.])

Hevern, V. W. (2003, May). Personality Theory: 1920-1975. Narrative psychology: Internet and resource guide. Retrieved [enter date] from the Le Moyne College Web site:

     Narrative Psychology: Internet and Resource Guide
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