PsycCRITIQUES - Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books
Persons Transcendent, Persons Embedded
A review of
Fifty Years of Personality Psychology
Kenneth H. Craik, Robert Hogan, and Raymond N. Wolfe
New York: Plenum Press, 1993. 313 pp. ISBN 0-306-44291-4. $47.50

Reviewed by
John F. Kihlstrom

By most accounts, the field of personality was founded as a distinct field of psychological inquiry in 1937. In that year, Gordon Allport published Personality: A Psychological Interpretation, and Ross Stagner published Psychology of Personality. Together, the books gave voice to a view that psychologists need to be concerned with (a) the whole person, not just the operation of particular faculties like sensation and learning and (b) the individual differences in mental life, not just with general principles of cognition, emotion, and motivation. There had been earlier attempts along these lines, of course, but taken together, Allport and Stagner defined the field.

Therefore it seemed fitting that, in 1987, the Institute for Personality Assessment and Research at the University of California, Berkeley, convened a series of symposia in honor of this dual 50-year anniversary. Fifty Years of Personality Psychology collects the highlights of these symposia, which taken together provide the occasion to reflect on the past, present, and future of personality psychology. It allows those of us who were not present to share in the celebrations and to learn from them.

Following Kenneth Craik's introductory chapter, Alan Elms, Brewster Smith, and Ross Stagner comment on the historical and personal backdrop against which Allport's and Stagner's books were written and received. Another section contains commentaries by Lawrence Pervin, Salvatore Maddi, and Gerald Mendelsohn on the state of the contemporary field. A final section offers concise tutorials covering many of the topics that form the domain of personality—most of which, as it happens, derive from Allport rather than Stagner: case studies (Irving Alexander), the nomothetic-idiographic debate (Bertram Cohler), the use of personal documents (David Winter, Lawrence Wrightsman), the self and identity (Roy Baumeister), motives (Robert Emmons), expressive behavior (Bella DePaulo), personality judgment (David Funder), personality structure and the "Big Five" (Oliver John and Richard Robins), the prediction of behavior (Peter Borkenau), the relation between lay and scientific concepts of personality (Garth Fletcher), and personality assessment (Raymond Wolfe). In the volume's final chapter, Robert Hogan concludes that, despite bouts of crisis and vigorous debates (i.e., psychometrics vs. psychoanalysis, content vs. response set, or traits vs. situations), the psychology of personality is alive and well and living almost everywhere psychologists gather. Hogan is right, and this volume is a fitting celebration of both the birth and the continuing life of the field. At the same time, however, the book gives clear evidence that some problems remain to be worked out over the next 50 years.

One of these concerns the relationship between theory and research. Allport and Stagner may have defined the field, but Hall and Lindzey, in their Theories of Personality (1957), defined the undergraduate course. As Mendelsohn argues in his contribution to this volume, the prototypical personality textbook is oriented around the classic theories, beginning with Freud's. (It is a mystery why this is the case, at a time when almost the only academics who pay serious attention to psychoanalysis are our deconstructionist colleagues in the humanities—and they're on the way out!) At the same time, these theories are largely irrelevant to the nature of current personality research. One thumbs the pages of the standard research journals vainly searching for studies that directly address the propositions of the classic theories of personality—or that even cite them in passing.

At best, the classic theories of personality lurk only in the deep background, and what personality researchers actually do is functionally autonomous of them. Yet they continue to frame the way in which we continue to present ourselves to the undergraduates who will constitute the next generation of personality psychologists. No other field of psychology pays such obeisance to its classic theories. To be sure, developmentalists must learn about Piaget, and perceptionists must learn about Gibson, but that is because these theorists lie at the heart of active controversies and vigorous lines of research. Allport and Stagner were able to get away without focusing on the classic theories, but then again they had the advantage of writing before most of them were propounded. Can modern textbook writers do the same thing, without losing both a significant part of our intellectual heritage—not to mention a significant part of the market? Maybe, maybe not.

Another issue concerns the person-situation debate. Craik, in his comparative analysis of the Allport and Stagner books, shows clearly that this issue was not invented in 1968, but rather has been with us all along. For Allport, the individual has a core personality that transcends societal and cultural influences, and people are to be studied in terms of who they are, not in terms of how they appear to, or are evaluated by, others. Traits exist as physical entities, predisposing to experience, thought, and action. For Stagner, by contrast, people are embedded in a matrix of social forces and institutions and their personalities cannot be studied in isolation from the world that surrounds, and impinges on, them. Persons interact with environments and experience, thought, and action are shaped equally by factors that reside within the individual and dwell in the world outside the skin.

Allport took his position, Craik argues, for political reasons: He wanted to define personality as an independent subfield within psychology. He suggests that, scientifically, Allport functioned as a sort of multiple personality: As a personality psychologist, he focused on the individual, but as a social psychologist, he focused on the environment. This strategy might have been appropriate for the pragmatic purposes of his time; as Baumeister indicates in his contribution to this book, however, Allport emphasized the unity of self and it is not clear if he could tolerate such a dissociation for long. It is clear that the psychology of personality should not tolerate it either. Persons are a part of their environment, and the environment is composed of persons. Persons and environments make each other: This is the essential doctrine of interactionism. The challenge for personality psychology is to find a way to view individuals in the context of their socio-cultural milieux. In their respective books, Allport seemed to deny this truth, and Stagner seemed to embrace it.

In 1937, the psychology of personality faced a clear choice between Allport and Stagner: between a psychology of persons who transcend their environments and a psychology of persons who are part of their environments. In celebrating the diamond jubilee of the field, Fifty Years of Personality Psychology tends to veer toward Allport rather than toward Stagner, making it an excellent introduction to the origins, and contemporary manifestations of, the person-centered, psychometric point of view that represents the traditional approach to personality. In celebrating Stagner's book as well as Allport's, however, Fifty Years of Personality Psychology reminds us that although the trait perspective has had a long history since Allport, the interactionist point of view has a history that goes back before 1968-long before. Perhaps sometime in the next 50 years, personality psychologists will come around firmly to Stagner's point of view and resolve Allport's identity crisis once and for all.


Kenneth H. Craik, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, is research psychologist at the Institute of Personality and Social Research, past president of American Psychological Association (APA) Division 34 (Population and Environmental Psychology; 1983-1984), and recipient of a James McKeen Cattell Award (1988-1989). Craik is author of the chapter "Environmental and Personality Psychology: Two Collective Narratives and Four Individual Story Lines" in I. Altman and K. Christensen (Eds.) Environment and Behavior Studies: Emergence of Intellectual Traditions and coeditor, with W. B. Walsh and R. H. Price, of Person-Environment Psychology: Models and Perspectives.

Robert Hogan, McFarlin Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Tulsa (Oklahoma), is president of the personality section of APA Division 8 (Personality and Social), first editor of the Personality and Individual Differences section of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and G. Stanley Hall Lecturer in Personality. Hogan is author of the chapter "Personality and Personality Assessment" in M. D. Dunnette and L. Hough (Eds.) Handbook of Industrial/Organizational Psychology and editor of Perspectives on Personality (Vols. I, II, and III).

Raymond N. Wolfe, professor in the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York College at Geneseo, is recipient of two Conversations in the Disciplines Awards from that university and research awards from the U.S. office of Human Development (1974-1976) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (1981-1983).

John F. Kihlstrom, professor of psychology at the University of Arizona (Tucson), is incoming editor of Psychological Science and recipient of an APA Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology in the area of personality (1979). Kihlstrom is coauthor, with N. Cantor, of Personality and Social Intelligence and coeditor, with N. Cantor, of Personality, Cognition, and Social Interaction.

Previously published in Contemporary Psychology: A Journal of Reviews, July 1994, Vol. 39, No. 7, 705–706
© 1994, American Psychological Association