The psychiatric and historical "interpretation" approach

Psychiatric and historical "interpretation" approach

The interpretative approach focuses on understanding the underlying thematic coherence of an individual life, generally using biographical and case study methods. The first psychologists have generally ignored or criticized this approach, associating it with an "old and non -scientific" medical tradition (Hale, 1971, p. 115). 

With these concerns in mind, Allport and Vernon (1930) echoed the dominant opinion that the case studies of psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and sociologists were "unsatisfactory" but suggested that "the concrete individual escaped a study by any other approach ”(p. 700) and that in the future, psychologists could normalize case studies to improve their scientific status.

Gordon Allport: Defining, systematizing, and separating the field of personality

In his biography of Gordon Allport, Nicholson (2003) argued that Allport pursued two contradictory objectives to try to define and systematize the field of personality psychology. Measuring personality with tests of "lines", he sought to define it as a devalued natural object of scientific control. 

At the same time, he tried to preserve personality as a unique spiritual essence that could only be captured incompletely by scientific methods.

Henry Murray: organic science, depth psychology, and literature

Henry Murray came to study personality through psychoanalysis and abnormal psychology. Originally trained in medicine and biochemistry, Murray chose a career in "depth psychology" after meeting Jung and Freud's work. 

It was only after having accepted a position as assistant director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic of Morton Prince in 1926, that he realized that the academic psychology of the time had very few points in common with psychoanalysis (Murray, 1940, 1967). 

At a time when psychologists found it difficult to define and delimit the disciplinary limits of their field, her unorthodox and divergent interests of Murray were not acceptable to the supporters of strictly scientific psychology; In fact, they almost cost him his position at Harvard (Triplet, 1983).

Raymond Cattell and the measurement imperative

Raymond Cattell has another major figure in the training of American personality psychology. Known for his work in multivariate techniques and intelligence tests, Cattell prefaced his first major book on the personality by affirming that "it is on the measure that depends on any scientific advance" (1946, p. IV). The majority of his professional career has been devoted to the University of Illinois, where he introduced many conceptual refinements and developed methodological developments, in particular concerning the use of correlation, factor analysis, and Other multivariate techniques, in the field of personality.

  1. In The search for the structure of the personality by the factorial analysis of traits like Allport, Cattell adapted traits as a fundamental conceptual unity of personality, arguing that "the idea of a science of the description of the personality [ is] to build your features on an objective testing basis measures, as has been done to a very large extent in capacity analysis ”(1946, p. 210).
  2. Psychometric technology Prestige and the apparent success of intelligence tests at the beginning of the 20th century convinced many personality psychologists that personality could (and should also be measured by "elements" scales. 
Although the factor analysis was the apotheosis of this ideal, the same conviction guided the construction of many other scales, inventories, and questionnaires not based on factorial analysis: omnibus instruments such as the inventory of the personality of BERNRERUTER, 

The Inventory of the Multiphasic Personality of Minnesota (MMPI), the personality of California, the personality of California, inventory (CPI; Gough, 1987), adjective control list and personality research form (PRF; Jackson, 1974), and countless scales designed to measure particular personality characteristics.


John, O. P., Robins, R. W., & Pervin, L. A. (Eds.). (2010). Handbook of personality: Theory and research. Guilford Press.

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