Faculty Profile

Mind and the Man

The sudden sinking realization that you have lost your audience is an old story to lecturers in elementary psychology. Yet short of doing handstands on the platform, glowing in the dark, or making faces at the audience, little can ordinarily be done to lighten up the subject's long succession of polysyllabic terms. But the lectures which Professor Gordon Allport delivers in his pleasant, wry voice bypass the whole question by gearing theory in at every step with commonplace experience. "A theory lisn't a good theory if it doesn't work," he says, making it all sound not overly difficult.

The wedding of theory and practice is always the teacher's dream, and Professor Allport recently demonstrated his skill at combining them by presenting a Social Relations 1a lecture on Crowd Psychology in terms of a revival meeting once held in Boston by the eminently practical Aimee Semple MacPherson. Even the professional resenters of classroom humor avowed it was better than the comics, but, unobtrusively, each step in Aimee's spellbinding was made to correspond to a formidable chunk of psychological verbiage.

The casual-yet-clipped tones in which Allport delivers these lectures fascinate those who like to classify accents, and in fact mirror much of his past. He was born in Indiana in 1897, went to school in Cleveland, got his AB from Harvard in 1919, and did graduate work in German universities before accepting a teaching job at Roberts College, in Istanbul. The classes at Roberts were conducted in English, but no one could understand him unless he spoke a brand called "Standard London" English. Learning to mouth this dialect on pain of being incomprehensible resulted in his present, pleasant way of talking which most people consider Canadian.

Tracing the origins of Professor Allport's accent is simpler, though, than uncovering the beginnings of his interest in Psychology, since he can recall no particular traumatic experience that accounts for it. However," as a freshman in 1915 I was greatly perplexed by Muensterberg's thickly accented Germanic lectures in Psychology A. I puzzled over his worry as to whether 'zee post was zere or not zere'...I think my addiction to psychology since that time is due in part to my determination to unravel the Muensterbergian puzzles. I can't say I've solved them yet."

Since his class in the Student Training Corps was still in College when World War I ended, Professor Allport is in a position to compare those years with our times. He sees one big difference: after the first war the feeling of unrest and scapegoating was directed at many targets--such "symbolic villains" as the IWW, byphenated Americans, and the Bolsheviks. Because of this there was no great harm, since enmities were diffuse and scattered. Today, though, he sees the unrest and scapegoating focused on one target--Communism, and finds it a warlike and ominous attitude.

The list of Professor Allport's activities during this war is formidable: he was a consultant of the Strategic Bombing Survey, on the Emergency Committee of Psychologists under the National Research Council, was co-founder of the famous Rumor Clinic.

At present at the zenith of his career, with his good reputation assured through his books and theory of functional autonomy, and with a new book, "The Psychology of Rumor," appearing in April, Professor Allport has no illusions about the limitations of his subject: "None of the really important problems in Psychology has ever been solved. Where did mind come from? Where is it going, if anywhere, after we die? How is it related to the body? What ought men to do with their minds while they have them?" Muensterberg would be glad to know that at least one of his pupils has never lost his capacity for wonderment.