Idiographic Research

From this humanistic trait framework, human personality can only be fully understood through the examination of personal characteristics within a single individual. The emphasis on individuality has significant implications for the measurement of personality and for research methods in psychology. Most psychological research deals with standardized measurements and large numbers of people, and it attempts to make generalizations about characteristics that people hold in common. Allport referred to this approach as nomothetic. He contrasted the study of groups and general laws with idiographic research, or approaches for studying the single person. Idiographic research, which is sometimes referred to as morphogenic research, includes methods such as autobiographies, interviews, dreams, and verbatim recordings.

One of Allport's famous studies of the individual appears in Letters from Jenny (1965), a description of an older woman's personality that is based on the analysis of approximately three hundred letters that she wrote to her son and his wife. Through the use of personal structure analysis, statistical analysis, and the reactions of various trained judges, Allport and his colleagues identified eight clusters of characteristics, including the following: artistic, self-centered, aggressive, and sentimental. Through revealing the central dispositions of a single individual, this study provided increased insight about all people. It also demonstrated that objective, scientific practices can be applied to the study of one person at a time.

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