Before Sapir, the relation between culture and personality had been studied by Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939 - Totem and Taboo and essays in Civilisation and it Discontents. By studying patients in their historical and cultural contexts, psychoanalysis had provided a link between the anthropology and psychology of that time. In the 1920s, due to Sapir's work, the psychological approach to studying culture became prevalent in American anthropology. The ``culture and personality approach'' was founded by Edward Sapir, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. Influenced by Gestalt psychology, they believed in configuralism, or ``cultural patterning'': culture should be looked at in forms or patterns, rather than as individual elements or ``cultural traits'' which were emphasised in historical particularism (as of Boas).
Other approaches to culture and personality (Psychoanalyst Abram Kardiner and anthropologist Ralph Linton) tried to divide culture into primary institutions (like subsistence type, child training) which produced a basic personality which then translated into secondary institutions such as religion, ritual and folklore. Thus, going beyond the configurationalists, they offered causal links between shared experiences, personality and culture. This very deterministic view was overtaken by the concept of modal (most frequently encountered) personality suggested by Cora DuBois, an early ethnographer trained in psychological methods The People of Alor. The Rorschach (inkblot) test and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT - telling a story about a human figure/ photo) were most frequently used. (also the HTP (House-Tree-Person drawing) test)
With the beginning of World War II these methods were applied to larger social units, trying to find a typical personality assumed to characterise an entire culture: eg. study of national character, based on the assumption of national stereotypes - Germans being industrious or the English being reserved. The ``Committee for National Morale'' during WWII had Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Ruth Benedict and Clyde Kluckhohn developing techniques for studying cultures at a distance via literature, films, newspapers, government propaganda and recent immigrants. Though these studies were later in the 1950s attacked for oversimplification - assumption of uniform, stereotyped, static cultures - they were the forerunners of later cognitive anthropology.