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Humanistic Theory

Psychology (Year 12) - Personality

Jessica Pratt

Humanistic Theory

Humanistic theory believes that personality arises from individuals striving to reach a potential. Rogers refers to this growth as becoming a “fully-functioning person”, whereas Maslow refers to it as “self-actualisation”.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow proposed theory based on fulfilling different levels of needs according to human motivation. This consists of five levels of needs that require gratification to move onto the next.

There are three main levels of needs:

  1. basic needs, including physiological needs and safety needs

  2. psychological needs, including belongingness and love needs, and esteem needs

  3. self-fulfilment needs, including self-actualisation

In Maslow’s theory, a peak experience is described as a transcendent moments of joy and elevation that typically occur at a higher frequency in those who experience self-actualisation.

Jonah Complex

A psychological condition that sabotages an individual’s dreams of greatness and relegates them to live in mediocrity and conformity. It is the fear of success that prevents the realisation of potential.

Rogers' Humanistic Theory

Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist, proposed that an individual needs an environment that provides them with genuineness, acceptance and empathy in order to “grow”. In this theory, the self-concept is the most important feature.

There are three components of the self-concept.

  1. the ideal self - the person we want to be.

  2. the self-image - the person we think we are.

  3. the true self - the person we actually are.

Variation between them leads to incongruence, whereas similarity leads to congruence in the self-concept.

Environmental Components

In order for growth, the environment must provide an individual with:

  • genuineness - openness and self-disclosure

  • acceptance - being seen with unconditional positive regard

  • empathy - being listened to and understood

Concept of Self-worth

This is one of the child’s basic needs according to Rogers. In psychological terms, self-worth refers to the internal sense of being of sufficient value to receive love and belonging from others. It is determined solely by the individual, but may be influenced by interactions. It is seen as a continuum from very high to very low.

  • high self-worth leads to confidence and positive feelings about oneself, and can accept failure.

  • those with low self-worth may avoid challenges, be defensive and guarded, and be less accepting.

Concept of Positive Regard

The term ‘positive regard’ means the way in which others express love, empathy, support and acceptance to another person, a relative in particular. This is deemed to be another basic need according to Rogers. He believed that one must feel valued, respected and treated with affection. It is associated with reception.

  • unconditional positive regard - acceptance for who they are, withdrawn when they make a mistake.

  • conditional positive regard - dependent on their actions - behaving in approved ways.

Full Potential Characteristics

Rogers’ referred to those who reach their full potential to be a “fully-functioning person”.

These people typically portray:

  • being open to experience: accepts a variety of feelings - negative feelings are worked on.

  • existential living: avoids prejudging and preconceptions, and appreciates the present.

  • trusts feelings: instincts and feelings are attended to; trusts self to make good choices.

  • creativity: risk-taking and creative thinking are prevalent in life; the ability to adjust and change.

  • fulfillment: the individual is happy and satisfied with life; always looks for challenges.



  • is influential in psychotherapy and education

  • has influenced the scientific study of personality changes over time

  • Rogers’ applications emphasise the creation of a growth environment

  • Maslow’s theory can be applied to job satisfaction


  • is difficult to scientifically test due to being based on observation

  • based on the subjective impressions of the researchers

  • tested with self-report measures; limited to bias and participant honesty

  • the concepts are too vague, making it difficult to investigate

  • is too optimistic and naïve to the premise that humans are all inherently good

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