If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Humanistic theory

A major branch of psychology is Humanism. Learn what the humanistic theorists have to say about how we develop our personality. By Shreena Desai. . Created by Shreena Desai.

Video transcript

All right. Let's talk about another theory of personality called the humanistic theory. But before I begin, I have to give you a little caveat. Now, all these theories of personality are not mutually exclusive. One isn't more dominant over the other. One isn't better than the other. All these theories are just different ways to look at how personality develops in people. And they've all come from different branches, you can say, of psychology, which is why they're from perspectives of different psychologists or theorists. OK. So the humanistic theory says that individuals have free will and that we can actively develop ourselves to our highest potential and reach self-actualization. So "free will" is an important word. And the term "self-actualization" is also another defining word in this theory. So the primary difference between Freud's psychoanalytic theory and humanism is that Freud's theory was deterministic. So what I mean by that is that his theory says our behavior is determined by our unconscious desires. His theory also focuses on individuals who have these mental conflicts and not all people. Now, the humanistic theory focuses on the conscious as opposed to the unconscious. And it also says that people are inherently good, and that we are self-motivated to improve. And we want to always improve because we want to reach self-actualization. Now, the first major theorist of this theory was Abraham Maslow. And he formed the hierarchy of needs, which we can depict using a pyramid. So all of our needs are built upon each other in this pyramid. He says that we must first fulfill our physiological needs that form the base of the pyramid, and then we can work our way up. So after our physiological needs are met, our need for safety must be fulfilled, and then love, and then self-esteem. And lastly, self-actualization can be met. Now, that sounds easy enough, right? We can all reach self-actualization. Well, what are some characteristics of self-actualizing people? Well, they must be self-aware, obviously. They are caring. They're wise. And their interests are problem-centered. They focus their energies on a task that's the mission of their life. And they have a higher purpose that's focused on larger causes and less about the basic aspects of life. So they don't focus on the basic aspects of life. They're always trying to strive and think broader and for larger causes. Well, I hate to be the Debbie Downer here, but self-actualization is rarely achieved. Maslow believed that only 1% of people ever reach self-actualization. The average person seeks to self-actualize, but may not ever get to that point. Jeez. Well, it looks like we all have something to work harder towards, huh? So are you going to be the Martin Luther King or the Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa of our time? Pretty sure they all reached self-actualization. OK. Let's talk about the second major theorist of this theory. His name is Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers used Maslow's idea and the qualities he described, and says that they are nurtured early in life. He said that self-actualization is a constant growth process that is nurtured in a growth-promoting climate. So that's another very important word, "growth-promoting climate." And this climate, in order for this climate to help someone reach self-actualization, there's two conditions that need to be met. And the first is that growth is nurtured by when an individual is being genuine. So one has to be open and revealing about themselves. They have to be genuine and true to who they are. And the second condition that needs to be met is that growth is nurtured through acceptance, and acceptance from others. So one must receive acceptance and receive an unconditional positive regard from others. So what does that mean? For example, a parent may get upset at their child and punish them for doing something wrong. But they're going to still love their child and regard their child without any conditions, no matter what. So this allows us to be open and learn without fearing others are going to look at us differently if we do something wrong. And genuine relationships with others and acceptance is what allows us to live up to the ideals of our true, real self, versus this ideal self that is bounded by conditions that people rarely can live up to. And both Maslow and Rogers said a central feature of our personality is self-concept. And that's achieved when we bring genuineness acceptance together and achieve this growth-promoting climate. So as individuals, we tend to act and perceive the world positively. And we try to answer the question, who am I? And that is what the humanistic theory talks about.