Humanistic Theory According To Abraham Maslow

Humanistic psychologists look at human behavior not only through the eyes of the observer, but through the eyes of the person doing the behaving. Humanistic psychologists believe that an individual’s behavior is connected to his inner feelings and self-image.

Unlike the behaviorists, humanistic psychologists believe that humans are not solely the product of their environment. Rather humanistic psychologists study human meanings, understandings, and experiences involved in growing, teaching and learning. They emphasize characteristics that are shared by all human beings such as love, grief, caring and self worth.

Humanistic psychologists study how people are influenced by their self-perceptions and the person meanings attached to their experiences. Humanistic psychologists are not primarily concerned with instinctual drives, responses to external stimuli, or past experiences. Rather, they consider conscious choices, responses to internal needs, and current circumstances to be important in shaping human behavior.
Carl Rogers felt that, in addition to Maslow’s hierarchical needs, in order for a person to develop fully that they needed to be in an environment which would provide them with genuineness, acceptance and empathy and that without such a nourishing environment healthy personalities and relationships would be unable to flourish.

Humanistic theory is basically about the development of the individual. It was very popular in the 1970’s but seems to be slightly out of favour today as Western nations have generally moved slightly towards the political right and there is more emphasis on conforming and contributing to, a slightly more conservative society. Of course, whilst humanistic theory does have a very strong focus on the individual, it is based upon the belief that well developed, successful individuals are best placed to make a positive contribution to society.

Humanistic Theory according to Abraham Maslow
Abraham Maslow has been considered the Father of Humanistic Psychology. Maslow’s theory is based on the notion that experience is the primary phenomenon in the study of human learning and behavior. He placed emphasis on choice, creativity, values, self-realization, all distinctively human qualities, and believed that meaningfulness and subjectivity were more important than objectivity. For Maslow, development of human potential, dignity and worth are ultimate concerns.

Maslow rejected behaviorist views and Freud’s theories on the basis of their reductionistic approaches. He felt Freud’s view of human nature was negative, and he valued goodness, nobility and reason. Also, Freud concentrated on the mentally ill, and Maslow was interested in healthy human psychology.

Maslow and his colleagues came to refer to their movement as “third force psychology,” the first two being psychoanalysis and behaviorism. The third force is based on philosophies of existentialism and humanism.
From Maslow’s perspective, the drive to learn is intrinsic. The purpose of learning is to bring about self-actualization, and the goals of educators should include this process. Learning contributes to psychological health. Maslow proposed other goals of learning, including discovery of one’s vocation or destiny; knowledge of values; realization of life as precious, acquisition of peak experiences, sense of accomplishment, satisfaction of psychological needs, awareness of beauty and wonder in life, impulse control, developing choice, and grappling with the critical existential problems of life.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Physiological Needs

They consist of needs for oxygen, food, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. They are the strongest needs because if a person were deprived of all needs, the physiological ones would come first in the person’s search for satisfaction. We need these for basic survival. Maslow’s theory said that you need to satisfy first the basic needs like Physiological needs and Safety needs, to get motivation to truly attain the higher-level needs like social needs and esteem.
Financial reserves

These include the need for security. We often have little awareness of these, except in times of emergency & disorganization in social structure (war time, terrorist acts, domestic violence, natural disasters). Maslow’s hierarchy said that, if a person feels that he or she is in harm’s way, higher needs would not be attained that quickly.

Belongingness & Love needs

When a person has attained the lower level like Physiological and Safety needs, higher level needs become important, the first of which are social needs. Social needs are those related to interaction with other people 

Humanistic Theory according to Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers was a central figure in the humanistic movement of personality psychology. He lived from 1902 till 1987. In the span of his life, he was an instrumental figure in the understanding of the individual as a central point of the study of human potential. He believed that within each individual lies an innate desire and motivation to learn in order to progress to a higher level of achievement and self-development.
Rogers believed that people who are restricted by their perception of the environment in which they exist in have a debilitating effect on how they may view their potential. However, if an individual is able to overcome the faulty perception(s) of the environment, and learn to acknowledge the potential to grow, then the individual may initiate steps as well as processes towards this end. Rogers strongly advocated that a growing individual is on where he or she is aware of a progress of ongoing internal change, and an acceptance of oneself.

Rogers further emphasized that individuals will inevitably experience positive development if they are exposed to supportive environmental condition. By his understanding of supportive environmental condition, Rogers believed that social factors contribute to positive development. Rogers (1982), quoted by Pfaffenberger. A, 2007, p 508, “emphatically stated that in his opinion, all humans will display compassion and cooperation if they are provided with the appropriate environmental supports.” Therefore, Rogers was of the view that learning in a supportive environmental condition was crucial to the development of oneself.


Myers, D. (2004). Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers.
Stockdale, M., & Crosby, F. (2004). The psychology and management of workplace diversity. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
Wade, C., & Tavris, C. (2000). Psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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