PSY 250 Biological and Humanistic Approaches to Personality

2 Oct No Comments

Biological and Humanistic Theories





Biological and Humanistic Theories

Theories of personalities have been studied for many decades. The biological and humanistic approaches to personality have both become infamous in studying the science behind personality. Abraham Maslow developed the hierarchy of needs because he did not believe that the conditioning theories adequately portrayed the complexity of human behavior. In analyzing both the biological and humanistic theories, one can see where Maslow may have been right in that assumption. “The hierarchy of needs theory remains valid today for understanding human motivation, management training, and personal development” (Valiunas, p. 97, 2011).

Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow has been coined one of the most infamous psychologists in history. “His 1943 paper “Theory of Human Motivation” (collected in his 1954 book. Motivation and Personality, which in time would be hailed as having radically changed the fleld) describes the human need that demands to be satisfied after more basic or prepotent needs—for food, safety, shelter, sex, love, self-esteem, as he arranges them in his famous hierarchy—have been met: “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself What a man can be, he must be. He must be true to his own nature. This need we may call self-actualization” (Valiunas, p.2, 2011). A pyramid is used to represent Maslow’s theory. Maslow believed that at the most basic level food, water, shelter, sleep, and air is needed. All other needs are secondary to these. One will not move on to secondary needs until these needs are met. As one’s basic needs are met, more social and psychological needs are considered.

The second level of Maslow’s theory focuses upon security. These needs must be met in order for an individual to feel safe. Some examples to consider at this level may be higher education, viable employment, shelter, a car, and health insurance. While not absolute necessities, these needs must be attained for one to be a functioning member of society. The third level of Maslow’s theory is socially related. These needs include the need to belong, to be loved, and to be given affection. “Relationships such as friendships, romantic relationships, and families help to fulfill this void for companionship and acceptance” (Cherry, 2010). At the fourth level of Maslow’s theory is self-esteem related needs. These needs include one’s self-worth, accomplishments, self-esteem, and one’s ability to be socially recognized. The final level of Maslow’s theory is geared toward self-actualization. This is the highest level of the hierarchy and is not obtained by everyone. Once the previous levels have been achieved one has the ability to focus upon self-growth and self awareness. At this level individuals become less concerned about the opinions of others.

Maslow also developed the idea of “peak experiences”. “These “peak-experiences,” as he calls them in Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences (1964), by no means reveal the One True God, Who Maslowremains certain does not exist, but rather reveal to the persons .enjoying

the peak the best part of themselves” (Valiunas, p.101, 2012). Maslow along with Carl Rogers and Rollo May created the Humanistic approach as a “third force” of psychology, focusing more on personality and the human potential, conclusion heavily on the idea that humans are born with a healthy mind and soul, compared to Freud’s beliefs.

One may ask where biological and humanistic approaches fit in the grand scheme of things. Because these are just two of the possible six theories that have been developed in an effort to explain human behavior, one may choose to overlook these. The biological and humanistic theories of personality hold and intricate part of the puzzle that exists in an effort to explain why people are the way they are. Psychiatrists and psychologists alike implement these theories in deciphering one’s personality and possible afflictions. Most often one will determine which theory to implement in analyzing the individual, situation, and thought process.

Biological Theory

This theory focuses on the idea that one’s personality is hereditary. Believers suggest that one’s personality is passed down to them from their parents. This theory suggests that one is genetically inclined to adopt certain character traits from one’s mother or father. At birth one already has a foundation to have a specific personality. For example, a person who has a mother suffering from anxiety is more prone to be introverted as a result. “In 1967 Eysenck developed inhibition theory. He argued that individual differences in extraversion–introversion are strongly determined by heredity and have their origins in the central nervous system. According to this theory, information from the environment is transmitted from the sense organs along neural pathways to the brain, where excitatory and inhibitory cortical processes result in either the facilitation or inhibition of behavioral and cognitive responses, in certain specific ways. Eysenck maintained that extraverts have relatively strong inhibitory processes and weak excitatory processes. Their ‘strong’ nervous system enables them to tolerate a high degree of stimulation” (Saji, p.1, 2011).

The inclination to possess personality traits when born can also be described as a temperament. It has been theorized that this is the primary basis of the biological theory. This does not, however, mean that one’s personality cannot or will not change throughout one’s life.

Temperament can be understood in watching one’s own children as babies. In comparing one child to the next, one will notice subtle differences in the way that each child behaves. These are the beginning of what will soon become the child’s personality. Mental statuses, sexual orientation, environmental factors, are existential of one’s genetic make-up. This theory while controversial can be proved by simple scientific notation. This theory is set apart by the ability to use science to not only prove but also to understand.

Humanistic Theory

Humanism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes the personal worth of the individual and the centrality of human values. A humanistic approach to personality likewise attends to matters of ethics and personal worth” (Friedman &Shustack, para. 12, 2011). This approach attests that humans are responsible for how their own personality pans out. The idea behind this approach is simple. Who knows you better than you? Both positive character traits and negative ones are easily recognizable to one owns self. Whether one chooses to ignore them are entirely one one’s self. Psychiatrist attempting to answer this question in relation to a client may use the Q-Sort test to do so. Each card will have a personal trait on it that the client is supposed to choose and decide whether it applies to him or her or not. The cards are sorted and the least compatible one’s are at the bottom of the deck.

“Humanistic approaches emphasize the creative, spontaneous, and active nature of human beings. These approaches are usually optimistic, as when they focus on the noble human capacity to overcome hardship and despair. Sometimes, however, these approaches turn pessimistic, as when they contemplate the futility of one person’s actions. Nevertheless, these approaches are willing to take on the spiritual and philosophic aspects of human nature” (Friedman &Shustack, para. 16, 2011). This theory is favorable as it puts the power in the hands of client. Unhappy with who you are you say? Change it! This theory suggests that humans are in complete control.

Biological and humanistic theory differs in many ways. Biological theory suggests that people are born with certain temperaments and that personality is developed from this temperament. Humanistic theory suggests that people are highly in control of whom they are and who they become. Biological theory suggests that human beings are bred from their parents and that within that connection lies the secret to personality traits. The humanistic approach is directed toward the idea that human development is responsible.

There is truth to all of these theories which is why each one is so renowned. In studying personality one can only infer based of research and facts. These two theories both hold truths as do others created to help people understand people. Maslow’s needs assessments directly correlate with these theories. One cannot determine personality without first determining what makes people tick. Humans must revolve around these basic essential needs. Theorizing personality using the biological or humanistic approach will continue to be necessary in considering personality and development.


Friedman, H. S., &Schustack, M. W. (2009). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson: Allyn & Bacon.

Valiunas, A. (2011, Fall). Abraham Maslow and the All-American Self. New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society ,Vol. 33(), p.93-110.

Click following link to download this document

PSY 250 Biological and Humanistic Approaches to Personality.docx