Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Biological vs Humanistic Theories

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Biological vs. Humanistic Theories

“It is the theory that decides what we can observe”-Albert Einstein (as cited in Moncur, 00, p. ). Psychology is based on theories, which are developed from observations. However, the same observation can bring about conflicting theories. Therefore, in order to understand personality, one must examine many different approaches. Humanistic theories follow the belief that everyone is basically good. It relies on feelings rather than thought processes. Biological theories follow that belief that genetics control personality. They rely on thinking rather than feelings. In order to achieve a thorough analysis between the biological and humanistic perspectives of personality, the basic concepts, theorists, and approaches to research must be compared.

The basic concepts of humanistic and biological theories differ greatly. There are four basic ideas behind humanistic psychology. First, the present is the most important aspect of a person. Humanists focus on the present rather than looking at the past or toward the future. Second, healthy people must take responsibility for themselves, regardless of the actions. Third, every individual possess inherent worth. Even negative actions do not negate the value of the person. Fourth, the achievement of personal growth and understanding is the goal of life. “Only through self-improvement and self-knowledge can one truly be happy” (Heffner, 00, p. 1). On the other hand, biological theories focus on thought rather than feelings for self-worth. First, biological theorists believe that genetic make-up determines a person’s personality. The basic concepts state that even if biology plays no direct role in personality, the way a person looks affects how one sees himself and how others interact with him. This indirect affect determines how a person develops into adulthood. Biological perspectives also teach that intelligence and genes determine a person’s personality. Temperament and mental disorders are also believed to be determined by biology (Myers, 1, p. 56). Humanistic theories seem to be oversimplified, whereas biological theories are overcomplicated. Although they are complete opposites in their concepts, together they comprise the essence of personality.

Not only do humanistic and biological theories differ, the theorists within each group also differ. Carl Rogers “pioneered humanistic psychotherapy and was the first therapist to popularize a ‘person-centered’ approach” (as cited in Burger, 00, p. 1). The main concept of Roger’s theory is that everyone strives for self-actualization, and seeks out enhancing experiences. Rogers developed the concept of the “fully functioning” person. He believed that people strive for an optimal sense of satisfaction, and becomes fully functioning. Once fully functioned, the individual is able to trust his own feelings and experience a better life. However, Roger realized that very few people become fully functional, thereby creating defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms allow people to protect their self-concept, thereby allowing them to continue to strive toward self-actualization (Heffner, 00, p. 11). Rogers believed that the need for defense mechanisms stems from childhood, where children are taught conditional positive regard. When parents disapprove of a child’s behavior, love is withheld. Therefore, children are taught to hide their faults and weaknesses rather than accept them. Roger has proposed that only through unconditional positive regard can individuals know that they are loved no matter what they do (Burger, 00, p. 1). Another humanistic theorist, Abraham Maslow, believes that each characteristic of human functioning relates to the whole person. Maslow refers to these functions as Hierarchy of Needs. There are five basic categories of human needs. The first level is the physiological needs, which includes food, water, shelter, oxygen, and sleep. Until these needs are met, it is impossible to move on to the next level. The second level is safety needs, which incorporates the need for safety and security. One must seek out safety through other people and strive to find a world that will protect them and keep them free from harm. One can only continue to grow by meeting these goals in order to think about higher-level needs. The third level is the belonging and love needs, which includes the need for love, acceptance, and belonging. Once the individual is feeling safe and secure in their world they will seek out friendships to feel a sense of belonging. This level focuses on one’s desire to be accepted, to fit in, and to feel like they belong. The fourth level is esteem needs, which includes the need for achievement, education, competence, and respect. At this level, one focuses energy on self-respect, respect from others, and feeling that accomplishments have been made. The final level is the need for self-actualization, which includes the need to realize our fullest potential. Maslow believes that while many people may be in this final level, very few master it (Burger, 00, p. 1). While both Rogers and Maslow believe in self-actualization and fully functional people, they differ regarding a person’s childhood. Rogers’ believed that a person’s childhood experiences could prevent self-actualization, whereas Maslow disregarded the role of a person’s childhood. Maslow believed that as long as a person’s needs are met, the person’s childhood experiences do not hinder self-actualization. One cannot negate the role of the biologic theorists, however. One of the leading biologic theorists, Hans Eysenck, concluded that all human traits can be divided into three distinct categories, known as Supertraits. The first is extroversion-introversion. Eysenck measured people’s personality by the activities and social behaviors and determined that these traits rarely change over time. The extrovert is active, needs to be around people, and requires a lot of stimulation, whereas the introvert is the opposite. Eysenck believed that most people fall in between the two, creating a balance. Too much or too little of extroversion or introversion could cause an instable personality. The second supertrait is neuroticism. Neuroticisms are the tendencies that a person has to respond emotionally to situations. Like the first, people who score too high or low in this category are not likely to have stable personalities. The final category is psychoticism. Psychoticism is a person’s response and reactions to others. People who score high in this category are said to require judicial correction or psychotherapy, as they have no regard for others and lack empathy. There are major differences between biologic theorists like Eysenck and humanistic theorists like Rogers and Maslow. Eysenck, like most biologic theorists, believe that personality traits are inherited, and therefore, unavoidable. These theorists believe that a combination of psychotherapy and drug therapy could correct poor personality traits, leading to a productive life. Humanistic therapists believe that a productive life is a self-actualized life, and can only be achieved through the meeting of needs. Humanistic therapists believe that poor personality traits are learned, not inherited. While humanistic theorists believe that people are basically good, biologic theorists tend to believe in the science behind temperaments.

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The approaches to research utilized in humanistic and biologic perspectives are vastly diverse. Humanistic theory has a much-reduced capacity for research. Using assessments and tests contradict the foundation of humanistic theory. However, after much research and development, Stephenson created the Q-Sort assessment, which was quickly adopted by Carl Rogers. The Q-Sort consists of 100 cards, each containing qualities within an individual’s personality. The client is instructed to place each of the cards on a nine-point continuum representing how he sees himself. This is done twice, representing the true and ideal self of the client. The healthy person is one whose ideal self and true self are very similar. While this test is helpful in determining a person’s self-concept, defense mechanisms may present an accurate assessment. Biological theory utilizes genetic research in developing theories. However, studies are done on environmental factors by studying twins and culture. This brings an almost humanistic approach into biological theory. DNA studies are now bringing a completely new research venue into biological theory. Yet humanistic theory is almost stagnant in research and development.

While humanistic and biological theories have many differences and fewer similarities, both theories try to address the issues of personality. A blend between the two theories would most likely produce the optimal results. Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Hans Eysenck spent years researching and developing their theories on personality. Each theorist makes an excellent argument, however each theorist has a narrowed view of personality. Personality is too complex to be put into a single category. We think what we feel, and feel what we think.


Burger, J. (00). Personality. Belmont, CA Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Heffner, C. (00). Personality synopsis. Retrieved June 0, 00 from the World Wide Web


Moncur, M. (00). Quotations page. Retrieved from the World Wide Web


Myers, D. (1). Exploring psychology. New York, NY Worth Publishers.

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