Humanistic models of personality share an optimistic view of humanity, focusing on a person's potential for growth and self-actualization, a person's drive to develop their full potential. Humanistic psychologists embrace the idea of free will, supporting the notion that humans have the freedom and ability to choose their own experiences. Humanistic psychologists focus on the underlying motivations they believe drive personality: self-concept, a person's beliefs about who the self is, and self-esteem, a person's positive feelings about the self.
Abraham Maslow, one of the first humanistic theorists, constructed a hierarchy of needs first presented in a paper published in 1943. He stated that people must first meet their basic needs (physiological, safety, social) before they can achieve higher-level needs such as self-esteem and self-actualization. He introduced this hierarchy after studying how successful people like Martin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, and Mahatma Gandhi achieved great levels of success and productivity. Maslow created a list of qualities most self-actualized people possess, including being creative, loving, and confident. He also reported that self-actualized people are likely to experience profound moments of tranquility (called peak experiences) and a strong sense of connection with others.
Maslow's Findings on Self-Actualized People
|Creative and spontaneous||Timid and calculating|
|Loving of themselves and others||Judgmental toward themselves and others|
|Private, focused on a small number of deep friendships||Likely to overshare, focused on having many superficial friendships|
|Confident, non-conforming, secure in their own opinions||Uncertain, want to conform and fit in, easily influenced by others' opinions|
|Express their own thoughts||Agree with others|
Carl Rogers is another well-known humanist of the mid-20th century. With a positive view of human nature, Rogers contended people were primarily moral and helpful toward others. He also believed a growth-promoting environment required genuineness, acceptance, and empathy. He encouraged unconditional positive regard, or an unqualified acceptance of the value of others, regardless of their actions or behaviors. People who treat themselves and others with unconditional positive regard express understanding and support, even when people fall short of ideal behavior. Offering unconditional positive regard is a cornerstone of humanistic forms of psychotherapy. It predicts strong relationships between clients and therapists.
Some psychologists view the humanistic approach as overly optimistic about human nature or likely to promote selfishness. However, the core principles of humanistic psychology continue to influence research and therapy. The positive psychology movement, which involves the scientific study of happiness and life purpose, grew out of humanistic theory. Positive psychology was pioneered by American psychologist Martin Seligman and Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi. According to Seligman, people experience three kinds of happiness: 1) pleasure and gratification; 2) embodiment of strengths and virtues; and 3) meaning and purpose. Achieving happiness and thinking positively have been shown to boost relationships, satisfaction, and mental and physical health. Czikszentmihalyi's research suggests that people can take active steps to increase their happiness. His research has focused on the benefits of being in a flow state, which involves focused interest in an activity. During a flow state, people become immersed in a rewarding task that offers the right level of challenge.
Psychologists use various research techniques to learn about the genetic and environmental factors that shape personality. Family studies, twin studies, and adoptive studies can be used to compare personality traits of biologically and nonbiologically related family members. A family study explores whether specific traits tend to co-occur within family members living together. Family studies can identify traits that run in families but cannot explain whether genetic or environmental factors best explain why that trait runs in families. For example, a child of outgoing parents may become outgoing because they share genes with their parents. Alternatively, they may be outgoing because their parents talked a lot, modeled outgoing behavior, and arranged frequent social gatherings.
A twin study can help disentangle the influence of biological and environmental factors. Identical twins have almost perfectly identical sets of genes, whereas fraternal twins have about half of their genes in common. For traits with a strong genetic basis, identical twins should be more similar to each other than non-identical twins.
In twin studies, the influence of nature versus nurture is divided into three categories: heritability, shared environmental factors, and non-shared environmental factors. Heritability is a measure of the strength of genetic influences. If a trait is heritable, identical twins will be more likely to possess the trait than non-identical twins. Shared environmental factors refer to environmental factors that family members have in common, such as parenting style, neighborhood safety, and the family's level of wealth. Nonshared environmental factors represent differences in life experiences. Even identical twins will have nonshared environmental factors. They may have different teachers, different friends, or participate in different activities. One twin may experience a traumatic event or health issue that the other does not.
An adoption study compares biologically related people, including twins, who have not been raised together. Genetic influence is supported when an adopted child is more like their biological parents than their adoptive parents. Environmental influence is supported when the adopted child is more like their adoptive parents than their biological parents.Family, twin, and adoption studies indicate that biology and environmental factors both shape personality traits. A 2015 study combined data from 134 earlier studies to explore the role of genetic factors in personality traits. This study showed that across personality traits, about 60 percent of individual differences can be explained by the environment and about 40 percent can be explained by genetics.