Some psychologists at the time disliked psychodynamic and behaviorist explanations of personality. They felt that these theories ignored the qualities that make humans unique among animals, such as striving for self-determination and self-realization. In the 1950s, some of these psychologists began a school of psychology called humanism.
Humanistic psychologists try to see people’s lives as those people would see them. They tend to have an optimistic perspective on human nature. They focus on the ability of human beings to think consciously and rationally, to control their biological urges, and to achieve their full potential. In the humanistic view, people are responsible for their lives and actions and have the freedom and will to change their attitudes and behavior.
Two psychologists, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, became well known for their humanistic theories.
The highest rung on Abraham Maslow’s ladder of human motives is the need for self-actualization. Maslow said that human beings strive for self-actualization, or realization of their full potential, once they have satisfied their more basic needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is described on page 247.
Maslow also provided his own account of the healthy human personality. Psychodynamic theories tend to be based on clinical case studies and therefore lack accounts of healthy personalities. To come up with his account, Maslow studied exceptional historical figures, such as Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as some of his own contemporaries whom he thought had exceptionally good mental health.
Maslow described several characteristics that self-actualizing people share: