Humanistic Approach to Personality

There are many similarities and differences in the biological and humanistic approaches to personality. Over time there have been theories that many people both agree and disagree with. Both biological and humanistic factors have influences on one’s personality development. One major issue that arises in this discipline is nature vs. nurture. This is the notion that an individual’s development is based on either their genetic makeup (nature) or their interaction with the environment (nurture).

As opposed to history, modern psychologists rarely take the extreme positions in this matter. The question of nature vs. nurture question has been since the beginning of psychology. Those who believe the biological approach to personality believe that one’s personality traits are largely influence by biological or genetic factors (Burger, 2008). One theorist, Hans Eysenck’s, introduced a model of personality with three dimensions: extroversion-introversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. He argued that these biological temperaments influence a person’s personality.

For example, someone classified as extroversion-introversion are either outgoing and impulsive or the latter, quiet and reserved; Those in the dimension of neuroticism often respond to situations very emotionally; and if classified in the psycoticism group are frequently described as egocentric or impulsive (Burger, 2008). Many believe that people are born with general behavior dispositions called temperaments. These temperaments develop into personality over time. If someone’s personality is their “nature,” can “nature” be influenced by the environment they are in?

According to the humanistic approach to personality, one’s personal responsibility in life is the determinant of his or her personality. In other words, each person can make decisions at any time in their lives. Four key fundamentals of the humanistic approach are: 1) personal responsibility – in the end, a person’s behaviors are the result of personal choices; 2) here and now – learning to live life as it happens; 3) phenomenology of the individual – understanding one’s experiences; and 4) personal growth – beyond having one’s individual needs met, becoming self-actualized (Burger, 2008).

Supporters of the humanistic approach believe that people shape their own lives. The question to the humanistic approach is this: If a person’s personality is based on the decisions they make, are the decisions a result of personality traits inherited from their parents or is the decision base solely on the situation? Two characteristics of the biological approach are temperaments and that a person is born with certain dispositions which leaves them open to certain personality traits.

I agree that people are born with certain temperaments and that over time they are influence by the environment they live in and develop into personality. On the humanistic side of the spectrum, I concur with the four key elements of the humanistic personality theory. I too believe that we are responsible for our own destiny. We have the ability to make decisions according to different situations and what we believe in. Most of the time, we are not forced to make the decisions we make. I also agree with Abraham Maslow that our lower level need must be met in order to fulfill our higher level needs, but not necessarily 100%.

I do not agree that a person can be molded into whatever someone wants them to be because both biological and humanistic factors will affect different traits. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there are five basic categories of needs that must be met and how well they are met affects one’s personality. The five categories are as follows: 1) physiological – needs such as hunger, thirst, air; 2) safety – needs such as freedom from fear/chaos and stability; 3) belongingness/love – need for friendship and love; 4) esteem – need for admiration; and 5) self-actualization – the need to become everything one is able to become.

Two motives influence personality are deficiency and growth. Deficiency describes the lack of fulfillment of a basic need. These needs are satisfied once the need is met. Growth needs, such as love towards others and potential to better oneself, are satisfied by expressing the motive, not just finding the motive. Once satisfied, these needs often increase (Burger, 2008). Maslow believed that one must first fulfill his or her lower level of needs in order for the significance of the higher needs to become significant.

For example, a person must first satisfy his or her physiological and safety needs before they can focus on fulfilling their need for love and belongingness. With that said, the needs do not have to be met 100% before moving to the higher level needs. But, how well those lower needs are met will determine how those needs affect one’s behavior (Schmutte, 2006). Some biological factors that may influence a personality are the similarities in parents and children, genetics (psychological diseases), and temperament.

Many people believe that aggressive parent’s will have aggressive children. Psychological diseases are often a result of genetics or they are inherited. Temperament as defined by Burger, is the “general patterns of behavior and mood that can be expressed in man different ways. ” (2008). Those who follow the biological approach believe people are born with these temperaments and these will grow into personality. Another inherited tendency is anxiety. Anxiety has allowed humans to endure life from generation to generation.

According to the evolutionary personality psychology, this tendency is inherited from our ancestors (Burger, 2008). Like most people, I believe that my personality is a mixture of both biological and humanistic influences. I have some personality traits that I also see in my family, but I think that most of my personality comes from things that I have experienced and accomplished. I act, or react, the way I do based on the situation I am in and what I think is right. I am also a strong believer in personal growth.

When I accomplish something, I am not finished. I then start thinking about how to do it better the next time. This is especially true when the goal that I have accomplished is a personal goal. I have the drive to be the best that I can be. All in all, both biological and humanistic factors influence the way personality develops. Both theories have made enormous attributes to the history of personality. Some personality traits are inherited and some are developed over time and are often influenced by the environment a person lives in.

It is not necessarily which approach is right, rather how much each approach influences our personalities. Many experiences throughout one’s lifespan, good or bad, will continually affect how they continue to grow. Although I am more tilted toward the nurturing aspect, the importance of our genetic make-up shouldn’t be minimized in one’s human development.


Burger, J. M. (2008). Personality (7th ed). Belmont, Ca: Thomson Wadsworth. Schmutte, D. (2002). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved on December 20, 2008 from Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health.

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