Learning Objectives

After completing this module the student should be able to do the following:

  1. Outline the psychoanalytic approach to personality.
  2. Describe the history of the humanistic approach to personality.
  3. Outline Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  4. Describe Carl Roger’s theory of personality.
  5. Explain the major methods of assessing personality.

Class Content

In this class we will continue our examination of different types of theories of personality by looking at Psychoanalytic and Humanistic theories. This will be followed by a description of the different methods of measuring personality which in turn will be followed by a conclusion.

  1. Psychoanalytic Theory

As we saw in class number one, psychoanalysis which revolves around the theories of Sigmund Freud, is both a therapeutic technique and a system of personality. As a theory of personality it divides the mind into the conscious, the pre-conscious and the unconscious. The unconscious is the largest part and is allegedly the origin of the drives and instincts that motivate human behaviour.

Freud argued that our personalities are determined by both conscious and unconscious powers with the unconscious exerting considerable control over the conscious and that our personalities as adults are formulated by our experiences during the first five or six years or life. Freud’s theory was the first of the psychoanalytic theories of personality; other theories of note came from Carl Jung, Alfred Adler and Karen Horney.

The major principles of psychoanalytic theories of personality are (i) that people are usually unaware (unconscious) of the motives behind their behaviour, and (ii) that people use processes called defence mechanisms to prevent undesirable or anxiety-provoking thoughts and motives which are located in the unconscious from reaching the conscious mind. Psychoanalytic theories claim that differences between people are caused by:

  • The different types of unconscious thoughts and motives that each individual possesses.
  • The manner by which these thoughts and motives are expressed.
  • The different methods that people use to protect themselves from anxiety.

  1. Humanistic Theories of Personality

‘Humanistic psychology developed shortly after World War 2. It is an approach to psychology which believes that scientific attempts to study human beings are inappropriate and that human behaviour is neither a product of unconscious conflicts (as per the psychoanalytic approach) nor simple conditioning (as per the behaviourist approach). Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) introduced the notion of a ‘third force’ in psychology in 1958 – Behaviourism and Psychoanalytic theory being the first and second forces – and it is he and a man called Carl Rogers who are the best-known humanistic psychologists. The humanistic approach concentrates on mental health rather than mental illness and tries to emphasise conscious experience as it occurs and also the positive and fulfilling elements of life.

It views people as actors in the drama of life rather than reactors and in this sense is similar to the European school of philosophy called Existentialism which focused on the search for meaning and the importance of choice, free will and personal responsibility for one’s actions. Humanistic psychology concerns itself with higher human motives such as self-development, personal insight, and aesthetics and a belief in the individual’s potential for personal growth, which is called self-actualisation. As we are about to see self-actualisation in the theories of Maslow and Rogers is viewed as a motivating force in order to improve the human condition.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
One of Maslow’s major contributions was to point out that healthy people might not simply be the opposite of sick people. To demonstrate this he presented a hierarchy of human needs in the belief that to understand personality one had to understand the interactive and dynamic nature of the hierarchy.

1. Physiological needs
These include the human need or motivation for things like food, water, rest, activity, oxygen, sex, elimination of waste, and bodily comforts in general.

2. Safety needs
When the basic physiological needs are satisfied we are motivated by the need to protect ourselves both physically and psychologically from potentially dangerous objects or situations. In general this level refers to our overall comfort and security.

3. Attachment needs
Once the bottom two needs are by and large taken care of we can become motivated by the third layer which concerns our need to give and receive love and affection in the form of friendships, relationships, being accepted by others and a general sense of belonging, for example, to a particular community or to a particular religion.

4. Esteem needs
The word ‘esteem’ refers here to the esteem and respect of others and self-esteem and self-respect. These needs refer to having a sense of personal competence and the recognition of one’s competence.

5. Cognitive needs
These relate to curiosity, knowledge, exploration and understanding.

6. Aesthetic needs
Beauty, harmony, symmetry.

7. Self-actualisation
This refers to finding self-fulfilment or to becoming everything that one is capable of becoming, particularly creatively, intellectually and emotionally. In 1968 Maslow redefined self-actualisation as ‘episodic’ in the sense that the state can come at any time in life and may only last for a number of very thrilling moments as distinct from it being a static state (1).

In general this theory assumes that people of all cultures are motivated to aspire to higher levels of fulfilment as they satisfy the preceding level, with self-actualisation being at the top of the hierarchy. In other words it claims that humans are innately motivated to achieve our potential by using and developing our talents and abilities (2). While the bottom four needs are engaged in because they satisfy basic physical and psychological needs – or deficits – the higher 3 needs are engaged in because they are a form of personal growth which leads to the realisation of one’s full potential – or self actualisation.

The most psychologically healthy people therefore according to Maslow are those whose ‘deficiency’ needs are sufficiently satisfied to free their energies for the three ‘growth’ needs and in particular for self-actualisation.

There are a few points to note regarding the hierarchical nature of Maslow’s theory.

Firstly, the lower needs must be satisfied before we can fully attend to the needs at the next level up; for instance physiological needs must be met before we concentrate on safety needs, the safety needs must be met before we can attend to the belonging needs and so on up the hierarchy. Secondly, individuals will achieve self-actualisation in different ways, through different activities.

Self-actualisation is idiosyncratic, since every person is different… The individual [must do] what he, individually, is fitted for. 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” (1). (Maslow, 1968)

While the above quotation seems to place a lot of emphasis on artistic creativity as a means to self-actualisation, his definition of creativity did not just relate to art and scholarship but rather to any application of creativity in any realm of life. For example he claimed that a first rate soup is better than a second rate painting! Carl Rogers, the other humanistic psychologist of note assumes that we each have an inherited urge or need for self-actualisation which is evident, according to him in our tendency to develop and use all of our potential. Hence the term ‘self-growth’ which is frequently used to describe the objectives of Humanistic Psychology.


What is self-actualisation and who achieves it?

We will begin with the latter question and to be frank about it – not many people achieve self-actualisation. If one is, for example, hungry, insecure, unloved or low in self esteem, as per the first four needs, the theory suggests that because such lower needs are unsatisfied that one cannot fulfil ones full potential. Maslow claimed that theoretically everybody is capable of self-actualising but that only about 1% of people will do so.

Whereas self-actualisation is a matter of degree, he claimed that people such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, William James, Eleanor Roosevelt, Benedict Spinoza and others achieved a state of self actualisation and by analysing the lives and work of such people he developed a list of characteristics and behaviours that in his view they shared and which were a prerequisite for self-actualisation.

Characteristics of self-actualisers

  • Ability to perceive reality efficiently and to tolerate uncertainty;
  • Can accept themselves and others for what they are;
  • Spontaneous in thought and action;
  • Problem-centred (not self-centred);
  • Unhostile sense of humour;
  • Able to look at life objectively;
  • Highly creative;
  • Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional;
  • Concerned for the welfare of mankind;
  • Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;
  • Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;
  • Peak experiences;
  • Democratic attitudes;
  • Need for privacy;
  • Strong moral/ethical standards.

Behaviour leading to self-actualisation

  • Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;
  • Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;
  • Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition or authority or the majority;
  • Avoiding pretence (‘game playing’) and being honest;
  • Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;
  • Taking responsibility and working hard.

Carl Rogers’s Person-Centered Theory
Carl Rogers developed a theory of self-actualisation that is very similar to Maslow’s but with one particular subtle difference between the two. Benson (1999) claims that Rogers prefers to see the self actualisation process as ongoing – hence his preference for the term self-actualising rather than self-actualisation (2). The ‘self’ which according to Rogers refers to an individual’s overall perception of their abilities, behaviour and personality, is a central concept in Roger’s theory. He claimed that the interpretation of the self – as strong or weak – affects how one perceives the rest of the world (3). He also claimed that in addition to the ‘self’ people also have the notion of an ideal self which is an image of what each individual would like to be and assumed that we each possess an inherited urge for self-actualisation which is the tendency to develop and use all of our potential. Self-esteem therefore depends on the gap between the ideal self and the self image.

Rogers worked for a spell as a counsellor and as was the case with Freud he developed his theory of personality on the basis of his experience in dealing with his clients. An important aspect of Roger’s theory is the need for positive regard. Positive regard is the need for warmth, respect, love and acceptance from other people, particularly the valued people in our lives such as parents.

He distinguished between conditional positive regard and unconditional positive regard. Conditional positive regard is Roger’s term for love and praise being withheld unless the individual conforms to certain standards e.g. parental or social standards. Unconditional positive regard is his term for accepting, valuing and being positive towards another individual irrespective of the person’s behaviour. It is love and acceptance with no strings attached and Roger’s placed a lot of emphasis on it because in his opinion the lack of unconditional positive regard may hinder a person’s progress towards self-actualisation. For example he would claim that in a family situation if a child misbehaved the parent(s) should focus on the child’s behaviour and not the child. In this way the child learns that the behaviour is wrong but the parents still love it (4).

Unconditional positive regard allows people to develop healthy personalities and to work towards their potential without worrying about what others think of them.

Rogers’s theory has developed into a form of therapy called person-centered therapy. Person-centered therapy puts the onus of responsibility on the client and claims that the client must decide what changes are needed for themselves. The therapist is not viewed as an ‘expert’ who diagnoses and treats the client but rather as a confidant who listens and encourages on an equal level (2).

Personality Assessment

Assessing (measuring) the personality of others is something that people constantly do informally (5) but personality assessment also occurs formally and is a common aspect of modern day life, particularly in the area of job selection. There are two main types of formal personality tests: objective and projective.

Objective personality tests include questionnaire-type tests where the answers are reasonably straightforward. They include questions or statements where the answers may be true or false, yes or no, strongly agree/strongly disagree etc. Questions in these types of tests are usually clear and unambiguous (4) but the questionnaire method has some serious drawbacks. Because the motives of the questions or statements tend to be obvious the person taking the test can often guess the purpose of the questionnaire and tailor their answers accordingly. Also participants who may wish to look good or deny their own weaknesses or psychological problems can easily falsify their answers as they see fit. It should be said though that some tests use statistical methods to determine whether participants are answering questions reliably and accurately.

Projective personality tests are derived from psychoanalytic theories of personality and are designed to be vague so that the person’s answer will be more revealing than the more simple form of objective tests. The assumption with projective tests according to Carlson et al (2000) is that an individual will ‘project’ his or her personality into the ambiguous situation and therefore make responses that give clues to their personality (4). For example a projective test could include presenting someone with an ambiguous drawing of something and asking them for their initial opinions on it or asking them to say what it reminds them of. Their personalities would then be assessed on the basis of their own individual response. Note the similarities between projective tests of personality and the psychoanalytic technique of free association.

Although personality tests can be very enlightening and informative, problems that are sometimes associated with the general concept of the measurement of personality include:

  1. The validity of measurement i.e. do they measure what they claim to measure.
  2. The possibility that cultural differences in personality may exist which may or may not be allowed for.
  3. The measures may not be consistent and may in fact change across time.

Attempts to describe, categorise and measure personality have been widespread throughout history. Since the 1880s theories of personality have become fashionable. These theories range from psychoanalysis with its primary emphasis on heredity to humanistic theories which emphasise self-growth and free will. Trait theories and to a certain extent psychoanalytic theories describe our behaviour as being more or less controlled by our genetic makeup (nature) but on the other hand social learning and behavioural theories give nurture precedence over nature. The humanistic theories then emerged with the attitude that what we do with our life is largely up to our own individual motivation and that we can take charge of our own destiny. Finally the 5-factor theory has emerged which suggests that the five factors listed may be universal and may be inherited.

(except for references, questions and quiz below!)



(1) Maslow, A. (1968). Towards a psychology of being (2nd ed.). New York: Van Nostrand-Reinhold.

(2) Benson, N. C. (2002). Introducing Psychology. Cambridge: Icon.

(3) Mischel, W. (1971). Introduction to Personality (3rd Ed). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

(4) Carlson, N., Buskist, W., & Martin G. N. (2000). Psychology, the science of behaviour. Allyn and Bacon.

(5) Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2000). Perspectives on Personality (4th Ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.


Multiple Choice Questions
(Answers at bottom of page)

Q1. The major principles of psychoanalytic theories of personality are __.

  1. That people are oblivious of the real reasons behind their behaviour.
  2. That anxiety-producing thoughts and motives are prevented from reaching consciousness.
  3. That personality is solely determined by the conscious mind.
  4. 1 and 2.

Q2. The Humanistic approach to personality __.

  1. Concentrates on mental health.
  2. Sees people as being reactors.
  3. Was developed shortly after world war one.
  4. Views personality as being the product of the unconscious mind.

Q3. According to Abraham Maslow __.

  1. Health is not simply the absence of illness.
  2. People have a number of different types of requirements.
  3. A first rate soup is better than a second rate painting.
  4. All of these.

Q4. Maslow’s theory __.

  1. Deals with human needs.
  2. Deals with human motivations.
  3. Incorporates the concept of people attempting to reach their full potential.
  4. All of these.

Q5. The main difference between the theories of Maslow and Rogers is that __.

  1. Each theory has a different title.
  2. According to Rogers the ‘self’ is not capable of self-actualisation.
  3. According to Rogers self-actualisation is a journey rather than a destination.
  4. According to Maslow the ‘self’ is not capable of self-actualisation.

Q6. Positive regard is __.

  1. Both conditional and unconditional.
  2. One of the concepts used by Abraham Maslow.
  3. Unrelated to self-actualisation.
  4. 1 and 2.

Q7. Objective personality tests are __.

  1. Derived from psychoanalytic theories of personality.
  2. Designed to be ambiguous.
  3. Reasonably uncomplicated.
  4. Influenced by free association.

Q8. Projective personality tests are __.

  1. Include questionnaire-type tests.
  2. Unambiguous
  3. Ambiguous
  4. None of these.

Questions to Think About

  1. Humanistic psychology believes that scientific attempts to study human beings (behaviour, personality etc.) are inappropriate. Do you agree?
  2. Do you believe that people are usually unconscious of the true motives behind their behaviour as psychoanalytic theory suggests?
  3. Do men’s personalities genuinely differ from women’s?
  4. Do both genders suffer from stereotypes as regards personality?
  5. Can financially underprivileged people attain self-actualisation?
  6. Do you think that a person’s personality can be measured?

MCQ Answers