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Humanistic Theory - Maslow's and Roger's Theories

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5456 words Published: 5th Aug 2021

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This is the psychological perspective popularized by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow that emphasizes the human capacity for choice and growth. The overriding assumption is that humans have free will and are not simply fated to behave in specific ways or are zombies blindly reacting to their environment. The humanists stated that the subject matter or psychology is the human subjective experience of the world – how human experience things, why they experience things, etc.

Humanistic psychologists look at human behavior not only through the eyes of the observer, but through the eyes of the person doing the behaving. Humanistic psychologists believe that an individual’s behavior is connected to his inner feelings and self-image.

Unlike the behaviorists, humanistic psychologists believe that humans are not solely the product of their environment. Rather humanistic psychologists study human meanings, understandings, and experiences involved in growing, teaching and learning. They emphasize characteristics that are shared by all human beings such as love, grief, caring and self worth.

Humanistic psychologists study how people are influenced by their self-perceptions and the person meanings attached to their experiences. Humanistic psychologists are not primarily concerned with instinctual drives, responses to external stimuli, or past experiences. Rather, they consider conscious choices, responses to internal needs, and current circumstances to be important in shaping human behavior.

Humanistic theory is based upon the idea that everyone has the potential to make a contribution to society and be a good and likeable person – if their needs are fulfilled. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers led the humanistic theory movement and it was Maslow who developed the “pyramid of needs”.

Maslow believed that fulfilling the needs – in the correct order – would allow individuals to become self actualised, fully able persons. So only after the basic physiological needs – such as food, shelter, warmth – are met can individuals move on to the next stages; the need to feel secure, to be loved and accepted etc.

Maslow developed his theory not by studying mentally ill patients, which is where much psychological knowledge had derived from up to that point, but by studying healthy, productive, creative individual’s lives and careers. He concluded that there were common characteristics which were shared by successful individuals – including self acceptance, openness and respect for other individuals.

Carl Rogers felt that, in addition to Maslow’s hierarchical needs, in order for a person to develop fully that they needed to be in an environment which would provide them with genuineness, acceptance and empathy and that without such a nourishing environment healthy personalities and relationships would be unable to flourish.

Humanistic theory is basically about the development of the individual. It was very popular in the 1970’s but seems to be slightly out of favour today as Western nations have generally moved slightly towards the political right and there is more emphasis on conforming and contributing to, a slightly more conservative society. Of course, whilst humanistic theory does have a very strong focus on the individual, it is based upon the belief that well developed, successful individuals are best placed to make a positive contribution to society.

Humanistic theory suggests that the achievement of happiness is frequently dependent upon achieving, or giving yourself the licence to, investigate and pursue your own deepest interests and desires.

Humanistic Theory according to Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow has been considered the Father of Humanistic Psychology. Maslow’s theory is based on the notion that experience is the primary phenomenon in the study of human learning and behavior. He placed emphasis on choice, creativity, values, self-realization, all distinctively human qualities, and believed that meaningfulness and subjectivity were more important than objectivity. For Maslow, development of human potential, dignity and worth are ultimate concerns.

Maslow rejected behaviorist views and Freud’s theories on the basis of their reductionistic approaches. He felt Freud’s view of human nature was negative, and he valued goodness, nobility and reason. Also, Freud concentrated on the mentally ill, and Maslow was interested in healthy human psychology.

Maslow and his colleagues came to refer to their movement as “third force psychology,” the first two being psychoanalysis and behaviorism. The third force is based on philosophies of existentialism and humanism.

He is famous for proposing that human motivation is based on a hierarchy of needs. The lowest level of needs are physiological and survival needs such as hunger and thirst. Further levels include belonging and love, self-esteem, and self-actualization.

From Maslow’s perspective, the drive to learn is intrinsic. The purpose of learning is to bring about self-actualization, and the goals of educators should include this process. Learning contributes to psychological health. Maslow proposed other goals of learning, including discovery of one’s vocation or destiny; knowledge of values; realization of life as precious, acquisition of peak experiences, sense of accomplishment, satisfaction of psychological needs, awareness of beauty and wonder in life, impulse control, developing choice, and grappling with the critical existential problems of life.

Maslow’s theory of learning highlighted the differences between experiential knowledge and spectator knowledge. He regarded spectator, or scientific, knowledge to be inferior to experiential.

Properties of experiential learning include:

  • immersion in the experience without awareness of the flow of time
  • momentarily not being self-conscious
  • transcending time, place, history, and society by being beyond and unaffected by them
  • merging with that which is being experienced
  • being innocently receptive, as a child, uncritical
  • suspending temporarily evaluation of the experience in terms of its importance or unimportance
  • lack of inhibition, subsiding of selfishness, fear, defensiveness
  • experience unfolds naturally without striving or effort
  • suspending criticism, validation, and evaluation of the experience
  • trusting experience by passively letting it happen; letting go of preconceived notions
  • disengaging from logical, analytical, and rational activities

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Physiological Needs

They consist of needs for oxygen, food, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. They are the strongest needs because if a person were deprived of all needs, the physiological ones would come first in the person’s search for satisfaction. We need these for basic survival. Maslow’s theory said that you need to satisfy first the basic needs like Physiological needs and Safety needs, to get motivation to truly attain the higher-level needs like social needs and esteem.

Safety Needs

When all physiological needs are satisfied and no longer dominating our thoughts and behaviors, we progress to safety needs. A person’s attention turns to safety and security for himself/ herself to be free from the threat of physical and emotional harm.

Such needs might be fulfilled by:

  • Living in a safe area
  • Medical insurance
  • Job security
  • Financial reserves

These include the need for security. We often have little awareness of these, except in times of emergency & disorganization in social structure (war time, terrorist acts, domestic violence, natural disasters). Maslow’s hierarchy said that, if a person feels that he or she is in harm’s way, higher needs would not be attained that quickly.

Belongingness & Love needs

When a person has attained the lower level like Physiological and Safety needs, higher level needs become important, the first of which are social needs. Social needs are those related to interaction with other people like:

  • Need for friends
  • Need for belonging
  • Need to give and receive love

When safety and physiological needs are met, we desire, to be loved by others and to belong. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness & alienation. This involves both giving & receiving love, affection & the sense of belonging (family, friends, social groups).

Esteem Needs

After the first 3 classes of needs are met, the needs for esteem can become dominant. These involve needs for both self-esteem & for the esteem a person gets from others. Esteem needs may be classified as internal or external. Self respect and achievement are some examples of Internal esteem needs. Social status and recognition are some examples of External esteem needs. Some esteem needs are:

  • Self-respect
  • Achievement
  • Attention
  • Recognition
  • Reputation

Humans have a need for a stable, firmly based, high level of self-respect, & respect from others.

When these needs are satisfied, the person feels self-confident & valuable as a person in the world. When these needs are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless & worthless.

Need for Self-Actualization

When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then & only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. The last necessity is the Self Actualization or Fulfillment Needs. This includes purposed, personal growth, and the full realization of one’s potentials. This is the point where people start becoming fully functional, acting purely on their own volition, and having a healthy personality.

Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be & do that which the person was “born to do.” “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write.”

These needs make themselves felt in signs of restlessness (person feels edgy, tense, lacking something, restless.)

The person must be true to his or her own nature, be what you are meant to be.

Maslow believed that very few people reach the state of self-actualization. Although we all have the need to move toward the goal of reaching our full potential, other needs may get in the way.

Misconceptions about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow himself agreed that his 5-level need hierarchy oversimplifies the relationship between needs & behavior. The order of needs makes sense for most of us, though there may be some notable exceptions (e.g., some people need to satisfy their needs for self-esteem & respect before they can enter a love relationship).

We may so desire fulfilling a need that we sacrifice others below it. For example, a person with a passion for acting might sacrifice his or her hunger, which is one of physiological needs, to pursue a career in acting even though the payment is barely enough and struggling to live while trying to make a name for themselves in the business.

Maslow was interested in studying people who are psychologically healthy. These were people who had become self-actualized. He interviewed these people to see how they were able to satisfy all of the needs on the hierarchy. He conducted what he called a “holistic analysis” in which he sought general impressions from his efforts to understand these people in depth.

What are Self-Actualized People Like?

  • They tend to accept themselves for what they are. They freely admit their weaknesses, but do make attempts to improve.
  • They don’t worry excessively over the mistakes they have made, but instead focus on improving.
  • They respect & feel good about themselves. However, this self love is healthy & not narcissistic.
  • They are less restricted by cultural norms than the average person. They feel free to express their desires, even if contrary to the popular view. These people have frequent peak experiences, in which time & place are transcended, anxieties are lost, & a unity of self with the universe is obtained (birth of a child, marriage, deciding to go to school).

Humanistic Theory according to Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers was a central figure in the humanistic movement of personality psychology. He lived from 1902 till 1987. In the span of his life, he was an instrumental figure in the understanding of the individual as a central point of the study of human potential. He believed that within each individual lies an innate desire and motivation to learn in order to progress to a higher level of achievement and self-development.

Both Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers’ work became popularly known in the mid-1980s as the human potential movement. This categorization of their work became the ground where psychologists used their conceptual framework to study the impact on one’s personality as well as in the field of education, among others. One of his famous quotes epitomized his conceptual framework, “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” This quotation reflected his theoretical conception that people must be able to create a learning curve that will enable them to change towards a new chapter in their self-development. According to Rogers (1951), people can be tuned to learn to unlock themselves from an environment that constricts their potential because of preconceived notions of how they should be.

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Rogers believed that people who are restricted by their perception of the environment in which they exist in have a debilitating effect on how they may view their potential. However, if an individual is able to overcome the faulty perception(s) of the environment, and learn to acknowledge the potential to grow, then the individual may initiate steps as well as processes towards this end. Rogers strongly advocated that a growing individual is on where he or she is aware of a progress of ongoing internal change, and an acceptance of oneself.

Rogers further emphasized that individuals will inevitably experience positive development if they are exposed to supportive environmental condition. By his understanding of supportive environmental condition, Rogers believed that social factors contribute to positive development. Rogers (1982), quoted by Pfaffenberger. A, 2007, p 508, “emphatically stated that in his opinion, all humans will display compassion and cooperation if they are provided with the appropriate environmental supports.” Therefore, Rogers was of the view that learning in a supportive environmental condition was crucial to the development of oneself.

In a much later publication, Rogers (1982) also placed emphasis on growth-enhancing relationships that facilitate inner awareness and congruence which allowed motivation of effort towards a certain objective. Rogers postulated that relationships that provide for an awareness of oneself in differing situations can lead to personal growth. For example, if a child learns that he or she is nurtured in a caring family and with acceptance (relationship factor), he or she is more adapted to see situational variables (such as studies, or skill based acquisition) as motivation towards achieving objectives. However, it is notable that this presumption of Rogers may be faulty because it is argued that situational variables can also work to the detriment of the individual. In contrast, Abraham Maslow (1968) explicitly acknowledged that difficult circumstances can also be growth-enhancing. Much research had been conducted to investigate how growth-enhancing relationships and situational variables may trigger different affect. One of the more definitive studies was conducted by L. King (2001), (quoted by Pfaffenberger. A, 2007, p 510). In this study, King investigated the influence of challenging and limiting life events on personality development as measured by Loevinger’s (1976) SCT – Sentence Completion Test. The study concluded that cognitive abilities and personality structures interact with life circumstances, and that the nature of this interaction is relevant to whether growth occurs (p, 511). This study also supports Rollo May’s (1958) theory of existential therapy, where clients are taught to constructively work with their limitations and to create freedom so that they can choose values, meanings, and their levels of commitment.

Theoretical orientations of Roger’s humanistic concept:

The humanistic orientation of Roger’s theory can be essentially encapsulated using two (2) theories. The two (2) theories are the person-centred personality theory and the self-determination theory.

Person-centred theory

For almost fifty (50) years since his earlier publication of “A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships”, developed under the Client-centred Framework, Rogers (1959), the person-centred movement and client-centred approach towards counselling and psycho-therapy are also generalized to other fields of knowledge. The crux of the person-centred personality theory is the assumption that human beings have an inherent tendency towards growth, development, and optimal functioning.

According to Rogers (1959), quoted by Patterson and Joseph, 2007, p 120, “the person-centred approach offers a dynamic, process-focused account of personality development and functioning,…” What this means is that, every human is born with an innate motivational drive, known as the actualizing tendency.

Actualizing tendency is defined by Rogers (1959) as, “the inherent tendency of the organism to develop all of its capacities in ways which serve to maintain or enhance the organism's development towards autonomy and away from heteronomy, or control by external forces.” (p 196) (Quoted by Patterson and Joseph, 2007, p 120)

Every individual possesses some capacity that allows him or her to realize the inherent potential within. One of the key implications of Roger’s actualizing tendency lies in how individuals undertake to bring out the potential. According to Rogers, the impact of the environmental conditions is a determining factor. Under favourable social-environmental conditions, Rogers proposed that the individual’s self-concept actualizes in accordance with his or her organismic valuing process (OVP). The OVP refers to the evaluation of experiences in a manner consistent with one’s intrinsic needs: Rogers summed it by declaring that, “the human infant is seen as having an inherent motivational system and a regulatory system (the valuing process) which by its “feedback” keeps the organism on the beam of satisfying his motivational needs.” (Rogers, 1959, p 222).

Even from young, every individual is keen to fulfil some of his or her intrinsic needs; those that are not dependent on externalities or due to any prior learning. An example is how children recognize the importance of exploration whilst learning and/or playing. In the process, children discover more about themselves, about the environment, about others and about life in general. As children learn to correlate these “experiences” into their organization of self-concept, they begin to instil a sense of their OVP – learning to evaluate the experiences based on their intrinsic needs.

The concept of OVP is important to the central theme of Roger’s theoretical framework. Important to Roger’s understanding is his (1957) terminology of a fully functioning person – an ideal of autonomous psychological functioning that occurs when self-actualization is organismically congruent. This concept is similar to Maslow (1970) and presupposes that individuals must firstly satisfy their most fundamental needs. In his later works, Rogers (1963 and 1964) proposed that the attitudes and behaviours of more fully functioning individuals are consistent with certain internally generated value directions. The value directions include moving toward increasingly socialized goals, where sensitivity to others and acceptance of others is positively valued and where deep relationships are positively valued, and moving in the direction of greater openness to experience, where the person comes to value an openness to all of his or her inner and outer experience ( Rogers, 1964, p 166).

Rogers acknowledged that conditions or the social-environmental factors are not always ideal for the emergence of a fully functioning person. Situations like this give rise to a state of incongruence. There is a state of tension and internal confusion. When an unfavourable social environment is present, the actualizing tendency is thwarted, Rogers (1959). The actualizing tendency is compromised by the conditions of worth. Conditions of worth are conceptualized as the values that are introjected by the individual from his or her social interactions and that stem from the developing infant’s need for positive regard from significant others in his or her social environment. In this respect, if an infant receives positive regard that is conditional, then he or she learns to evaluate experiences according to whether or not they satisfy the externally imposed conditions. As the child develops, the conditions of worth are introjected, meaning that they act as an internalized social order and replacing organismic valuing as the principle governing the individual’s attitudes and behaviour.

Self-Determination Theory

This is a contemporary organismic theory formulated by Deci, E.L and Ryan, R. M, (1985, 1991, 2000) that focused on motivation and personality functioning that emphasizes the central rule of the individual’s inner resources for personality development and behavioural self-regulation. This theory is similar to the person-centred theory in that self-determination theory views the individual as an active growth-oriented organism, attempting to actualize his or her potentialities within the environment in which he or she functions. A summary of the self-determination theory carries the following elements:

  • Human beings are inherently proactive; have potential to act on and master both the inner forces and the external,
  • Human beings, as self-organizing systems, have an inherent tendency toward growth, development, and integrated functioning,
  • For people to actualize their inherent nature and potentials, people require “nutrients” from the social environment.

Adapted from Deci and Vansteenkiste, 2004, pp 23-24, (quoted by Patterson and Joseph, 2007, p 124)

In self-determination theory, one of the major sources of motivation and/or OVP is the recognition whether the behaviour is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. Intrinsic motivation/regulation is equivalent to acting in accordance with OVP. At the same time, there are three (3) subcategories of extrinsic motivation that may account for extrinsic regulations.

Perceived locus of causality/ Locus of evaluation – describe the individual’s perception as to whether the motivation is located internally or externally = person-centred construct of locus of evaluation (Rogers, 1959),

Basic needs/ Necessary and Sufficient conditions – need for competence, relatedness, and autonomy; essential for facilitating psychological growth and integration, social development, and personal well-being. Competence refers to our need to control outcomes, and to be efficacious in our environment, autonomy refers to the individual’s attempts to be a self-determining agent of his or her own attitudes and behaviour, while relatedness describes the urge to be in relationship with others, caring for others, and being cared for by others. Self-determination theory hypothesized that, for the individual to experience an ongoing sense of integrity and well-being, each of these three basic needs must be met throughout the life-span. This hypothesis supports the contention that certain, social-environmental conditions nurture self-regulation based on organismic valuing and lead to a process of growth and change in the direction of healthy functioning and psychological well-being.

Contingent Self-Esteem/Conditional Self-Regard – refers to the influence of people viewed as significant others (Deci & Ryan, 1995; Ryan & Brown, 2003). This is similar to the person-centred view of conditional self-regard.

There exists a great amount of similarities between the person-centred and the self-determination theory. Both theories postulate that the path to psychological well-being involves following an innate guidance mechanism. This understanding is important to the field of learning because each individual has a different subset of characteristics that may promote and/or hinder learning. In this respect, knowing what triggers effective learning, providing conducive environment, taking into account an individual’s OVP, social factors, as well as structuring the curriculum are necessary to enhance the optimal level of learning. Humanistic theory proposed understanding humans as a state of “being”, a dynamic and ever-changing situation where each individual is seen as always striving to fulfil the potential within.


In the field of education, humanistic theory grants educators important conceptual understanding about the role of learners. From Maslow and Rogers, educators have a better insight into the elements of learners’ style and dimensions of absorption of knowledge and utilization of skills and abilities. In his paper, “Humanistic Self-Instruction”, the author, R. Craig Hogan (1978) suggested that instructors/educators should demonstrate their appreciation and value of the individual learners by viewing them as objects that have unique and specific needs. The negative implications of treating the learners as “empty jars or blank slates” is that many instructors/educators feel that learners are passive receivers only; filling the learners as the instructors/educators wish. This negative implications are serious to warrant attention as instructors/educators may force learners to be receptive and have no obligation whatsoever to consider his or her individuality and autonomy in learning.

According to Chris Argyris, in his book, “Intervention Theory and Method: A Behavioural Science View”, 1970, pp 15-16, “we see them (learners) and they see themselves as autonomous, responsible individuals committed to the direction the intervention is taking, making free choices based on sufficient valid information about the means and ends.”

It is a common error that most instructors/educators as well as educational institutions assume that learners need to be instructed as to their learning. This assumption works on the premise that effective learning must follow certain syllabus, instructional method(s) and assessment grading. The education system in most countries is mostly rigid; built along the “tried and tested” formula of the existing structure of instructed teaching.

In cases such as these, the classroom may contain students of varying levels of interest, self-management skill, independence versus dependent minded, industrious versus sluggard and bright as well as lesser bright ones. The methodology of teaching would be uniform across all – All are fed the same the same fare at the same rate in the same way. The classroom atmosphere suppresses individuality, autonomy, and freedom by stifling students’ initiative to manage their own learning at every level of responsibility. Self-directed learning is minimized (Hogan, 1978, pp 262-263)

Combination of group contingencies and cooperative learning in adopting humanistic principles

The conceptual understanding of group contingencies is that it is primarily derived from behavioural learning theory (Bandura, 1969). The theory behind group contingencies is that a group is rewarded if it collectively meets some standard; and the members of the group apply social sanctions to one another to encourage group members to do what is necessary to ensure that the group will be successful (Slavin 1987). Group contingencies are also workable if the reward/sanction is used in tangent to the efforts of individual member of the group. This creates a situation where each individual makes him or herself liable and responsible for the success of the group. In this, the humanist tendencies are activated in each of the individual.

Cooperative learning refers to a set of instructional methods in which students are encouraged or required to work together on academic tasks. Cooperative learning methods may be as simple as having students sit together to discuss or help one another with classroom tasks. Rewards may be offered; as in group contingencies but are not essential (Slavin, 1987, p 31).

An aspect of cooperative learning that is vital is the element of peer interaction. The quality of the peer interaction determines the extent of the learning and the success of the completion of tasks. The effectiveness of cooperative learning is best seen in two (2) studies – (Hulten & DeVries, 1976; Slavin, 1980) which found that providing recognition to student teams based on the sum of their individual learning increased student achievement even if students were not permitted to interact in class. In the same vein, a German study, (Huber, Bogatzki, & Winter, 1982) found that providing students an opportunity to study together did not increase their achievement, but adding group rewards based on individual learning did lead to enhanced achievement. (Slavin, 1987, p 33)

Therefore, the researches listed above clearly supports the position that cooperative reward structures, or group contingencies, based on individual learning of group members are necessary for the success of these methods in improving student achievement. Peer interaction is also found to be important to the success of cooperative strategies. [Webb, (1985), Peterson & Janicki, (1979)]

Students are motivated to engage in elaborated, cognitively involving explanations and discussions if the learning of their group mates is made important by the provision of group rewards based on individual learning performances (Slavin, 1983).

One of the important findings of Slavin’s study has found positive effects of cooperative learning non race relations, attitudes, self-esteem and other non-academic outcomes (1983). Humanistic understanding of education is not specifically confined to the individual per se but rather emphasizes on how learners/students are able to gain the right concept of themselves and pursue towards growth. In this, cooperative learning has a major role if the outcomes point to similar outcomes.

Humanistic theory and learning in Adult Education

Humanistic application is most seen in adult learning. For most adults, the adage of “more is caught than taught” is true. According to a paper presentation by Jackson, Sanetta. George, Cooks, Alyce; Hackney, Darwyn; Stevens, Claude; and Zumwait, Dave, (2002), this adage refers to the informal and incidental learning that takes place on a daily basis and in most situations. In these situations, the learning revolves around human relationships. It is common knowledge that the psychological learning environment of adults and non-adults are significantly different. By virtue of adults’ ability to make decisions regarding their personal growth and development; especially in learning, humanistic theory provides for a deeper insight into understanding the psychological learning environment of adults. The psychological learning environment is defined as creating a climate in which both learners and teachers are able to engage in genuine exchange. (Jackson, et.al) For teachers, this means that learners need to feel a sense of welcome and at ease, attending to the fears and doubts that adult


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