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Westmont College
Psychology Department
955 La Paz Road
Santa Barbara, CA 93108-1099
Fax: 805.565.6116


Theories of Personality

Phenomenological or Humanistic Theories


According to the Phenomenological approach to personality, the specific ways each person perceives and interprets the world make up personality and guide behavior

Phenomenological theorists emphasize that each person actively constructs her or his own world

The primary human motivation is the innate drive toward growth that prompts people to fulfill their unique and natural potential

People are inclined toward goodness, creativity, love, and joy

People's view of reality is important in guiding their behavior

The perspective is shaped by learned expectations

These expectations form personal constructs which are generalized ways of anticipating the world

The nature of each person's unique constructs determines personality and influences behavior

Carl Roger's Self Theory

Rogers emphasized self-actualization which he described as the innate tendency toward growth that motivates all human behavior

The Concept of Self

Rogers distinguished between the actual self and the ideal self

Problems develop when the two self concepts do not match or when one's expectations or ideals don't match reality

Those who accurately experience the self, with all its preferences, abilities, shortcomings, and desires are on the road to self-actualization

Positive Regard

We all have the need for the approval of others--no matter how young or old we are

When evaluations by others agree with a child's own evaluation, the child evaluates the self as "good" for having earned approval

This becomes part of the self-concept, which is the way one thinks of him- or herself

Conditions of Worth

Parents and teachers create conditions of worth, meaning that a child is led to believe that her or his worth as a person depends on displaying the "right" attitudes, behaviors, and values

Rogers believed that conditions of worth are created whenever people, instead of their behavior, are evaluated

Abraham Maslow's Humanistic Psychology

Maslow believed that self-actualization is not just a human capacity but a human need

Maslow argued that there was a hierarchy of needs that all humans have, and beginning at the bottom of the hierarchy, each need in the hierarchy must be satisfied before one can move to the next level in the hierarchy

In addition, he believed that most people are controlled by a Deficiency Orientation--a preoccupation with satisfying psychological needs with material objects

This produces the perception that life is a meaningless exercise which results in disappointment and boredom

In contrast, people with a Growth Orientation focus on drawing satisfaction from what they have, what they are, and what they can do in the present

This opens the door to Peak Experiences, in which they feel great joy--even ecstasy--in the mere fact of being alive, being human, and knowing that they are utilizing their fullest potential

Evaluation of Phenomenological Theories


This approach coincides with how many people view themselves

It is an optimistic approach that places faith in a person's ability to fulfill her or his ultimate capacities


Client-centered therapy which assumes that the client can solve his or her problems; the therapist acts as a facilitator by reflecting the client's thoughts and statements

Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) presents a Phenomenological approach to child-rearing


Critics view the Phenomenological approach as naive, romantic, and unrealistic

They are also critical of the lack of emphasis on the importance of inherited characteristics, biological processes, learning, situational influences, and unconscious motivation in shaping personality

Roger's use of a Q-sort (sort cards with statements into categories that are more or less characteristic of the individual; is done twice; once for how you really are and another time for how you would like to be) has been criticized on the grounds that the instrument lacks reliability and validity

Like dispositional approaches, Phenomenological theories do a better job of describing personality than explaining it

And like psychodynamic theories, many Phenomenological concepts are too vague to be tested empirically