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There are several theories of personality that focus on the conscious thoughts and the physical needs of the person. This is different from theories of other psychologists, such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Young, who focused on the inner mind and unconscious as the source of personality traits.
Some theories that diverge from the unconscious development of personality theories include Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory and the theory that biology can help to form the personality. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes from a set of theories known as Humanistic Theory. Humanistic Theory tends to give people autonomy, claiming that the individual is responsible for their own personality traits. Biology theories, including Evolutionary Biology, suggest that some of people’s personality comes from traits that have evolved out humans’ instinct for survival. Biology theories are similar to classic psychology because they cite uncontrollable forces, such as genetics, as the basis of personality. Even though they offer more control of the personality, Humanistic theories are not entirely incompatible with biological theories of personality.
Maslow’s Hierarchy and How Growth Needs Affect the Personality
Maslow’s Hierarchy encompassed five stages of development of needs. These needs, in order, are: (1) physiological needs for water, food, and other requirements for physical survival, (2) the need for safety and security (3) the need for love and belongingness from friends and family, (4) the need for self-esteem that comes from achievement and appreciation, and (5) self-actualization from the ability to be free to create and reach full potential (Goebel and Brown, 1981). Maslow believed that each set of needs had to be met before the net set of needs could begin to be work toward.
Motives do not stay the same throughout a person’s life, often, they change depending on the age of the person and the stage of the life cycle that they’re currently experiencing (Goebel and Brown, 1981). Goebel and Brown (1981) conducted a study to determine which of the five needs were most prevalent during different ages. They found that children have higher physical needs and the lowest self-actualization needs. The need for self-esteem is highest in adolescence. Young adults have the highest self-actualization needs. The elderly have the highest security needs (Goebel and Brown, 1981).
For the most part, these findings agree with Maslow’s ideas that people progress through the hierarchy as they grow older, reaching self-actualization as young adults. However, the idea that the elderly might have security needs in concerning and may keep them from being fully actualized in their later years.
How Biological Factors Help Form the Personality
Biology helps form the personality because, “biological instincts develop into acquired sentiments, which are a major source of individual differences among adults,” (Cheek, 1985). This means that, for example, someone could have a biological drive to nurture, which could lead them to become a parent, or even a teach to young children, as an adult. Personality traits that may arise from biology include dominance, extraversion, aggressiveness, and cooperation (Cheek, 1985).
These traits developed as part of biology because evolution favors traits of people able to survive and people who were able to dominate, cooperate, etc., had a higher chance of surviving. Those traits were eventually genetically passed down as part of biology and are now modern influencers on people’s behavior patterns (Cheek, 1985). The capacity for self-awareness is also a biological trait, but it can overcome other biological traits. For example, an aggressive person who has self-awareness can control their aggression because they realize when they are acting aggressive and then take measures to control that aspect of their personality.
Biological Factors and Maslow’s Theory of Personality
Where evolutionally biology talks about genetic traits that lead to complex personality developments, simply biology can also drive human behavior. The early stages of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs are very tied in with biology. The first stage is the need for clean water, food, clean air, etc. These needs are intrinsically tied with human biology and they have the ability to effect behavior. A person who is in desperate need of food will probably act very differently from someone who has adequate nutrition. Overtime, a chronic need for food may cause the person to develop long-term personality traits, such as food hoarding or even selfishness.
Biology is one of the reasons why people have to complete one stage of the Maslow’s Hierarchy before moving on to the next stage. When someone is in need of food or water, the need for safety is not as important. In fact someone may risk his or her own safety to gain sustenance. Similarly, the need for safety must be realized before a person considers the need for love and belonging.
Areas of Humanistic Theory Incompatible with Biological Explanations of Personality
The Humanistic theory postulates that each human is a distinct individual and their unique experiences lead to the development of their personality. People’s personality and behaviors cannot be predicted or controlled b anyone but the individual. In psychology, the person is looked at as whole and not as individual portions of the personality (Raskin, 2012).
Humanistic theory is disagrees with biological explanations of personality on several points. Humanistic theory is not deterministic, meaning that the theory does not believe that one set of stimulus determines a certain result. Under the Humanistic theory, for example, a person who was routinely in need of food would not necessarily grow up to be a food hoarder or selfish. Also, under the humanistic theory, there would be no biological predisposition to personality traits such as cooperation or aggression. These traits develop as a result of the person’s experiences and their own choices (Raskin, 2012). The idea of free will plays a large part in this theories rejection of biological imperative.
Overall, biological theories and humanistic theories can be combined to create a holistic idea of the personality. While biological theories contend that aspects of personality are intrinsic, the theory also encompasses the idea of self-awareness and goes on to discuss how self-awareness can help overcome undesirable personality traits. This idea may be used in conjunction with the humanistic idea that a person is responsible for the development of his or her own personality. The deviation is the biological theory that some people are born with a diminished capacity for self-awareness.
These important theories both move the seat of the personality out of the nearly unreachable depths of the unconscious and allow access through control of both personality and mastery over biological urges. Because of this, psychologists have new ways to treat patients and many people gained control over negative personality traits through positive intervention.
Cheek, J. M. (1985). Toward a more inclusive integration of evolutionary biology and personality psychology. American Psychologist, 40(11), 1269-1270
Raskin, J. D. (2012). Evolutionary constructivism and humanistic psychology. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 32(2), 119-133.
Goebel, B. L., & Brown, D. R. (1981). Age differences in motivation related to Maslow’s need hierarchy. Developmental Psychology, 17(6), 809-815.
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