Humanism and Cognitive Theories

Posted: November 30th, 2013

Humanism and Cognitive Theories






The following paper looks at different personality theories. It examines the psychodynamic theories, first proposed by Sigmund Freud and advanced by other followers such as Erik Erikson. It examines the cognitive and humanism theories and notes their importance in understanding personality development in modern society. Psychodynamic theories were important in the sense that they provided ground for further research and study on personality development. However, they dwelt much on the unconsciousness of a person, which denied the person a chance to determine or control his or her personality. The cognitive theories recognize the changing nature of personality. As a person grows from childhood, he or she experiences and learns many things. He or she also interacts with the environment in different ways. These factors contribute to a person’s changing personality. Humanism theories recognize the importance of achieving personal growth, and notes that this affects the development of personality.












Humanism and Cognitive Theories

A person’s personality is determined by several factors including genetic and environmental factors. Although many people like to think that they can control their behavior, some situations can cause them to behave differently. For instance, a person who is often calm and composed, and who does not like showing their emotions can behave differently in extremely sad and emotional situations. People can behave in a similar manner in some situations, but that does not mean that they have the same personality. For instance, most people can find a joke funny, and they can laugh about something similar. People often feel sad when they have lost a loved one, and they might display their emotions in a similar manner. However, there are inherent qualities that make each person different and unique. People have the ability to change by choosing to change their thoughts. People are not always aware of their actions, and they sometimes do or say things unconsciously. However, the unconscious does not always control people’s actions, and a person’s conscious nature has more control of his or her emotions. Psychodynamic theories have contributed to the study of personalities in different ways for they have paved the way for other theorists through their limitations. However, cognitive and humanistic theories, as proposed and advanced by different theorists, give room for people’s personality development and growth through changes, recognize a person’s need to achieve personal growth, and recognize the importance of the environment and people’s interactions in developing their personality.

Cognitive theories of personality recognize people’s change in their thought process as they advance with age. These changes ultimately contribute to a person’s change in personality. As children grow, they change their thoughts based on the experiences they have and in the learning opportunities they get. Children learn to form their own theories to help them explain different situations. As they grow and mature, they get more information concerning different things. They learn how to integrate this information in their thinking, and this constitutes changes in their thinking. Children are open to new ideas and thoughts, and this helps in shaping their personalities. In the same manner, adults can change their thought process based on what they learn and in their experiences. People get different opportunities to learn. They learn through observations and their own or other people’s experiences. Learning starts from an early age. Infants learn when they observe different things. Adults learn when they observe, experience, and study different situations. Learning enables people to change their thoughts since they get new perceptions. In turn, the new thoughts help them to change their behaviors. People will attempt to do something when they learn that they will be successful at it. The environment and the interactions that people have contribute to the formation and development of their personality. The way that people think or reason can influence their behavior. A person’s environment is an integral part of his or her reasoning (Engler, 2008).

People have the desire to grow and accomplish their goals, and this motivates their behavior. People have different perceptions of the world and situations that they are facing, and this helps to explain their behavior and their personality. Humanism theories advocate the idea of free will that people have when making decisions about their lives. The conscious nature of people is stronger than their unconscious nature. The unconscious nature does not dominate or control people. The way people think about themselves is more important than the way they appear to others. The experience that children have helps to shape their behavior, and they determine their congruence or incongruence. Children learn to live according to other people’s expectations. Conditional love from parents encourages children to block negative experiences, and it encourages incongruence. This incongruence grows as people continue to live expecting affection from other people. One of the most visible proponents of humanistic theories was Abraham Maslow, who developed a hierarchy of needs. Maslow recognized the need that people have to grow. He identified different growth needs, which are necessary for people to achieve before reaching a level of self-actualization. People will often seek to achieve their physiological and security needs before dealing with their cognitive needs. A hungry person will first find ways of satisfying his hunger before seeking recognition from peers. Humanistic theories recognize the importance of change. As people achieve self-actualization, they become more self-confident, and they do not have to rely on what other people think about them. They realize that they do not need the approval of others, and they are comfortable on their own although they appreciate relationships with other people. People who have achieved the highest level of personal growth have a realistic view towards life (Weiten et al., 2011).

Psychodynamic theories focus on the conscious and unconscious thought. They posit the importance of the unconscious thought in influencing behavior. The experiences that people have as children influence their adult behavior and personality (Weiten et al., 2011). Freud proposed and advanced the psychoanalytic theories. Other people such as Carl Jung and Erik Erikson advanced and developed the psychodynamic theories. The theory posits that people reveal the unconscious through dreams, slips of the tongue, jokes, and art. Freud identified the id, ego and superego, which are present in every person and manifest themselves differently at every level. The id is the unconscious part of a person, which is also primitive. A person’s ego represents his or her reason, and the superego represents morality and the conscious. This theory recognizes the internal conflict that people face. The theory claims that people have defensive mechanisms, which people use as a protection against unpleasant situations such as anxiety or conflict. The defenses can contribute to a person’s distortion of reality. Freud identified different levels in the development of personality, which include the oral, anal, and phallic stages in childhood, and latency and genital stages. Erikson added three more stages in adulthood, reflecting the continuous process of personality development. Moreover, he did not focus on sexuality among the areas of personality development in childhood, but he identified other areas of development based on the child’s age (Boeree, 2006).

There are some advantages of the psychodynamic view in that people’s childhood experiences have a role to play in their personality development as adults. Some people face traumatic experiences as children, and this influences them later on in adulthood. These experiences can sometimes dictate the decisions that the person makes, and they determine the person’s behavior. The psychodynamic theories as proposed by Freud are limited especially because of their concentration of human sexuality and the lack of control that people lack in the development of their personalities. However, further research by Erikson has advanced the psychodynamic theories. Despite this, I prefer the humanistic and cognitive theories because of their relevance in modern societies. People change over time, and these theories accommodate these changes. The society has also changed since the development of psychodynamic theories.

Cognitive and humanist theories assert the importance of changing personalities through a person’s experiences, and through the need to achieve personal growth. The cognitive theories are especially significant since they recognize the importance of the environment, and learning experiences that people have. The humanist theories recognize the importance of personal growth in changing a person’s personality. Both theories are more advanced than the psychodynamic theories because they recognize the control that an individual has in determining their destiny and in developing their personality.


Boereee, G. C. (2006). Personality theories. Retrieved from

Engler, B. (2008). Personality theories: An introduction. New York, NY: Cengage Learning

Weiten, W., Dunn, S. D., & Hammer, Y. E. (2011). Psychology applied to modern life: Adjustment in the 21st century. New York, NY: Cengage Learning

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