Biological and Humanistic Approaches to Personality


     Theories of personality are abundant and include the biological and humanistic approaches to personality. Abraham Maslow was a humanistic psychologist who created the hierarchy of human needs. This hierarchy was based on two groups of needs; deficiency needs and growth needs. Maslow reported that the hierarchy of needs shaped personality. However, there are biological factors that also influence personality. The relationship of biological factors and Maslow’s theory helps determine which aspects of the humanistic theory are incompatible with biological explanations of personality.

Growth Needs Influence Personality Formation


     Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs begins with the deficiency needs of human existence. There are four levels of deficiency needs and “each lower need must be met before moving to the next higher level” (Huitt, 2007, para. 1). The first is physiological, which includes hunger, thirst, bodily, and comforts. Infants cry out for these needs to be met by the caregivers. The second need is safety and security. Humans must feel safe in their environment to grow at a healthy rate. The third level of needs is the need for belongingness and love. According to Huitt (2007), this need can be met if the person is “accepted and is affiliated with other people” (para. 1). The last deficiency need is esteem. Humans seek to achieve life goals, be competent, and gain approval and recognition from those who they love (Huitt, 2007).

Maslow believed that humans could move forward “only if the deficiency needs are met” (Huitt, 2007, para. 2). In the beginning of Maslow’s research, he only focused on self-actualization as a growth need. However, he later identified two needs “as a part of the more general level of self-actualization…and one beyond the general level that focused on growth beyond that oriented towards self” (Huitt, 2007, para. 2). The first of the second group is cognitive. Humans have a desire to “know, to understand, and to explore” (Huitt, 2007, para. 2). The second growth need is aesthetic, which is symmetry, order, and beauty. Then there is self-actualization. This is self-fulfillment and the realization of one’s own potential. The last of the four is self-transcendence. According to Huitt (2007), Maslow believed that “as one becomes more self-actualized and self-transcendent, one becomes [wiser] and automatically knows what to do in a wide variety of situations” (para. 2). The four growth needs can influence personality because as humans grow and learn, they become aware of the environment and themselves; thereby, creating changes in their personalities. In Maslow’s hierarchy, as a person transcends into a state of knowledge and experience, he or she will begin to realize that there are more favorable states of being and may choose to implement adjustments to his or her personality. However, biological factors also influence personality.

Biological Factors that Influence Personality


     Most of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is based on biological factors. The needs for “air, food, water, warmth, safety, sleep, and belonging” are natural in essence (Jones, Sasek, & Wakefield, 1976, p. 74). The factors must be satisfied in order because humans need to eat before they can sleep and find shelter before they can be warm. These biological factors “all contribute to the formation and structure of the human person and personality” (Lombardi, 1963, p. 307). Biological factors, also called heredity, are often determined at the time of conception because of DNA but “genetic factors continue to affect the organism even after birth” (Lombardi, 1963, p. 307). One example of how biological factors can affect personality is Angelman syndrome.

According to Friedman & Schustack (2012), Angelman syndrome is “a rare genetic disorder” that affects personality (p. 147). The signs of this disorder are “excessively happy…and always filled with glee and good humor” (Friedman & Schustack, 2012, p. 147). However, this disorder is a far cry from a good thing. People who suffer this disorder also suffer from “mental retardation, sleep very little, and walk with a jerk movement” (Friedman & Schustack, 2012, p. 147). Angelman syndrome is caused by a defect on the chromosome 15. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes that contain genes. These genes “affect development in many ways” including the development of the “brain, the body, hormones, and general metabolism function” (Friedman & Schustack, 2012, p. 147).

Incompatible Aspects of Humanistic Theory

Philosophical and spiritual

     The humanistic theory emphasizes “the creative, spontaneous, and active nature of human beings” and is “usually optimistic” (Friedman & Schustack, 2012, p. 290). These factors are not compatible with biological explanations of personality because they focus on a higher power that may be at work in the lives of humans and that the biological makeup of humans is not based solely on genetics or DNA. According to Friedman & Schustack (2012), the humanistic approach is “willing to take on the spiritual and philosophic aspects of human nature” (p. 290). The humanistic approach bases theories on the existence of being and the relationships between other humans. Another incompatible aspect of the humanistic theory is that it “explicitly condemns reductionistic psychology that strives to ‘reduce’ human beings to drives or neurons or conditioned reflexes” (Friedman & Schustack, 2012, p. 315).


There is more than one driving force behind personality development. Maslow believed that humans must fulfill needs as they grow and develop to form personality. He also believed that once a person reached a certain level in personal growth, he or she would become self-transcendent and wiser than others. The humanistic and biological approaches to personality share similarities but they also have differences. Sometimes the two theories will be incompatible but one thing that remains the same is that people have different personalities based on genetics, environment, and experience.


Friedman, H. S. & Schustack, M. W. (2012). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Huitt, W. (2007). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from

Jones, H. L., Sasek, J., & Wakefield Jr., J. A. (1976). Maslow’s need hierarchy and Cattell’s 16PF. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 32(1), 74-76.

Lombardi, D. N. (1963). Peer group influence on attitude. Journal of Educational Sociology, 36(7), 307-309.

Image source for Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Vila, A. (Posted: March 21, 2005). The Circle of Needs. Retrieved from

Image source for brain: MediLexicon International Ltd. (Last updated: August 14, 2015). What is psychology? What are the branches of psychology? Retrieved from

Image source for philosophical and spiritual: Mero, A. (Posted: September 24, 2012). Novel: Philosophical or spiritual? Retrieved from

Image source for side of head: Neill, J. T. (Posted: November 6, 2010). File: Inside my head cropped.jpg. Retrieved from


Biological and Humanistic Approaches to Personality