What differentiates humanistic theories of motivation (e.g. Maslow, Rogers) from other theories (e.g. Hull, Instinct)?
Many researchers in the humanistic approach to psychology have noted the persistent motive within individuals to become competent in dealing with the environment. Successful completion of a task, however, often seems to cause the task to lose some of its value, and new, more difficult challenges are undertaken.
Theorists in this area have described this persistent motive to test and expand one’s abilities by a number of terms. Carl Rogers has described this motive state, as an attempt to grow and reach fulfillment, that is to become a fully functioning individual. Abraham Maslow has described the process as a movement towards self-actualization, an attempt to become all that one can possibly become. According to these approaches, all of us strive to reach our potential. Most of the humanistic theories take the point of view that human behaviour cannot be fully understood without some reference to this striving toward actualization or full functioning.
Rogers pointed out that life itself is an active, ongoing process and that the most basic characteristic of human behaviour is a striving for wholeness. This concept of striving is important because it implies that the process of achieving wholeness is never complete; we change as we grow. Rogers has called this striving to become fully functioning the actualizing tendency and argued that it is innate in all living organisms.
Rogers argued that our environment influences our striving for fulfillment. We are cognitive organisms and our experiences can either help or hinder our attempts to grow. He saw the actualizing tendency as creating both a need for positive regard and a need for positive self-regard.
Maslow also developed a motivational theory that emphasizes the striving to reach one’s full potential as basic to human motivation but also includes additional motives besides self-actualization. Maslow argues that we must seek to understand the ultimate goal of behaviour rather than the superficial or apparent goals, because the apparent goal for any observed behaviour may be quite different from the ultimate goal. This implies that motivation for much of our behaviour might occur at an unconscious level. Maslow saw the unconscious in a much more positive level than other theorists did. Like Rogers, Maslow also regarded the striving for perfection or self-actualization as the ultimate purpose of behaviour.
Where both Rogers and Maslow and other humanistic approaches differ from other theories of motivation is in its belief that the purpose for the motivation is a strive for perfection and not homeostatic or a means of survival. The Ethological approach, for example, is firmly based on Darwin’s theory of evolution. Instinctive behaviours exist, they argue, because they have, or had, survival value for the species in question.
Other theories like that of Hull and the Incentive theory differ from Rogers and Maslow in that Hull argues that motivation has a strong correlation to learning and is not innate, as Rogers would suggest. This is the idea that we may perform more strongly for incentives or rewards. Hull’s experiments led him to conclude that the characteristics of the goal object influence the organism’s motivation. For example, you had to learn from experience that you enjoyed chewing into a big juicy cheeseburger before your brain can stimulate the motivational circuits to purchase one the next time you are driving by McDonalds.