Psychology of Humanism and Behaviorism

Behaviorism and humanism constitute fundamental theories in psychology, which renders the differences and similarities between these two dichotomous theories essential in regards to the study of psychology. The term psychology implies the scientific study of behavior. Over the last decade, educators have engaged in heated debates on the right definition of humanism and behaviorism. To some extent, psychologists have accentuated the impact of the two theories on classroom activities. Amid competing perspectives, several similarities, and differences emerge between humanism and behaviorism theories of psychological teachings. Much compatibility exists between the two theories as will be discussed in this paper. In addition, this paper will discuss scientific and historical measures in comparing and contrasting these two terminologies. Each school of thought presents a unique explanation of human behavior. Several authors who significantly contributed to the development of these theories include Watson, Maslow, and Rogers.

To start with, Watson is one of the most remarkable and founders of the behaviorism theory evident by his contribution to psychological studies. Similarly, humanism ideologies founded by Abraham Maslow primarily focus on individuals, giving rise to other theories like self-actualization and human potential which are fundamental in the study of psychology. In addition, both theories identified human beings as their case study in presenting their cases. According to Wade and Tavris (2000), both theories significantly contributed to the development of psychology in the modern world because of their greater explanation and experimentation on humanity.

Another similarity between the two principles is that both attempt to create a better environment for humanity, with a focus on the role of individualism in society. According to humanism, individualism plays a vital role in achieving human desires which reflects the state of the conscious mind in the Behaviorists’ theory. Furthermore, both advocate for an open-minded society where human actions and thoughts define the behavior of an individual. Myers (2004) underscores that both theories use individuals as an essential point of reference in supporting their arguments.

Difference between Humanism and Behaviorism Theories of Psychology

Due to variations in defining personality, many psychologists challenged different perspectives forming the basis of both humanism and behaviorism theories. One point of contrast between these theories is that behaviorism principles are a major concern with how the environment influences human behavior but seriously omit the role of non-observable factors such as the mind. This is because the basis of behaviorism theory emanates from the ability of human beings to respond to stimuli and observable features within their surrounding. As Wade and Tavris (2000) denote, some of the axioms of behaviorism theories include hopefulness, determinism, and experimentalism among others.

Furthermore, the classical theory of conditioning provides an outline in explaining contrary opinions and arguments presented by the behaviorists. According to classical conditioning, unconscious emotional and psychological responses greatly influence the learning processes of people (Myers, 2004). Other conditions such as operant only emphasize voluntary and handy behaviors. According to Skinner (2008), mechanisms such as punishments and reinforcements provide frameworks for controlling human behavior.

Secondly, Contrary to behaviorists’ principles on individualism, humanists purely advocate for proper understanding of an individual without scientific validation of their opinion (Skinner, 2008). To start with, humanists believed in a free society where individuals can achieve their potential without any constraint. Humanism perspective is thus subjective in nature because it fails to validate arguments through experiments and other scientific methods. Therefore, humanism only extends the study of human behavior to emotions among people but rejects determinism arguments supported by behaviorists.


Myers, D. G. (2004). Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers.

Skinner, B. F. (2008). Reflections on behaviorism and society. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Wade, C., & Tavris, C. (2000). Psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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PsychologyWriting. "Psychology of Humanism and Behaviorism." October 16, 2023.