Humanistic Psychology was established in the 1960s in the United States, and with behavioral research and Psychoanalysis, came to be known as the Third Force Psychology.
Through experiments with laboratory animals, results of Behavioral Research were interpreted and indicated that human behavior can be understood as conditioned reflexes in perceptions, feelings, thoughts and actions. This conditioning (was, may have been) initiated in early childhood to the presence of nonspecific stimuli – similar to Pavlov's conditioned response experiments with the dog and the bell ringing – and can be triggered again at any time.
For decades, Psychoanalysis has presented us with deep and essential insights through clinical research on the inclination of the personality to transfer relationship patterns acquired in early childhood to relationships of the present that may affect one's ability to change and grow.
Humanistic Psychology explores humanity before and beyond all conditioning and respective socialization patterning. It views the person from his or her beginning as a unique individual, gifted with the great variety and versatility that is the human potential. Through experiences within human relationships, the individual develops a personality conditioned by these experiences to become the person of their present orientation.
Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of Humanistic Psychology, explored what constitutes the human in humans. He examined, in contrast to Sigmund Freud, not the consequences of misguided socialization, but the qualities and characteristics of particularly healthy humans, who matured into their own humanity. Thereby he discovered an extensive repertoire of specific human characteristics, the so-called ‘human potential’, a term coined by Aldous Huxley.
The human potential is innate in the genetic code. It then develops through role models as values, experienced as a need, necessity and order and practiced as human competence, through the exercise of daily life. The human potential unfolds in the course of development according to a hierarchy of needs. Building on the basic needs whose satisfaction provides our survival, food, shelter and protection, and confirms our existence, then social needs of belonging, recognition and respect, and self-assertion needs of territory, reproduction, rank and status are actualized over time and patterns. An uninhibited access to these basic needs, is, according to Maslow's observations, a good basis for the realization of the specifically human inclinations toward the higher, or meta-needs of interest, sympathy, joy, desire, love of truth, presence, aesthetics and creativity, appreciation and education of values, willingness to serve, dedication, autonomy, quest for meaning, and so on, enabling the pursuit of self-knowledge, self-awareness and self-realization.
Self-realization is by no means self-centered enforcement of individual preferences. What is available in being human is compassion and the willingness to serve the community as well as, according to Viktor Frankl, transcendence, the experience of growing beyond the socialization-defined ego boundaries and focusing on an encompassing reality, beyond a reality which is formed by social agreement.
According to Maslow, the so-called higher, specifically human inclinations, owe as much to instinctual characteristics as to biological needs, of which they do not differ fundamentally, but only through a more nuanced approach on the one hand, and a reduced motivating force on the other. Thirst for knowledge, compassion and spirituality, therefore, are as much parts of our human nature as the thirst for water, the hunger for attention and the sex drive. Cultural performance is, in this sense, not a contradiction to human instincts, but rather, their fulfillment.
Humanistic psychologists prefer to take the optimistic view with regard to the possibilities of realization of human potential through the assertion of the human propensity for good and through the perception of life-long potential for development.
Some authors also include, in the evolving science of man, the elements of evil, of suffering and of fateful entanglements.
Hereby, aggression is being differentiated, in reference to Karen Horney, from a destructive force and seen as a life supporting force that enables man, like all living things, to seek that which nourishes and benefits and to avoid that which depletes energy and debilitates growth and to fight against that which threatens integrity.