Humanist Approach (to human behaviour)

Main assumptions of the Humanist Approach:

  • The Humanist Approach emerged from the US in the 1950s (work of Maslow & Rogers)
  • Focus on conscious experience, rather than behaviour (like Behaviourist, Social Learning Theory and Cognitive)
  • Personal responsibility & free will
  • Experience rather than the use of the experimental method
  • Specific to the individual

Humanist Approach and Free Will:

The Humanistic Approach is quite different to the other approaches we’ve already studied, in that it claims that human beings are essentially self-determining and have free will. The approach still maintains that people are affected by internal (biological) and external (societal) influences but they are active agents who have the ability to determine their own development within the constraints imposed by the other forces. The humanistic approach rejects scientific models that attempt to establish general laws of behaviour and instead concerns itself with the study of subjective experience. Often referred to as a person-centred approach

Self-Actualisation and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Self-actualisation represents that uppermost level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow considered that whilst everyone has the desire to, not everyone achieves self-actualisation.

It’s considered that self-actualisation can be achieved in stages, he identified the 5 most basic needs an individual has and suggested that the lower 4 stages (deficiency needs) must be attained before someone can work towards self-actualisation (growth need).

Visual representation of Maslow's hierarchy/triad of needs.

Self-actualisation Definition – The desire to grow psychologically and fulfil one’s potential, becoming what you’re capable of.

Focus on the Self and Congruence:

In order to self-actualisation and person growth to be achieved an individual’s concept of self (how they see themselves) must be almost equivalent (have congruence) to their ideal self (the person they want to be).

Diagram displaying congruence - self-actualisation possible.
Moving Towards Congruence: Self-actualisation possible
Diagram displaying Incongruence, self-actualisation not possible.
Incongruence: Self-actualisation not possible

If too big a gap exists between these two ‘selves’ the person will be in a state of incongruence and self-actualisation won’t be possible, this is because incongruence breads negative feelings of self-worth.

Conditions of worth (why incongruence happens) Rogers believed that that of the issues we experience as adults, like feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, have their roots in childhood. He suggested that these issues can be explained by a lack of unconditional positive regard from our parents, basically, that the parents hadn’t provided unconditional love. Parents who set boundaries, limits and conditions on their love for their child stores up psychological issues for later life, e.g. of conditional love, “I will only love you if you behave well”

Influence on Counselling (how incongruence can be resolved)

In order to reduce the gap between the concept of self and the ideal self, Rogers developed client-centred therapy to help people cope with the problems of everyday living.

Those in therapy are clients, not patients, the individual is an expert on their own condition. A non-directive therapy where the client is encouraged towards the discovery of their own solutions within a warm, non-judgemental, therapeutic atmosphere. An effective therapist should be able to provide their clients with the unconditional positive regard that they failed to receive as a child. The aim is to increase a person’s feelings of self-worth and reduce incongruence.

Humanist Approach Evaluation (AO3):


(1) POINT: A strength of the Humanist Approach is that it is not deterministic. EXPLAIN/EXAMPLE: For example, according to this approach an individual has the ability to determine their own development. ELABORATION: This is a strength because, it means that this approach to human behaviour doesn’t reduce human behaviour down to simple pre-programmed behaviours, instead it considers the individuals ability to determine their own behaviour.

(2) POINT: A strength of the Humanist Approach is that it isn’t reductionist. EXPLAIN/EXAMPLE: For example, humanists reject any attempt to break up behaviour and experience into smaller components. ELABORATION: This is a strength because it means that the approach may have much more validity that its alternatives by considering meaningful human behaviour within its real-life context.


(1) POINT: A weaknesses of the Humanist Approach is that there is evidence to criticise the humanistic approach. EXPLAIN/EXAMPLE: For example, many qualities considered desirable by the approach (autonomy, personal growth) are more readily associated with an individualistic, rather than collectivist culture. ELABORATION: This is a weaknesses because the approach can be considered to be ethnocentric and culturally bias.

(2) POINT: A weaknesses of the Humanist Approach is that it can be criticised for having limited applications. EVIDENCE/EXAMPLE: For example, the approach is described as a loose set of components rather than a comprehensive theory. ELABORATION: This is a weakness because whilst it’s revolutionised counselling therapy the approach has had little impact on psychology generally.

(3) POINT: A weaknesses of the The humanistic approach is that it does not advocate the use of scientific methods. EVIDENCE/EXAMPLE: For example, humanistic concepts such as congruence and self –actualisation cannot be scientifically tested with scans or carefully constructed experiments. ELABORATION: This is a weakness because it means that the theory cannot be measured objectively.

The Cognitive Approach (to human behaviour)

Main Assumptions of the Cognitive Approach:

  • People actively respond to environmental stimuli, depending on schemas and thoughts
  • People are information processors
  • Human mind operates in the same way as a computer
  • Cognitive processes can be modelled in order to make them observable and should be tested scientifically.

The Cognitive Approach: Internal Mental Process

Cognitive psychologists attempt to work out what the thought processes are that occur from a behaviour observed, (i.e. they observe behaviour and then try to understand what were the thoughts/motivators of this behaviour). These processes are ‘private’ and cannot be seen, so cognitive psychologists study them indirectly by making inferences (going beyond immediate evidence to make assumptions) about what’s going on inside people’s minds on the basis of their behaviour.

Behavioural Vs. Cognitive – Behavioural approach neglects areas of human behaviour, such as memory, perception and thinking. The cognitive approach argues that these factors should and can be tested scientifically.

The Role of Schema:

  • Schema are ‘mental templates’ of ideas and information that are developed through experience and help to ‘frame’ our interpretation of incoming information (our experiences help to build our schemas).
  • Schemas are building all the time (for example, when we first visit the theatre, we have no understanding of what this experience will be like (the people who work there, the social norms/protocols that we follow etc…) once we visit the theatre, we develop an understanding of ‘what it’s like to go to the theatre,’ we store this information in a schema and use it when we are faced with the same/a similar situation again.
  • They help to determine how we’ll respond to each stimuli
  • e.g. a rollercoaster may be stressful for one person may be quite enjoyable for another, depending on each individual schema
  • Sometimes we assimilate our schemas, changing them to include new information that we have learned.
  • Sometimes we accommodate new information, changing our memories to keep our schemas intact. Bartlett (see below) explains how we do this by levelling and sharpening. Levelling involves removing or downplaying details from the memory and sharpening involves adding or exaggerating details – this can happen as a result of our understanding of the content/experience that we have been exposed to.
  • Schemas are unique to each individual; as the way they experience the world is unique to them. This means the way we see the world is dependent on experience (or lack of).
  • Schemas are influenced by culture.

Bartlett – War of the Ghosts

Memory uses schemas to organise things. When we recall an event, our schemas tell us what is supposed to happen, however, the schemas might fill in the gaps in our memory (confabulation) and even put pressure on our mind to remember things in a way that fits in with the schema, altering details along the way.

Bartlett came up with the idea of “reconstructive memory” during a game of ‘Chinese Whispers’. Bartlett developed a study to illustrate the idea of ‘reconstructive memory’ and ‘schemas.’ He showed 20 students a Native American ghost story titled; War of the Ghosts, which had unusual features (features that would have been ‘uncommon’ in most cultures). He asked them to read it then recall it on a number of occasions after a few hours, days, weeks, years. Bartlett compared the recalled and original story.

War of the Ghosts Story from Bartlett’s Research:
One night two young men from Egulac went down to the river to hunt seals and while they were there it became foggy and calm. Then they heard war-cries, and they thought: “Maybe this is a war-party”. They escaped to the shore, and hid behind a log. Now canoes came up, and they heard the noise of paddles, and saw one canoe coming up to them. There were five men in the canoe, and they said:
“What do you think? We wish to take you along. We are going up the river to make war on the people.”
One of the young men said,”I have no arrows.”
“Arrows are in the canoe,” they said.
“I will not go along. I might be killed. My relatives do not know where I have gone. But you,” he said, turning to the other, “may go with them.”
So one of the young men went, but the other returned home.
And the warriors went on up the river to a town on the other side of Kalama. The people came down to the water and they began to fight, and many were killed. But presently the young man heard one of the warriors say, “Quick, let us go home: that Indian has been hit.” Now he thought: “Oh, they are ghosts.” He did not feel sick, but they said he had been shot.
So the canoes went back to Egulac and the young man went ashore to his house and made a fire. And he told everybody and said: “Behold I accompanied the ghosts, and we went to fight. Many of our fellows were killed, and many of those who attacked us were killed. They said I was hit, and I did not feel sick.”
He told it all, and then he became quiet. When the sun rose he fell down. Something black came out of his mouth. His face became contorted. The people jumped up and cried.
He was dead.

The findings from Bartlett’s study indicated that:

(1) Participants reduced when they reproduced it from approx 330 to 180 words

(2) Participants also confabulated details, changing unfamiliar parts of the story in line with their schemas: canoes became boats, paddles became oars, hunting seals became fishing.

(3) Participants rationalised the story, coming up with explanations for baffling parts of the story. For example, in later reproductions, participants missed out the “ghosts” and just described a battle between Native American tribes.

Theoretical and Computer Models:

Theoretical – The most important is the Information Processing Model, which suggests that information flows through the cognitive system in a series of stages that include input, storage and retrieval. The use of these models means that they components can be tested individually. If the data from these experiments does not ‘fit’ with the model, it can be adjusted. For example, someone driving on a road may see that there is a traffic jam in the direction that they are travelling, this will ultimately cause the driver to arrive at their destination late. This information is manipulated, considering if there is an alternate route which will allow the driver to arrive at their destination on time, the identification of this new alternate route is part of the decision making process – the decision to follow the new route and avoid the traffic jam. The output is driving the car along the new route.

Diagram to illustrate the three components involved in the Information Processing Model.
Diagram to show the three components addressed in the Information Processing Model according to the Cognitive Approach

Computer – the core assumption of the cognitive approach is that the human mind functions like a computer, that there are similarities regarding the way information is processed. These models use the concepts of a central processing unit (the brain), the concept of coding (making information usable) and the use of stores.

Emergence of Neuroscience:

Cognitive neuroscience – the scientific (and objective) study of the influence of brain structures on mental processes. There is a long history of brain-mapping in psychology, advances in brain imaging techniques (fMRI and PET scans) have meant scientists can observe and describe the neurological basis of mental processes.

Diagram to illustrate the importance of neuroimaging (fMRI and PET scans) as part of investigating the Cognitive Approach.

For example; memory research has benefited significantly from the development of fMRI and PET scans, such pieces of research as part of neuroscience has allowed psychologists and neuroscientists to identify specific parts of long term memory (e.g. procedural, declarative, episodic) and identify memory tasks being completed as part of the short term memory and long term memory (e.g. think back to case studies such as Clive Waring and KF from the memory topic).

The focus of cognitive neuroscience has expanded recently to include the use of computer-generated models that are designed to ‘read’ the brain. This has led to the development of mind mapping techniques known as ‘brain fingerprinting’

The Cognitive Approach Evaluation (AO3):


(1) POINT: A strength of the Cognitive Approach is that it uses lots of scientific methods to measure the main assumptions of the approach. EXAMPLE/EVIDENCE: For example, research investigating the Cognitive Approach uses fMRI, PET scans etc… to measure the processes and functions taking part in the human brain. ELABORATION: This is a strength because it can be seen that the key concepts of the Cognitive Approach are objectively and scientifically measured adding a degree of validity to the approach.

(2) POINT: A strength of the Cognitive Approach is that it uses a laboratory setting to conduct research in order to ‘rest’ the approach. EXAMPLE/EVIDENCE: For example, research investigating the Cognitive Approach often uses laboratory based tests that are highly controlled, EVs are accounted for and the IV can be manipulated and the DV can be accurately measured. Data is usually collected using fMRI and PET scans leading to the collection of objective data. ELABORATION: This is a strength because the controlled setting in which the Cognitive Approach is investigated provides a high degree of control in which the IV is the only variable to affect the DV leading to high internal validity allowing for a cause and effect relationship to be established.


(1) POINT: The Cognitive Approach can be criticised as being deterministic. EXAMPLE/EXPLAIN: For example, the approach assumes that we are pre-programmed in a way where we follow cognitive processes/cognitive processes are responsible for our behaviour. ELABORATION: This is a weakness because, the Cognitive Approach doesn’t consider the role of genetics/biology in the explanation of human behaviour.

(2) POINT: The Cognitive Approach can be criticised as being reductionist. EXAMPLE/EXPLAIN: For example, the approach assumes that all our actions and behaviours are as a result of internal-mental processes, thoughts etc…. ELABORATION: This is a weakness because, the Cognitive Approach can be criticised as being too simplistic, failing to recognise that surely there are an array of factors that impact human behaviour (surely such complex behaviours as those displayed by humans cannot be reduced down to one explanation?)

Site Progress! is coming along nicely! The Attachment and Psychopathology sections are now completely finished and Biopsychology and Research Methods are mostly complete! I’m hoping to have to website completely finished within the next two weeks. Why not follow the psychologyhub Facebook page to receive regular updates on the website progress and to get revision and exam tips daily?

Website Under Construction!

I had a dream…and that dream was to try to make the lives of AS and A level psychology students that little bit easier by offering some notes (written specifically for the AQA psychology course) to help you with your revision. This website is in its early days and I am looking to expand the site quite rapidly by adding all the necessary study notes for the AS and A level paper 1 and 2. Once complete, I aim to add notes for paper 3 (issues and debates in psychology, stress, aggression and gender). From this (hopefully from September 2017) I will be looking to add notes on the remaining paper 3 topics.

In addition to this website, I also run a psychology hub Facebook page in which i frequently update with revision and study tips (proven to work with my own AS and A level psychology students) and offer ‘as the expert’ opportunities in which I take questions from psychology students about the main topics covered on the course/the content that you are struggling with.

In addition to supporting students, I am also passionate about supporting teachers (I know that the life of a teacher is pretty much a juggling act – will we ever achieve that work/life balance?) As a result, in order to support AS and A level psychology teachers, over the courser of the next few weeks, I am to upload some of my teacher resources that have helped me to effectively engage and support my psychology students over the years. In addition to this website, I’ve also set up a psychology teaching hub Facebook page – please follow this page to receive regular updates on resources that I have added to the website and suggestions on effective activities to use when teaching psychology.

To both teachers and AS/A level students – I know we are hitting that busy exam time of year again when the stress and pressure really kicks in! Hold your head up high and look forward, the summer holidays are not so far around the corner 🙂

Welcome to the Psychology Hub!!

Welcome to the ‘psychology hub!’ This website has been created to support students studying A level psychology (specifically the AQA specification) and teachers delivering the new AQA psychology specification. Although the content of this site mainly focuses on the AQA psychology A level specification, the information presented could also appeal to students studying psychology at GCSE level, other A level psychology specifications, students studying psychology at university or individuals with a keen interest in the subject of psychology in general. I trust that you will find the information presented useful – why not follow the student psychology hub Facebook page to receive regular updates on studying psychology and revision tips or, if you’re a teacher, follow the teacher’s psychology hub Facebook page to receive regular updates and notifications when new teaching resources have been added to the site.

All the resources on this website have been produced using the exam board recommended textbooks for the Psychology AQA Specification. After many years of teaching I have carefully considered each endorsed AS/A level textbook and have used (what I consider to be) the best parts of each (from both previous and current textbook editions) in order to produce a resource that I feel will guide any AS/A level student through their studies effectively and with ease. Using this strategy in the production of my teaching resources/notes has gained many students top AS/A level grades (A-C). Over the years I have taught hundreds of Psychology students and I am very aware that A levels can cause students a great deal of stress and anxiety. With this in mind, I have decided to make my teaching notes available to all A level students in an attempt to help others with their studies and revision. For me, sharing good practice has always been an essential part of my teaching career, this website is therefore my contribution to the teaching/academic world, this is my way of sharing good practice far and wide. I hope that you find these notes useful and I that they support you in your studies/teaching practice in the same way that they have benefitted my students and supported my teaching practice.

Happy teaching!

Happy studying!

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