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Humanist Psychology, Cognitive Psychology and Positive Psychology Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 26th, 2019


Humanist psychology, cognitive psychology and positive psychology are all different paradigms in the field of psychology but all of them relate to each other. Humanist psychology was the first concept to be developed in the middle of the 20th century by Carl Rodgers (Robbins, 2008, p. 96). He used the concept of phenomenology to explain human existence in a comprehensive way.

Cognitive psychology was however developed with the aim of analyzing the human thought process because it factors basic thought elements like perception, the ability to remember, speak and such like features. Cognitive psychology is deemed unique to other psychology concepts because it adopts the use of scientific knowledge and acknowledges that there are specific internal human mental states (Rhodes, 2007, p. 305).

Positive psychology is the latest concept in psychology, developed by Martin Seligman to compliment other fields of psychology (Fowler, 2009).

The unique aspect of the concept is that its aim is to shift the paradigm of human psychology from treating mental conditions to creating a more fulfilling life for human beings (Fowler, 2009). Its name “positive psychology” comes from its inclination to focus on the positive elements of human beings as opposed to what goes wrong with them.

Over the past few years, many influential researchers in the field of psychology have embraced the concept of positive psychology and in recent times, the concept has continued to gain much publicity among philosophers and sociologists. This trend can be evidenced from the numerous publications focusing on the concept (in books, journals and the like).

Considering the general progression of the above three concepts of psychology, this study seeks to compare and analyze the three concepts and comprehend their main ideas.

Thereafter, an analysis of how the three concepts relate to each other will be done and finally, an analysis of the influence of zeitgeist on the concepts will be done. In conclusion, this study will identify which psychological school of thought will have the most influence in the future.

Key Ideas in Each Theory

Positive psychology revolves around three main overlapping concepts: pleasant life, good life and meaningful life (Fowler, 2009). The pleasant life seeks to investigate how people take advantage of their positive human feelings to live a more fulfilling life. Elements such as relationships, entertainment, hobbies and the likes are included in this analysis.

The concept of the good life is also closely associated with the pleasant life because it comprehensively refers to the general human feeling people have when they do the things they love. Emphasis can be made to “passion” where people do the work they are cut out to do (or enjoy doing).

Finally, the meaningful life focuses on how people derive a positive sense of wellbeing by doing the things they love (this concept can be compared to Maslow’s highest hierarchy of needs – self-fulfillment).

Cognitive psychology rejects the concept of introspection and contrary to public perception; it relies on scientific concepts of human psychology (Rhodes, 2007, p. 305). In fact, cognitive psychology relies a lot on the field of cognitive neuroscience. This means that it also opposes previous symbolic concepts of psychology such as those advanced by the Freudian psychology.

The theory behind this concept is the focus on underlying elements that lead human beings to do the things they do. This involves elements like desire, belief, motivation and such like factors. It is essential to understand that cognitive psychology is holistic; in that, it encompasses all human activities (but from a one-sided point of view) (Rhodes, 2007, p. 305).

The concept therefore majorly seeks to define how human beings process information from the input stage to the output stage. During this process, the intrigues that take place during the human cognitive process are analyzed.

Many researchers have identified that the concept of humanist psychology can be best comprehended from three points of view: behaviorism, psychoanalysis and humanism (Robbins, 2008, p. 96).

These elements are however meant to make people understand the conceptual origin of the concept but the main focus of humanist psychology is to comprehend the ability of each individual in taking specific human actions (Robbins, 2008, p. 96).

The concepts of human growth and self-actualization play a central role in this analysis because human psychology proposes that human beings are naturally good but as a product of social pressures, desires, mental and other social problems result in many deviating away from their natural tendency.

Historical Relation

Humanist psychology was developed as a result of the inadequacies of the cognitive psychology (Robbins, 2008, p. 96). Cognitive psychology was specifically developed to analyze only one concept of human psychology and that is how human beings think.

Proponents of the humanist psychology perceived cognitive psychology as a fragmented part of the human psychology and therefore they developed the concept of humanist psychology to be more holistic and analytical of the human psychology in its totality (Robbins, 2008, p. 96).

They believed this concept (humanist psychology) represented the true picture of human psychology because human beings were influenced by many things in their social environment (such as death, personal growth, self-actualization needs, loneliness, freedom and the likes).

Positive psychology bears a close connection to Humanist psychology and cognitive psychology because it was developed as a compliment to both concepts; in the sense that, it was aimed at focusing on the positive elements of human beings as opposed to the negative (Fowler, 2009).

Proponents of this concept identified that traditional psychological concepts (cognitive psychology and humanist psychology) focused much on what was wrong with the human psychological process and failed to highlight what was right with the human psychological process. The development of positive psychology concept was therefore aimed at highlighting what the cognitive and humanist psychology concepts failed to do.

Connection with Zeitgeist

The roots of Humanist psychology has been traced to the zeitgeist movement of the 60s where there was a strong focus on bureaucracy, mechanization, dehumanization and other abstract elements that shunned humanity for industrialization and its antecedents (Wood, 2010). There was a strong push for psychology researchers to reintroduce elements of humanity such as honesty, dignity, values, beliefs and the likes.

From this point of view, humanist psychology was birthed because there were only traces of human-like elements in how the society operated. However, it is interesting to note that historians who have tried to link humanist psychology with zeitgeist have not done a good job in painting the concept in a favorable light (Wood, 2010).

Because of this reason, there have been numerous calls (across the board) to re-analyze the sociopolitical connection of humanist psychology and zeitgeist. However, the fact that humanist psychology was birthed as a product of the sociopolitical change going on in the western world has not been rivaled.

The connection between positive psychology and zeitgeist is also innately similar; in the sense that, zeitgeist seeks to analyze the influence of the environment and current happenings on positive psychology (Wood, 2010). Currently, there is a strong movement in the Western world and more so, in the American society of growing spirituality.

This can be evidenced through publications such as the Family therapy and the likes. This trend however takes various shapes with some quarters identified to register a growth in paganism; while others register a growth in fundamental Christianity (and the likes).

The Concept of mediation is also quickly being adopted in religious as well as psychotherapy but the link between these factors and positive psychology is the fact that positive psychology draws a lot from the field of positive institutions and the concept of deriving meaning from what human beings do (Staats, 2008, p. 357). The concept of zeitgeist is therefore strongly cemented from this ground.

For example, people who are not cynical often believe in deriving a sense of fulfillment from practicing random acts of kindness that fits perfectly with the concept of positive psychology.

In a study done to expound this relationship, it was established that doing a satisfactory work and coupling it with philanthropic activities bore a great sense of fulfillment for most respondents and this observation was in tune with positive psychology (Staats, 2008, p. 357).

From this point of view, the relation between zeitgeist and positive psychology is seen from the principle that positive psychology seeks to answer most questions people ask about religion, civil liberties and why such acts witnessed today happen.

Cognitive psychology also derives a strong relationship with zeitgeist in the sense that many clinical psychologists have thrown their support behind cognitive behavioral therapy (meant to treat various anxiety disorders, mental illnesses such as depression stress and the likes) (Rhodes, 2007, p. 305).

The relation between cognitive psychology and zeitgeist is derived from the fact that many people find the thought of seeing someone a couple of times and thereafter getting the solution to a given psychological problem very appealing and popular.

This popular thought greatly facilitated the acceptance of cognitive psychology as is explained by Rhodes (2007) who says that “in my experience, people in fact act globally and their actions represent the final common pathway that grows out of a gestalt of their drives, desires, needs, and unconscious and conscious processes” (p. 307).

Research Support

Many researchers have selectively supported humanist, cognitive and positive psychology in several ways. Positive psychology for instance has been selectively supported by its proponents in other research works (and books) written by the same people. A number of such books are highly popular and several are also used in university curriculums across the globe.

For instance, there is a journal titled “the journal of happiness” which is originally published in Netherlands and focuses solely on positive psychology as a unique school of thought (Staats, 2008, p. 357). Cognitive psychology has also been greatly supported by the flourishing of research studies focused on artificial intelligence that gained popularity in late 20th century (Fowler, 2009).

Research studies centered on cognitive science have also greatly supported this school of thought and many more studies have also supported the idea of cognitive understanding of human processes.

Humanist psychology has received most research support among the three schools of psychological thought as can be evidenced from its acknowledgement as a third force in human psychology and from the formation of the Association of Humanist psychology (Robbins, 2008, p. 96).

This unique school of thought has also led to the launch of the journal of humanist psychology that has been recognized by the American Psychological Association (Robbins, 2008, p. 96).


This study identifies that humanist psychology; cognitive psychology and positive psychology bear close similarity in their histories and are also uniquely supported by past or previous research studies.

However, from their connection with zeitgeist, we see that positive psychology bears the future of human psychology studies. This is true because the zeitgeist connection between positive psychology and present social inclination is innately strong.

This means that positive psychology represents the present zeitgeist connection between human psychology and the society. Therefore, from this point of view, positive psychology is likely to have a lasting impact on psychology.


Fowler, J. (2009). Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network: Longitudinal Analysis Over 20 Years in the Framingham Heart Study. British Medical Journal, 338(768), 1-12.

Rhodes, M. (2007). On the dynamic nature of response criterion in recognition memory: Effects of base rate, awareness, and feedback. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33, 305-320.

Robbins, B. (2008). What Is The Good Life? Positive Psychology and the Renaissance Of Humanistic Psychology. The Humanistic Psychologist, 36(96), 112.

Staats, S. (2008). Honesty and heroes: a positive psychology view of heroism and academic honesty. Journal of Psychology, 142(4). 357-72.

Wood, A. (2010). Positive Clinical Psychology: A New Vision and Strategy For Integrated Research and Practice. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 819–829.

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