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Basic Assumptions Concerning Human Nature Underlying Personality Theories

Sarin Dominic

Every individual has certain implicit assumptions about nature of human beings rooted in their personal experiences.

Such basic assumptions influence the way individual perceive and treat oneself and the other

Personologists also has such assumptions, stemming from their personal experiences which serve as a framework in which theories are build up.

If we look at the matter more closely, we shall find the following law holding in the development of all psychic happenings: we cannot think, feel, will, or act without the perception of some goal Adler(1968) The essential nature of man is such that it presses toward a relative unification of life (never fully achieved).... As a consequence of this quest-which is very essence to human

Basic assumptions as polarities

Freedom Rationality Holism Constitutionalism Changeability Subjectivity Proactivity Homeostasis Knowability Determinism Irrationality Elementalism Environmentalism Unchangeability Objectivity Reactivity Heterostasis Unknowability

Freedom - Determinism

Focuses on what degree of internal freedom, if any, humans actually possess in directing their own behavior.

Freedom People are primarily responsible for their own actions and are capable of transcending environmental influences upon their behavior

Determinism All behavior is caused by operation of other events and does not occur

Rationality - Irrationality

The degree to which human reasoning powers can or do actually influence everyday human behavior.

Rationality Human beings are rational beings capable of directing their behavior through reasoning

Irrationality Human beings is governed by irrational forces of which the person is partially or totally unaware

Holism - Elementalism

Are human beings best understood as individual totalities or by breaking it down into its component parts ?

Holism Behavior can be explained only by studying persons as totalities

Elementalism Understanding of human behavior can only be achieved by investigating, each specific, fundamental aspect of it independently of the rest

Constitutionalism - Environmentalism

How much of human personality results from constitutional factors and how much is a product of environmental influences?

Constitutionalism Personality is shaped by genetic and biological factors

Environmentalism Personality is shaped by social and cultural forces

Changeability - Unchangeability

The degree to which human beings are seen as capable of fundamental personality change throughout life.

Changeability Personality is subject to continuous change throughout the individual's life

Unchangeability Personality structure is established in early life and remain intact thereafter

Subjectivity - Objectivity

Do individuals live in a highly personal, subjective world of experience or that governed by external, objective factors ?

Subjectivity Each person inhabits a highly personal, subjective world of experience that is the major influence upon his or her behavior

Objectivity Human behavior is largely the result of external and definable factors acting upon the person

Proactivity - Reactivity

Concerned with locus of causality in human behavior. Do people generate their behavior internally or is their behavior actually a series of responses to external stimuli?

Proactivity All sources of behavior reside within the person

Reactivity Real causes of human behavior are completely external to the person, that behavior is simply a series of responses to the external

Homeostasis - Heterostasis

Are humans motivated primarily or exclusively to reduce tensions or growth?

Homeostasis Individuals are motivated primarily to reduce tensions and maintain an internal state of equilibrium

Heterostasis Individuals are motivated primarily towards growth, stimulus seeking and self-actualization

Knowability - Unknowability

Is human nature fully knowable in scientific terms or for some reason does it transcend the potential of scientific understanding?

Knowability Principles governing human behavior will eventually be discovered through scientific inquiry

Unknowability Human behavior transcends the potential of scientific understanding

Major personality theorists on the basic assumptions of human nature

Strong Freedom Adler Maslow Rogers
Moderate Slight Midrange Slight Moderate Strong


Bandura Kelly


Freud Skinner



Allport Adler Bandura Erikson Kelly Maslow Rogers Adler Erikson Maslow Rogers Freud Allport Kelly Bandura






Constitution alism

Freud Kelly Maslow Rogers

Adler Allport

Bandura Environmentali Erikson sm Skinner

Strong Changeability Erikson Skinner Bandura Maslow Rogers Subjectivity Adler Kelly Maslow Rogers Adler Allport Maslow Rogers Freud









Freud Adler

Unchangeabi lity

Freud Allport






Freud Erikson






Adler Allport Maslow Rogers Adler Maslow Rogers



Freud Skinner Bandura

Erikson Allport

Unknowabilit y


Basic assumptions about human nature provide the framework within which various perspectives of personality are formulated and ultimately tested.







experience and influence him by broadening or narrowing his or her perspective on personality and formulation of concepts to explain it. It causes agreement and disagreement with others.

Philosophical assumptions will continue to serve as the framework for creating personality theories in the foreseeable future regardless of their specific content or form


Human nature Philosophical assumptions Personologists Personality theories Freedom Determinism Rationality Irrationality

Environmentalism Changeability Unchangeability Subjectivity Objectivity Proactivity Reactivity Homeostasis Heterostasis


Hjelle, L.A., & Ziegler, D.J. (1992). Personality theories: Basic assumptions,research, and applications (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Ziegler, D.J. (2000). Basic assumptions concerning human nature underlying Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) personality theory, Journal of Rational-Emotive and CognitiveBehavior Therapy, Volume 18, Number 2

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