Individual Differences


Introduction to
Perspectives on Personality

Last updated:
14 Oct 2003

Three key concepts are phenomenology, existentialism, and humanistic.  These can be understood as making up the philosophical fabric of phenomenological views about psychology.

Historically, the phenomenological perspective can be traced to Wilhelm Wundt who is often considered as having conducted the first formal psychological research in the 1870's.  Wundt had people "introspect", that is concentrate on and report on subjective conscious experience.  Introspection was seen as lacking in scientific rigour and as not having any particular application, then psychoanalysis which emphasized the unconscious mind came along and become more dominant.  Interestingly, though, in the 1950's and 1960's sense of political and personal freedom, the importance and interest in subjective experience become more interesting again to psychology. Figures such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers emerged and created the humanistic or third force movement in psychology.

There a number of strands to the phenomenological perspective. There is no single person or even really any single theory that unites these perspectives, but they can all be considered phenomenological because they value and focus on the nature of individual's subjective experience.

The phenomenological perspective, and particularly the humanistic perspectives, sees humankind as being intrinsically good and self-perfecting. People are seen as being drawn towards growth, health, self-sufficiency, and maturity. This is a very OPTIMISTIC perspective which focuses on people’s POTENTIAL. People are seen as growing and evolving naturally towards greater beauty and more completeness.

The major themes and underlying assumptions of this perspective are:

There is a ‘self’ which has beautiful and unique form.

It is changing and growing.  Everyone’s self is unique.

Once we provide a nurturing outer and inner environment, growth towards our higher selves occurs naturally.

We have enormous potential, possibility, and choice.

Uniqueness of Individuals: we view the world from our own unique perspective and our subjective experience of reality is very important. Phenomenology means “the subjective experience of individuals”.

We can and must exercise our free will. Some people think that they don’t have the capacity or ability to make life HAPPEN for themselves. Or they believe that past problems are insurmountable. Or they spend so much time regretting the past that they are blinded to the possibilities of the here and now and the future. This perspective takes the view that this is due to people losing sight of the free will they possess and not recognizing their own potential for change and growth.


Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2000). Perspectives on personality (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Funder, D. C. (1997). The personality puzzle. New York: Norton.

Keutzer, C. S. (1978). Whatever turns you on: Triggers to transcendental experiences. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 18, 77-80.

Maslow, A.H. (1970). Motivation and Personality (2nd ed.). New York: Van Nostrand.