What Is the Difference Between Cognitive Psychology and Humanistic Psychology?


Diego Sanchez

Cognitive psychology and humanistic psychology are two different approaches to understanding the human mind and behavior. While they share some similarities, there are also some key differences between the two. In this article, we will explore these differences in detail.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is a scientific approach that focuses on how people think, perceive, remember, and learn. It emphasizes the importance of internal mental processes such as attention, perception, memory, and reasoning in shaping behavior.

One of the key assumptions of cognitive psychology is that human beings are active information processors who actively construct their own understanding of the world around them. This means that our perception of reality is not a direct reflection of the external world but rather a subjective interpretation shaped by our past experiences, expectations, and biases.

Cognitive psychologists use a variety of research methods including experiments and computer simulations to study how people process information. They also use brain imaging techniques like fMRI to understand how specific brain regions are involved in cognitive processes.

Key Characteristics of Cognitive Psychology

  • Focuses on internal mental processes
  • Emphasizes active construction of knowledge
  • Uses scientific research methods
  • Uses computer simulations and brain imaging techniques to study cognition

Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology is a more holistic approach that emphasizes personal growth, self-awareness, and subjective experience. It emerged in the 1950s as a reaction against the dominant behaviorist and psychoanalytic approaches that focused on observable behavior or unconscious drives respectively.

Humanistic psychologists argue that human beings have an innate drive towards self-actualization – realizing their full potential as unique individuals. They believe that this drive can be fostered through supportive relationships with others and by providing individuals with opportunities for personal growth and self-expression.

Unlike cognitive psychology, humanistic psychology is less concerned with objective measurement and more focused on subjective experience. Humanistic psychologists use qualitative research methods such as interviews and case studies to understand the rich complexity of human experience.

Key Characteristics of Humanistic Psychology

  • Emphasizes personal growth and self-awareness
  • Focuses on subjective experience
  • Believes in the innate drive towards self-actualization
  • Uses qualitative research methods like interviews and case studies

Differences between Cognitive Psychology and Humanistic Psychology

While both cognitive psychology and humanistic psychology are concerned with understanding the human mind and behavior, there are some key differences between the two:

  • Cognitive psychology focuses on internal mental processes while humanistic psychology emphasizes personal growth and self-awareness.
  • Cognitive psychology uses scientific research methods while humanistic psychology uses qualitative research methods.
  • Cognitive psychology is concerned with objective measurement while humanistic psychology is focused on subjective experience.
  • Cognitive psychology emphasizes active construction of knowledge while humanistic psychology believes in an innate drive towards self-actualization.


In summary, cognitive psychology and humanistic psychology represent two different approaches to understanding the complex nature of the human mind. While they share some similarities, they also have some fundamental differences in terms of their focus, methodology, and underlying assumptions. By appreciating these differences, we can gain a deeper understanding of how different schools of thought contribute to our understanding of what it means to be human.