Although Maslow's theory of self-actualization has been very important theoretically, until recently it has not stimulated much direct empirical testing. Smce the mid-1990s, however, some empirically oriented psychologists have been influenced by a new approach called positive psychology. This relatively new field of psychology combines an emphasis on hope, optimism, and well-being with scientific research and assessment. Many of the questions examined by positive psychologists stem directly from humanistic theorists such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers (see Chapter 11). Positive psychologists, such as Martin Seligman and Mihaly
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Csikszentmihalyi (2000, p. 5), are critical of traditional psychology, which has resulted in a model of the human being as lacking the positive features that make life worth living. Hope, wisdom, creativity, future mindedness, courage, spirituality, responsibility, and perseverance are ignored or explained as transformations of more authentic negative impulses (2000, p. 5).
Some recent positivist psychology research (Hunter & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003) found that adolescents who take an active interest in life are psychologically healthier than adolescents who are bored and uninterested. Other research (Pajares, 2000) has shown that mental health variables such as optimism, intrinsic motivation, and self-efficacy are related to and predict academic achievement. In this section, we review in somewhat greater detail two studies on basic Maslovian principles—one concerned with personality development, growth, and goals and a second dealing with the structure of mental health.
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