Can Reading Self-Help Books Increase Self-Actualization?

By Brad Bell

There are a significant number of self-help books.  Some of these books may be read by a large number of people.  One important question is whether there is any benefit of reading these self-help books.  One possible benefit of reading self-help books is an increase in self-actualization.   Self-actualization involves personal growth in which a person achieves his or her true potential.  Self-actualization is part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory.  In Forest’s (1987) experiment, participants read either no book, or one of two self-help books.  Also, whether participants completed a pretest concerning self-actualization measures was manipulated in the experiment.  Some participants had a pretest, and other participants did not have a pretest.  All of the participants were female.   Only two self-actualization subscales were used in the study.  One of them was Time Competence, and the other was Inner-directedness.  Forest (1987) found that posttest scores on the Inner-directedness measure were influenced by whether participants read a self-help book.  On the average, participants who read a self-help book had higher posttest scores on the Inner-directedness measure than participants who read no book (this was true for both self-help books).  With respect to the Time Competence measure, on the average, participants who read Book 1 had higher posttest scores on the Time Competence measure than participants who read Book 2 or no book.  These findings suggest that reading some self-help books may increase some dimensions of self-actualization.  However, it is unclear about the generality of the findings.  We do not know if there are some self-help books that would not increase self-actualization.  Also, it is not clear whether the effect on self-actualization is relatively short-term, or whether it may be long-term.


Forest, J. J. (1987).  Effects on self-actualization of paperbacks about psychological self-help.  Psychological Reports60, 1243-1246.