Hierarchy of needs
Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
The concept of a hierarchy of needs became the central organizing principle in Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation. A research psychologist who began his career in the 1940’s with a series of studies on motivation, culminating with his book Motivation and Personality (1954), Maslow greatly furthered the understanding of human motives. When Maslow began his research, psychology largely regarded hunger as the paradigm for all other motives and examined motivation through animal studies, behaviorist theory, or both. Maslow rejected these early theories as insufficient to account for the human dimensions of motivation. He supplemented experimental study with clinical evidence and redirected the focus from drives to goals and from isolated determinants to a sense of the person as an integrated and dynamic whole.
The most important aspect of Maslow’s theory of motivation was the notion of a hierarchy of needs. Maslow first articulated this theory in his early works, including “A Theory of Human Motivation,” which appeared in Psychological Review in 1943, and he would continue to develop his theory over time. He first identified and differentiated among various clusters of motives. The five clusters he identified were as follows:
•belongingness or love needs
•need for self-actualization
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Later Developments (Psychology and Mental Health)
In 1955, following the success of his early studies, Maslow was invited to present his work at the prestigious Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. There he advanced his thesis by making a key distinction between deficiency motivation and growth motivation. The first four clusters of motives tend to be motivating precisely when they are lacking, when there is a deficit or empty hole that must be filled. In contrast, people who are very healthy psychologically have sufficiently gratified their basic needs. This does not mean they have obtained more in an objective sense, but rather that their experience is not structured by a sense of lack. With this experienced sense of sufficiency, healthy people are free to develop their motive toward self-actualization, which Maslow defined as an “ongoing tendency toward actualizing potentials, capacities and talents . . . of the person’s own intrinsic nature.” Thus self-actualization can be seen as a trend toward fulfillment and integration. He described thirteen specific observable characteristics of such self-actualizing people, including being more perceptive, more accepting of the self and others, more spontaneous, more autonomous, more appreciative, and more creative, and having a richer emotional life and more frequent peak experiences.
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Applications (Psychology and Mental Health)
As Maslow continued working, he began more and more to examine the lives of “self-actualizers,” those people whom he identified as exemplary of being directed by self-actualizing motivation. He saw that a person’s psychological life is lived differently when that individual is oriented not to the gratification of deficiency needs but to growth. This emphasis on growth soon became the focus of an emerging paradigm, known as humanistic psychology, studied by many other psychologists, including Carl R. Rogers. This emphasis on personal growth reoriented the study of psychology, focusing it not on issues of disease and negativity but rather on themes of personal enrichment and fulfillment, and of living an intrinsically meaningful life. Maslow’s book Toward a Psychology of Being (1962) is one of the hallmarks of this movement, which swept beyond academic psychology into pop psychology.
Maslow’s theory of motivation also influenced other disciplines, such as education and business. Mark Zimmeran’s emotional literacy education project, for example, explicitly draws from Maslow’s motivational theory. Research continues into the role of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the fields of business, management, leadership, entrepreneurship, organizational development, and marketing. Issues such as optimally motivating workplace environments and incentives for employees continue to be particularly engaging topics for...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
DeCarvalho, Roy Jose. The Growth Hypothesis in Psychology: The Humanistic Psychology of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1991. Provides an overview of Maslow’s basic insight that motivation ultimately concerns a person’s growth and self-actualization.
Lowry, Richard. A. H. Maslow: An Intellectual Portrait. Monterey, Calif.: Brooks/Cole, 1973. A general introduction to Maslow’s work.
Moss, Donald, ed. Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Contains two excellent chapters on Maslow and the influence of his research within the field of psychology.
Stephens, Deborah C., ed. The Maslow Business Reader. New York: Wiley, 2000. A collection of essays and letters by Maslow on the role of his motivation theory in the workplace.
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