Jean Piaget

Start Free Trial

Compare the theories of Abraham Maslow and Jean Piaget.

Quick answer:

While Piaget's theory of development is the most widely used model in educational psychology, Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a widely accepted model or theory.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Maslow and Piaget are two different psychologists who have provided a framework for understanding education and development in individuals as they age. As is usually the case, their two theories should not be seen as mutually exclusive, but in reality, they are likely complements that explain portions of human behavior and development.

Maslow is famous for his "hierarchy of needs". Typically represented as a pyramid, Maslow outlines the various needs an individual has throughout the stages of their development. As each need is met, the individual is freed up to begin learning up until the next stage. Through fulfillment of these needs, they learn different behaviors. This helps to explain why some people are emotionally stunted when they don't have certain needs met over time.

Piaget also offered his own version of a developmental theory. Piaget believed that individuals learned and grew through time regardless of their environment and that they focused on various types of learning during different stages of development. For instance, from birth to 2 years old, individuals are performing sensorimotor learning. Until the age of seven, they are performing "pre-operational" learning. Until the age of eleven or so, individuals engage in concrete operational learning. Finally, they grow into adulthood, learning formal operations.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both Abraham Maslow and Jean Piaget were psychologists who contributed to educational practice with their theories on student learning.

Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs that he stated applied to everyone. According to Maslow, certain needs needed to be met before a person was ready to learn new information. He listed the needs as follows:

  • Physiological - being fed and hydrated and having physical needs met (like medical needs, etc.)
  • Safety - feeling protected and not in danger
  • Belongingness - feeling love and acceptance because of a connectedness with others
  • Esteem - feeling respect from others and also having a sense of self-respect.

At the top of his hierarchy pyramid is self-actualization, which refers to the need for personal growth, which, because each person is different, can be met in a variety of ways and at various times in one's life.

Piaget had a slightly different take on what was needed for learning to take place. He felt that learning took place in cognitive development stages and that the learning could not take place until the individual's brain was ready. Piaget defined the stages as follows:

  • Sensorimotor - from birth to anywhere between eighteen and twenty-four months
  • Preoperational - ages two to seven
  • Concrete Operational - ages seven to eleven
  • Formal Operational - adolescence to adulthood

When one reaches each stage, they are able to understand more and are therefore capable of doing more.

Maslow focused on how the needs of the individual determined the capabilities of learning, while Piaget focused on how the stages of logical thinking of the individual determined the capabilities of learning.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Based on the question saying only "compare," it seems that you are being asked to highlight the similarities between their theories rather than contrast them and explain the differences. Both theories emphasize the needs and capabilities of a person, and both models are organized in a hierarchy. To further compare the two theories, I would focus on how both theories strongly emphasize the psychological needs and capabilities of a person. Maslow's model emphasizes that in order to achieve particular psychological needs, a person has to achieve some fundamentally important physical needs. Piaget isn't identical in that thinking; however, Piaget's theory does emphasize a psychological link to physiological development. You might also think about comparing the theories to how they could be applied to educators. Educators need to be acutely aware of what students are capable of, and both models help inform teachers about student readiness. Students struggling with poverty are likely to never achieve the self-actualized high order thinking and behavior that teachers aim for because the students are simply incapable of getting there when they are more worried about where the next meal is going to come from. Similarly, it doesn't make sense for a first grade teacher to ask students to often perform high level, abstract thinking. Their psychological development just isn't there yet.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Abraham Maslow, the father of humanist psychology (psychology concerned with the whole individual), offered the paradigm called "the hierarchy of human needs," which contends that humans need to satisfy a number of needs inherent to our genetic and developmental makeup in order to grow into productive and healthy individuals.

He breaks down this hierarchy into the following:

  • Physiological: Food, water, air, shelter, homeostasis
  • Safety: food, home, work, security
  • Love: friends, family, intimacy
  • Esteem: dignity, self-respect, pride, self-love
  • Self-Actualization: morality, creativity, inspiration, faith

The hierarchy of needs is also known as Maslow's self-actualization theory of human psychology.

Piaget's genetic epistemology serves as a developmental map or blueprint that assumes that humans will behave in a certain way during their growth process, provided that all the right elements are in place. Hence, you get the well-known sensory motor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational epigenetic stages.

Both theories argue that humans, as a species, need a series of environmental, psychological, and societal support systems that would provide physiological and psychological support for our needs.

They also argue that the needs are real and need to be met in order for humans to develop in a healthy way, both physically and mentally.

The only contrast between the two is that Maslow is more generic in terms of stages of development, while Piaget gives more emphasis to specific periods in time and labels these stages with more ease than Maslow, who is less quantitatively inclined and more qualitative-driven.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast Abraham Maslow and Jean Piaget?

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist. He was famous for his work on child development. He was a constructivist theorist. Constructivists believe that each person learns according to their own experiences and values and that all learning is based on this schema. He believed that children gained knowledge through their experiences and that people gain knowledge when they have mastered certain stages. He felt that play was incredibly important to children's development, and that their knowledge base would increase as they matured, taking on more responsibilities as they became psychologically ready to do so. His work on the stages of development is still part of the educational psychology lexicon. He theorized that children use their senses to gather information about the world. Their minds grow as their bodies grow. His stages begin with the sensorimotor stage and go through the formal operational stage, which includes the ability for abstract thought.

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist known for his humanistic theories. He created what is known as Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. Humanists believe that people are more than the sum of their parts, and as such need to be understood in terms of motivation rather than just behavior. His contributions to positive psychology were great. Positive psychology seeks to look at the person as a whole, rather than simply focusing on mental illness. His hierarchy of needs theory is still used widely in educational psychology. It forms a pyramid, and he stated that the base of the pyramid, physiological needs, had to be met before it was possible to achieve higher levels of being, such as self-actualization.

Both psychologists are renowned for their contributions to the field of psychology. Each focused on a different facet of psychology. Both are still regarded as very important in educational circles for their theories as they relate to education. Their differences are myriad, so I would suggest picking a few to focus on. Finding all their differences could fill several books, and has.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast Abraham Maslow and Jean Piaget?

This is a complex issue, but I will share a few ideas that I hope will get you started. 

When you refer to Maslow, the one theory that comes to my mind is his Hierarchy of Needs, which begins with satisfying one's basic bodily requirements, moves into larger circles of community and success, and culminates in self-actualization, the notion of being one's own best self.  When we think about Piaget, we think about his stages of development, which are sensimotor, preoperational, concrete, and formal, an intellectual development that proceeds stage by stage.   

You will notice that Maslow's Hierarchy concerns itself with human needs, physical, psychological, and social, while Piaget's theory is about cognition.  This is an fairly obvious difference that you could expand upon with little difficulty. Notice that while some intellectual development is presumed in Maslow's theory, his theory does not attend to intellectual development at all.  Some socialization is presumed in Piaget's theory, but his stages do not really concern themselves with this facet all that much. 

How are the two similar? Both are orderly progressions, certainly, with a theory that explains human behavior, and both are are staples of educational theory. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on