Abraham Maslow was a
psychologist who was never happy with the idea of drives because of
their homeostatic nature. Motivation he realized, was not a matter of
restoring biological equilibrium but rather groups of needs acting
together to cause change, health, growth and survival. While Maslow did
not subscribe to the idea that humans were motivated by instincts, as
are apparent in many other animals, he did understand that humans were
propelled into action by needs that of necessity have to be inborn and
thus instinct like. He created a new word 'instinctoid' to
differentiate what he was talking about from what is usually understood
Although Maslow often talked
about these needs as if they were acting singularly to promote a
behavior, he was well aware that they always acted together. He
understood that any single behavior could be shown to be motivated by
all the needs in some percentage. It was just that the currently most
prominent or influencing need was simply acting with a greater
percentage of strength. If any single thing is misquoted or
misunderstood about Maslow's work it is this one thing.
What Abraham Maslow
suggested, was that all living things have a group of instinctoid needs
which must be satisfied for their survival, health and growth. He
further suggested that in man, these needs are clearer, more defined
and are more extensive. He also set these needs in a hierarchy of
growth. This hierarchy as he saw it consisted of five levels. At the
bottom of the hierarchy the needs are those which are most important
for life and growth of individuals when we are born, and they become
less important as they are satisfied. This allows the next level of
needs to become more prominent.
For instance Maslow placed
the need for food at the bottom of his hierarchy, in a group of needs
he calls physiological needs, which would make them initially the
strongest needs. When a child is hungry his whole motivation becomes
centered around food. Only after the child's need for food is satisfied
will this child be motivated by other needs. In other words we can say
that a need will be strong and even all consuming if it is not
satisfied, conversely causing all other needs to become weak at the
same time. Also the lower the need in the hierarchy the stronger it is
compared to needs further up if both are equally unsatisfied. Thus if a
child is both hungry and unloved the child will be primarily motivated
All needs motivate
us all the time. Although Maslow did not say it often enough,
he was quite clear just how we move from one level of need to another.
Some people seem to think he was saying that when a need was satisfied
it would stop acting. So when we eat enough we are no longer hungry and
the need disappears. This would mean that the need would come back just
a strong as before next time we became hungry. But this is not what
Maslow meant and it certainly is not true. Here is what Maslow actually
said in his book
"Motivation and Personality":
"So far, our theoretical
discussion may have given the impression that these five sets of needs
are somehow in such terms as the following: If
one need is satisfied, then another emerges. This statement might give
the false impression that the need must be satisfied 100 percent before
the next need emerges. In actual fact, most members of our society who
are normal are partially satisfied in all their basic needs and
partially unsatisfied in all their basic needs at the same time. A more
realistic description of the hierarchy would be in terms of decreasing
percentages of satisfaction as we go up the hierarchy of prepotency.
For instance, if I may assign arbitrary figures for the sake of
illustration, it is as if the average citizen is satisfied perhaps 85
percent in his psychological needs, 70 percent in his safety needs, 50
percent in his love needs, 40 percent in his self-esteem needs and 10
percent in his self-actualization needs.
As for the concept of
emergence of a new need
after satisfaction of a prepotent need, this emergence is not a sudden,
salutatory phenomenon, but rather a gradual emergence by slow degrees
from nothingness. For instance, if prepotent need A is satisfied only
10 percent the need B may not be visible at all. However if prepotent need A becomes satisfied
25 percent, need B may emerge 5 percent. As need A becomes satisfied 75
percent , need B may emerge 50 percent and so on."
Maslow clearly thought that all the needs are
acting on individuals all the time, but in varying percentages. He goes
on to say:
"...it would be possible
(theoretically if not practically) to analyze a single act of an
individual and see in it the expression of his physiological needs, his
safety needs, his love needs, his esteem needs, and self-actualization.
This contrasts sharply with the more naive brand of trait psychology in
which one trait or one motive accounts for a certain kind of act. i.e.,
an aggressive act is traced solely to a trait of
What Maslow appears to have
believed was, that if our need for food was satisfied regularly over a
long period of time the need for food would diminish. He thought that
under these conditions the desperation in the need faded and the need
became weaker. He did not believe it disappeared but rather became
sufficiently less strong that other stronger needs could take
precedence and be acted upon instead of the need for food even when the
person was hungry. It followed that when needs began to be satisfied on
a regular basis the needs began to weaken and the needs further up the
hierarchy began to become stronger. He thought the child who had his
appetite satisfied regularly began to be more concerned with being
safe. Thus we would get to a point where a child who has satisfied his
need for food and safety could actually starve itself in order to
obtain something as abstract as love. This would happen because love
had become the more pressing need.
competence. It is the understanding of this site that
although Maslow had brilliantly conceived of how man progressed through
a hierarchy of needs, he had failed to quite grasp, that
his hierarchy was all about learning. While the satisfaction of needs
on a regular basis was important, what was essential was how each
person learned to satisfy those needs. Having food, water, heat and
shelter is merely the first step to satisfaction of those needs. We can
only feel truly satisfied when we believe we have learned how to
obtain those things through our own actions and not have to depend on
others for them. Similarly feeling safe when others were there to help
and guard us is only the first step to truly feeling safe and secure.
Only when we believe
we have learned sufficiently that our abilities and actions can make us
feel safe do we truly feel safe and secure. We need to feel we have the
choice and competence to make ourselves safe.
Likewise when we are loved and have friends it is still not enough to
diminish our need for love and friendship.
Only when we believe we have learned how to cause others to love and
become friends with us through our own actions, will we begin to feel
sufficiently loved and have sufficient friends to no longer need more.
We need to feel we have the choice and competence to make others love
us and thus allow us to belong. Also, having the esteem of others is
not enough either. What gives us true self esteem is the belief that we
have learned how to inspire others to hold us in high esteem. This in
turn happens because we have learned how to perform actions that others
consider to have worth. In each case, we need to know that we can make
a choice as to who will hold us in high esteem, and that we have the
competence to inspire that esteem in those people.
We also need to know that others cannot control us
by holding our needs to ransom, where we are totally dependent
on those others to satisfy our needs.
We need to know that we have the autonomy and competence to satisfy our
Once we understand this, we
can see how, in most people, all needs are acting all the time to some
extent. People who have satisfied their needs regularly over a period
of time and who feel secure in their ability to satisfy those needs
themselves are different to other people. They are different in that,
in them, these needs are not only weaker, but when they are not needed
they are in fact not acting on the person at all.
The most important part of this is the learned abilities and
competence. It is as if a need can not really be satisfied over a
period of time sufficiently to allow progress up the hierarchy, unless
the person becomes confident that he can satisfy the current need
This means that people in
good circumstances, who grow confident in their ability to satisfy
their own needs, tend to ascend Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Eventually
such people reach a state where the only needs acting strongly on them
are the needs that we usually call values (unless for some reason
they are deprived of the satisfaction of some of the lower needs).
Maslow calls such people self-actualized. They are people, who even
when deprived of the lower needs, find satisfaction primarily in these
and being needs. At the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy we have
the needs most necessary for the survival of individual humans and at
the top we have the needs most necessary for the group survival of
humans or even all life. Also these lower needs, which Maslow called
deficiency needs, are about the separation of the self from others.
They are about defining what is self and what is not. The higher or
being needs, as Maslow called them, are about the self re-merging with
others, ideas and even inanimate things to become a greater self, which
includes much more, far beyond the boundaries of the skin.
How do these needs fit with Popper's ideas?
"A "trial" or a newly formed
"dogma or a new "expectation" is largely the result of inborn needs
that give rise to specific problems. But it is also the result of the
inborn need to form expectations (in certain specific fields, which in
their turn are related to some other needs); and it may also be partly
the result of disappointed earlier expectations."
Below is 'Maslow's
Hierarchy' updated to accommodate Self-determination theory:
Needs Although Maslow talks about
a need to know he never placed it on his hierarchy. The need for
knowledge should be at the very bottom of the hierarchy as per Popper's
ideas on learning (a need for universal invariants). Nothing can be
satisfied without building up the knowledge of a stable universe. This
is the need for invariants. However, the need for knowledge also should
be placed at the very top of the hierarchy, because knowledge stretches
from invariance to variance and is never satisfied not even
when all other needs are satisfied.
this site has placed the needs for competence at the side of Maslow's
hierarchy to indicate that without the knowledge of their own
competence in satisfying the other needs, movement between those needs
is impossible. It is evident that the other needs cannot be properly
satisfied until the organism has learned how to do it and feels
confident that he can.
Needs. It is also true that
although Maslow never referred to self determination and it is
impossible to disentangle self-determination from movement between the
various needs in his hierarchy. Even if we feel competent to satisfy
our needs, if we do not do so of our own volition and intention, we
feel unsatisfied. If we satisfy our needs at the behest of others they
are not truly satisfied.
Needs. Maslow himself placed these
needs at the bottom of the hierarchy and they include the following;
the need for air, the need for warmth, the need for food, the need for
water, the need for elimination of wastes, the need for sleep, the need
for shelter and the need for sex.
Needs. After physiological needs
are satisfied you will notice animals and man suddenly become more
concerned with their safety and being secure. The need to feel safe and
secure becomes the primary motivator.
Needs. When organisms feel safe
they become concerned with belonging, friendship and love. When we feel
safe the need for friends, the need to belong and the need for
unconditional love take center stage and become the most important
Needs. When organisms belong, have
friends, and feel loved they become concerned with the regard others
have for them, and the regard they have for themselves. When we feel
loved the need for the esteem of others and the need for self esteem
Needs. When organisms have self
esteem and the esteem of others, the needs change from deficiency need
to being needs. We no longer feel deficient but rather we feel a need
to manifest whatever is potentially within us. Maslow supplies a long
list of these upper level needs such as the need for beauty or the need
for justice to name a couple. These needs are all about our concern for
- Self-actualization It
seems likely that self actualization is not exactly a need but rather
the outcome of these aesthetic or being needs being satisfied on a
regular basis. As we satisfy truth, justice and beauty we begin to
define ourselves purely in terms of our genetic potential. All
deficiency needs drop away becoming less pressing and being needs do
not decrease but rather increase as they are satisfied. Motivation, as
these needs are satisfied, comes more and more from our own potential.
Each person tends to become most fully that which their genes have
bequeathed to them. When nothing is stopping us we become whatever it
is we can become simply because we can.
Self-actualization is the
pinnacle of Maslow's hierarchy.
The few people who manage to achieve this state are what Maslow
believes to be the healthy members of society.
These healthy specimens are by no means perfect and are quite capable
of doing things that moralist might find questionable to say the least.
They do however ,have the ability to put the welfare of others before
So what might this mean to say a self-actualized
person who was in a concentration camp? On the one hand a
self-actualized person would have a better chance of surviving in a
concentration camp because he would be less concerned about his more
basic needs. He would be more able to take the needs of others into
consideration and thus earn the help and appreciation of others. On the
other hand a concentration camp would tend to reinvigorate those more
basic needs in such a way as to cause him act in a perhaps less noble
manner that he would in more favorable circumstances. For instance he
might have to choose to provide bread for his children while letting
others go hungry.
Self-actualizers are not
super men. Maslow's investigations seem to indicate that any body
should be able to achieve this state. Why then, you may ask, if
self-actualization is achievable, do so few humans achieve this state?
There are a number of reasons for this sad state of affairs. They are
- Dependency. The
most general reason for failure to achieve self-actualization is that
for lower need levels especially safety, love and esteem we depend
initially, while still infants, on other members of society
particularly our parents, to help us satisfy those needs. If we do not
satisfy our needs when we are young the chances are we will not when we
become adult. So it seems that Freud was correct at least in his belief
that what happens to us when we are young can cripple us for life.
However, as explained previously, it is not enough to have these needs
satisfied. Mastery of abilities that enable us to satisfy those needs
is the only way to lose the desperation of the lower needs and move to
the meta-needs. If we do not learn these skills and abilities when we
are young we can become emotionally crippled and dependant in our adult
life. Maslow speaks clearly about the necessity breaking away from
Maslow says: "Another
crucial aspect of healthy growth of selfhood and full-humanness is the
dropping away the techniques used by the child, in his weakness and
smallness for adapting himself to the strong large, all-powerful,
omniscient, godlike adults. He must replace these with techniques of
being strong and independent and being a parent himself."
This is not to say that all
dependency is bad. Many things in the world can only be accomplished by
group interdependency. Also those who are not fully equipped to help
themselves such as children or cripples have to remain dependent on
others to some extent, although they should try in so far as it is
possible seek to be as independent as possible as regard to
satisfaction of needs.
Children should be able to
assemble the skills, the competence, to allow motivation by the
deficiency needs to recede and the being needs to increase. This
process in children is understood to be a seeking of independence and
autonomy and is necessary and healthy. Parents can and often do prevent
this healthy outcome for children by either being too controlling or
being too protective.
If parents protect their
children from everything, they will never learn how to make themselves
safe. If parents love them too much they will never seek love elsewhere
and never learn how to make others love them. If parents provide all
their esteem needs they will never learn how to earn the esteem of
others. Basically parents can spoil and smother their children
preventing these skills and competences from developing. Such children
will be unable to cope with their own deficiency needs. Such children
can find themselves helplessly stuck far down Maslow's hierarchy
completely dependent on their parents and others.
On the other hand, if
children are not allowed to choose for themselves the actions by which
they can satisfy their needs, they will also have difficulty developing
the necessary skills to satisfy those needs. Too much control on the
part of parents can make it difficult for children to learn anything.
They fail to see their actions as their own, and always look to parents
for guidance. They too remain lost far down Maslow's hierarchy, unable
to fend for themselves and dependent.
- Pathological personal strategies.
In order to satisfy our own needs we have to form conjectures or
strategies for satisfying them. Sometimes the strategies we form are
faulty and do not in fact satisfy the need we are trying to satisfy.
This obviously causes people to become stuck at one of the need levels
unable to progress. For instance a child needing love may reach out
instead for attention by indulging in socially unacceptable activities.
This can become what Horney calls a circularly determined syndrome. In
this syndrome the deviant behavior can actually block the formation of
love while the need for love continues in its morphed form to motivate
the child to behave in socially or psychologically unacceptable ways.
This can become so pathological the child can grow into adulthood
unloved. When looking for a sexual partner who will love them the
strategy will probably be used again making the possibility of ever
being loved remote. This may manifest itself in many different and
socially unacceptable behaviors. Such people can end up as anything
from wife beaters to those who are suicidal when relationships fail as
they inevitably must in these cases.
The need for esteem is
another level where our strategies for obtaining it can be erroneous
and form a circularly determined syndrome which prevents the formation
of true self esteem. There are many people in this world who mistake
power for esteem. They seek power which makes others fear them, but not
hold them in high esteem. This need for esteem is not satisfied by
gaining power, thus causing them to believe they need even more power.
The person seeking power never has enough because what he really needs
is esteem. The more power he has the more he feels he needs. The more
others fear him the more he in turn fears them. This can push the
person far down the hierarchy where there is no esteem, no love, and no
- Pathological environment. Where
there is oppression there is a pathological environment. Imagine the
children living in concentration camps. Surely they could never feel
safe. Having said that of course it is possible having higher needs
such as love and esteem satisfied in this environment may have helped
them to satisfy the need for safety after they got out. Such an
environment may not be so bad if compared with an environment where the
parents of children do not help supply the needs for safety, love and
esteem. Gregory Batson studied many of the families where one member in
that family was classified as a schizophrenic and found the families
created and an environment which caused this particular type of
insanity. He coined the term double bind to describe the interactions
between the schizophrenic and members of the family that created the
insanity producing environment.
A double bind occurs when a
person is given mixed signals about the options that are available to
him. These signals set up a situation where all courses of action will
be wrong. Usually only two courses of action are possible and both of
them are wrong. If a person is trying to satisfy the need for love or
the need for esteem, they cannot because in a double bind situation,
whatever they do they is wrong. An example that Bateson gives is that
of a mother who simulates a loving attitude with her child, but is
unable to prevent the child picking up on sub-textural signals that
would tell the child that the mother is withdrawing, and is frightened
or even disgusted by affection. The more the child is loving to the
mother, the more the mother withdraws, but when the child is not loving
the mother laments that he does not love her. He cannot win. If he is
affectionate he is wrong the mother withdraws more. If he is not
affectionate he is told he is withdrawing from the mother. Children in
this situation cannot form a right strategy while they are with this
type of family and can only be saved if they are removed from the
family or the whole family agrees to be treated.
It becomes clear that
parents who do not love their children, parents who are violent toward
their children, or parents who are crazy, can provide environments
where children cannot learn how to satisfy their own needs. This is
especially true of the needs for safety, love and esteem.
- Deformed Physiology. Some
people are born physically deformed. Strictly speaking it should be
possible for them to actualize such potentials as they have. However,
some deformities are such that those close to them find it difficult to
help them satisfy their needs for love and esteem. It is not impossible
they could become self-actualized, but less likely. It is unfortunate
that the ugliness of a deformity such as was the fate of the elephant
man or a Siamese twin is just too bizarre for them to easily find love
or esteem. Even someone as talented and well looked after as the
painter Toulouse-Lautrec could not achieve self-actualization. People
who have a deformity inflicted on them later in life after having many
of their needs satisfied on a regular basis stand a better chance of
reaching or maintaining a level of self-actualization. Brain deformity
can also be a barrier satisfying needs, where the person does not have
sufficient intelligence to satisfy their own needs.
Normal People. The above are mainly
examples of explanations for mental illness and unusual situations not
really relevant to the average person. But such situations and neuroses
can be formed
in such a way as to very be mild or partial. They may not fully prevent
the satisfaction of various needs. Rather
they can make the satisfaction of various needs not regular enough, or
they may prevent the learning of sufficient skills and abilities to
satisfy those needs. In this way, so called normal people, may never
fully proceed to the next need level anywhere in the hierarchy. This,
it is suspected, is the position of a large number of so called normal
or average people. They are not fully pathological but also their needs
are not sufficiently satisfied nor are they usually able to improve
this situation sufficiently to move on to becoming fully
self-actualized. Normal or average people can also become blocked
however, for a different but accompanying reason. If people have
their needs satisfied for them, if they never learn how to satisfy
those needs for themselves, they are similarly blocked. In the end it
is only our faith in our ability to satisfy our own needs (our feelings
of competence and self-determination) that allow us to move on from one
need level to the next. Normal people can become partially blocked
because they are only partially confident of their competence and
autonomy in satisfying their needs.
The Third Force and Humanistic Psychology.
Maslow's ideas are central to a selection of psychologies that are
grouped together to distinguish themselves from the 'Behaviorists' and the
'Freudians'. This branch of psychology has
at it's roots a philosophical idea that has an old and proud tradition.
The idea is that man is basically or originally active and good. When
he is bad or lazy he has been made bad or lazy. (This is the opposite
of the Christian Puritan Ethic which implies that man is basically evil
and indolent and must be instructed in how to be vital and good.) This
is the basic premise of humanistic psychology. This single idea
underpins and is essential to the understanding of how learning takes
place and was perhaps best expressed by Mencius in China in about 201
"The Bull mountain was once
covered with lovely trees. But it is near the capital of a great state.
People came with their axes and choppers; they cut the woods down, and
the mountain has lost its beauty. Yet, even so,
the day air and the night air came to it, rain and dew moistened it.
Here and there fresh sprouts began to grow. But soon cattle and sheep
came along and browsed on them, and in the end the mountain became
gaunt and bare, as it is now.
And seeing it thus gaunt and bare, people imagine that it was woodless
from the start. Now just as the natural state of the mountain was quite
different from what it now appears, so to, in every man (little though
they may be apparent) there assuredly are once feelings of decency and
kindness; and if these good feelings are no longer there, it is that
they have been tampered with, hewn down with axe and bill. As each day
dawns they are assailed anew. What
chance then has our nature, any more than the mountain, of keeping its
beauty? ...so that anyone might make the same mistake about us as about
the mountain, and think that there was never any good in us from the
very start. Yet assuredly, our present state of feeling is not what we
began with. 'Truly,
If rightly tended, no creature but thrives;
If left unattended, no creature but pines away'"
Maslow used the term psychogogy, a word coined by Oswald Schwartz, to
describe a possible process for helping people to become
self-actualized. This is of course a contradiction in terms. If we help
people to actualize their potential they are other actualized not
self-actualized. We are concerned here, however, with changing the
norms of society and then letting people actualize their potential
within that new society. Maslow saw that normal psychotherapy helped to
make sick people not sick, but it did not
help to make them fully healthy. He foresaw the need for a mental
science that would help individuals, through facilitation and
nurturing, to grow and become. He also saw the need to design an
environment which was itself nurturing in such a way as to make the
path to self-actualization easier.