Maslow: Holistic-Dynamic Theory

  1. Overview of Maslow’s Holistic-Dynamic Theory

Maslow’s holistic-dynamic theory assumes that people are continually motivated by one or more needs, and that under the proper circumstances, they can reach a level of psychological health called self-actualization.

  1. Biography of Abraham H. Maslow

Abraham H. Maslow was born in New York City in 1908, the oldest of seven children of Russian Jewish immigrants.  After 2 or 3 mediocre years as a college student, Maslow improved in his academic work at about the time he was married.  He received both a bachelor’s degree and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, where he worked with Harry Harlow conducting animal studies.  Most of his professional career was spent at Brooklyn College and Brandeis University. Poor health forced him to move to California, where he died in 1970 at age 62.

III.    Maslow’s View of Motivation

Maslow’s theory rests on five basic assumptions about motivation: (1) the whole organism is motivated at any one time; (2) motivation is complex, and unconscious motives often underlie behavior; (3) people are continually motivated by one need or another; (4) people in different cultures are motivated by the same basic needs; and (5) the basic needs can be arranged on a hierarchy.

  1. Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow held that lower level needs have prepotency over higher level needs; that is, lower needs must be satisfied before higher needs become motivators.  Maslow’s hierarchy includes: (1) physiological needs, such as oxygen, food, water, and so on; (2) safety needs, which include physical security, stability, dependency, protection, and freedom from danger, and which result in basic anxiety if not satisfied; (3) love and belongingness needs, including the desire for friendship, the wish for a mate and children, and the need to belong; (4) esteem needs, which result from the satisfaction of love needs and which include self-confidence and the recognition that we have a positive reputation; and (5) self-actualization needs, which are satisfied only by the psychologically healthiest people.  Unlike other needs that automatically are activated when lower needs are met, self-actualization needs do not inevitably follow from the satisfaction of esteem needs.  Only by embracing such B-values as truth, beauty, oneness, justice, etc., can people achieve self-actualization.  The five needs on Maslow’s hierarchy are conative needs.  Other categories of needs include aesthetic needs, cognitive needs, and neurotic needs.

  1. Aesthetic Needs

Aesthetic needs include a desire for beauty and order, and some people have much stronger aesthetic needs than do others.  When people fail to meet their aesthetic needs, they become sick.

  1. Cognitive Needs

Cognitive needs include the desire to know, to understand, and to be curious.  Knowledge is a prerequisite for each of the five conative needs.  Also, people who are denied knowledge and kept in ignorance become sick, paranoid, and depressed.

  1. Neurotic Needs

Neurotic needs include a desire to dominate, to inflict pain, or to subject oneself to the will of another person.  With conative, aesthetic, and cognitive needs, some type of illness results when they are not satisfied.  Neurotic needs, however, lead to pathology whether or not they are satisfied.

  1. General Discussion of Needs

Maslow believed that most people satisfy lower level needs to a greater extent than they do higher needs, and that the greater the satisfaction of one need, the more fully the next highest need is likely to emerge.  In certain rare cases, the order of needs might be reversed.  For example, a starving mother may be motivated by love needs to give up food in order to feed her starving children.  However, if we understand the unconscious motivation behind many apparent reversals, we might see that they are not genuine reversals at all.  Thus, Maslow insisted that much of our surface behaviors are actually motivated by more basic and often unconscious needs.  Maslow also believed that some expressive behaviors are unmotivated, even though all behaviors have a cause. Expressive behaviors have no aim or goal but are merely a person’s mode of expression.  In comparison, coping behaviors deal with a person’s attempt to cope with the environment.  The conative needs ordinarily call forth coping behaviors.  Deprivation of any of the needs leads to pathology of some sort. For example, people’s inability to reach self-actualization results in metapathology; defined as an absence of values, a lack of fulfillment, and a loss of meaning in life.  Maslow suggested that instinctoid needs are innately determined even though they can be modified by learning.  Maslow also believed that higher level needs (love, esteem, and self-actualization) are later on the evolutionary scale than lower level needs and that they produce more genuine happiness and more peak experiences.

  1. Self-Actualization

Maslow believed that a very small percentage of people reach an ultimate level of psychological health called self-actualization.

  1. Values of Self-Actualizers

Maslow held that self-actualizing people are metamotivated by such B-values as truth, goodness, beauty, justice, and simplicity.

  1. Definition and Description

Four criteria must be met before a person achieves self-actualization: (1) absence of psychopathology, (2) satisfaction of each of the four lower level needs, (3) full realization of one’s potentials for growth, and (4) acceptance of the B-values.

  1. Characteristics of Self-Actualizing People

Maslow listed 15 qualities that characterize self-actualizing people, although not all self-actualizers possess each of these characteristics to the same extent.  The characteristics of self-actualizing people are: (1) more efficient perception of reality; they often have an almost uncanny ability to detect phoniness in others, and they are not fooled by sham; (2) acceptance of self, others, and nature; (3) spontaneity, simplicity, and naturalness; they have no need to appear complex or sophisticated; (4) problem-centered; they view age-old problems from a solid philosophical position; (5) the need for privacy, or a detachment that allows them to be alone without being lonely; (6) autonomy; they have grown beyond dependency on other people for their self-esteem; (7) continued freshness of appreciation and the ability to view everyday things with a fresh vision and appreciation; (8) frequent reports of peak experiences, or those mystical experiences that give a person a sense of transcendence and feelings of awe, wonder, ecstasy, reverence, and humility; (9) Gemeinschaftsgefühl, that is, social interest or a deep feeling of oneness with all humanity; (10) profound interpersonal relations but with no desperate need to have a multitude of friends; (11) the democratic character structure, or the ability to disregard superficial differences between people; (12) discrimination between means and ends, meaning that self-actualizing people have a clear sense of right and wrong, and they experience little conflict about basic values; (13) a philosophical sense of humor, or humor that is spontaneous, unplanned, and intrinsic to the situation; (14) creativeness; they possess a keen perception of truth, beauty, and reality; (15) resistance to enculturation; they have the ability to set personal standards and to resist the mold set by the dominant culture.

  1. Love, Sex, and Self-Actualization

Maslow compared D-love (deficiency love) to B-love (love for being or essence of another person).  Self-actualizing people are capable of B-love; that is, they have the ability to love without expecting something in return. B-love is mutually felt and shared and not based on deficiencies within the lovers.

  1. Philosophy of Science

Maslow criticized traditional science as being value-free, with a methodology that is sterile and nonemotional.  He argued for a Taoistic attitude for psychology in which psychologists are willing to resacralize their science, that is, to instill it with human values and to view participants with awe, joy, wonder, rapture, and ritual.

  1. Measuring Self-Actualization

Maslow’s methods for measuring self-actualization were consistent with his philosophy of science.  He began his study of self-actualizing people with little evidence that such a classification of people even existed.  He looked at healthy people, learned what they had in common, and then established a syndrome for psychological health.  Next, he refined the definition of self-actualization, studied other people, and changed the syndrome.  He continued this process until he was satisfied that he had a clear definition of self-actualization. Other researchers have developed personality inventories for measuring self actualization.  The most widely used of these is Everett Shostrom’s Personal Orientation Inventory (POI), a 150-forced-choice inventory that assesses a variety of self-actualization facets.

VIII.  The Jonah Complex

Because humans are born with a natural tendency to move toward psychological health, any failure to reach self-actualization can be technically called abnormal development.  One such abnormal syndrome is the Jonah complex, or fear of being or doing one’s best, a condition that all of us have to some extent.  Maslow believed that many people allow false humility to stifle their creativity and to fall short of self-actualization.

VIII.  Psychotherapy

The hierarchy of needs concept has obvious ramifications for psychotherapy.  Most people who seek psychotherapy probably do so because they have not adequately satisfied their love and belongingness needs. This suggests that much of therapy should involve a productive human relationship and that he job of a therapist is to help clients satisfy love and belongingness needs.

  1. Related Research

Recent research in positive psychology has reawakened an interest in humanistic psychology including the work of Maslow, Carl Rogers, Gordon Allport, and other person-centered personality theorists.

  1. Hierarchy of Needs

Reiss & Havercamp (2006) measured need fulfillment to test the idea in Maslow’s theory that lower order needs must be met early in life while higher order needs such as self-actualization are fulfilled later in life.  Their results supported Maslow’s theory on this point.

  1. Positive Psychology

One area of positive psychology where Maslow’s ideas have been especially influential is in the role of positive experiences in people’s lives.  Burton & King (2004) found support for their hypothesis that writing about positive experiences would be associated with better physical health.  Lyubomirsky, Sousa, and Dickerhoof (2004) found additionally that while simply thinking about past positive experiences did not confer physical health benefits, it did result in participants’ reporting greater well-being than those who wrote about the positive experiences.  This recent research in positive psychology supports Maslow’s prediction that peak experiences often have a lasting impact on people’s lives.

  1. Personality Development, Growth, and Goals                        

Implicit in Maslow’s theory of self-actualization is the assumption that psychologically healthy people become more self-actualizing as they grow older.  Recently, Jack Bauer and Dan McAdams (2004a) tested this hypothesis using college students and middle-age and older community volunteers. Their procedure called for measuring two kinds of growth—extrinsic and intrinsic.  External growth includes an interest in money, fame, and physical appearance, whereas intrinsic growth focuses on happiness and healthy interpersonal relations.  As hypothesized, Bauer and McAdams found that older participants had higher intrinsic goals, whereas college students tended to report needs for extrinsic goals.

  1. Critique of Maslow

Maslow’s theory has been popular in psychology and other disciplines, such as marketing, management, nursing, and education.  The hierarchy of needs concept seems both elementary and logical, which gives Maslow’s theory the illusion of simplicity.  However, the theory is somewhat complex, with four dimensions of needs and the possibility of unconsciously motivated behavior.  As a scientific theory, Maslow’s model rates high in generating research but low in falsifiability.  On its ability to organize knowledge and guide action, the theory rates quite high; on its simplicity and internal consistency, it rates only average.

XI     Concept of Humanity

Maslow believed that people are structured in such a way that their activated needs are exactly what they want most.  Hungry people desire food, frightened people look for safety, and so forth. Although he was generally optimistic and hopeful, Maslow saw that people are capable of great evil and destruction.  He believed that, as a species, humans are becoming more and more fully human and motivated by higher level needs.  In summary, Maslow’s view of humanity rates high on free choice, optimism, teleology, and uniqueness and about average on social influences.


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