Beginnings: Psychology without a soul
Both had tended to portray human beings as faulty machines.
- In Freud’s view, human beings were almost entirely driven by primitive urges like sex and aggression. These ever-present impulses must be managed if we are to live together in civilized society. This leaves many people hopelessly conflicted at an unconscious level. A miserable, unfulfilled existence is unavoidable.
- In the behaviourists’ view, human beings are like oversized lab rats — programmed or conditioned to behave the way they do by factors outside of their control. They have no mind, no will of their own. Their feelings are not real and therefore do not matter. People are simply programmable machines who can be manipulated into doing anything.
In their different ways, psychoanalysis and behaviourism had dehumanized our understanding of ourselves and what it means to be human. In the middle of the century which had brought us Nazism, Communism, mechanized warfare, systematic genocide and Mutually Assured Destruction, psychology was unintentionally providing a scientific “justification” for such horrors.
These rather bleak, soul-less visions of human nature constituted the first two “waves” of psychology as a science.
Abraham Harold Maslow (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970) was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. Maslow was a psychology professor at Brandeis University, Brooklyn College, New School for Social Research andColumbia University. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people, as opposed to treating them as a “bag of symptoms.”
Maslow described human needs as ordered in a prepotent hierarchy—a pressing need would need to be mostly satisfied before someone would give their attention to the next highest need. None of his published works included a visual representation of the hierarchy. The pyramidal diagram illustrating the Maslow needs hierarchy may have been created by a psychology textbook publisher as an illustrative device. This now iconic pyramid frequently depicts the spectrum of human needs, both physical and psychological, as accompaniment to articles describing Maslow’s needs theory and may give the impression that the Hierarchy of Needs is a fixed and rigid sequence of progression. Yet, starting with the first publication of his theory in 1943, Maslow described human needs as being relatively fluid—with many needs being present in a person simultaneously.
The hierarchy of human needs model suggests that human needs will only be fulfilled one level at a time.
According to Maslow’s theory, when a human being ascends the levels of the hierarchy having fulfilled the needs in the hierarchy, one may eventually achieve self-actualization. Late in life, Maslow came to conclude that self-actualization was not an automatic outcome of satisfying the other human needs
Human needs as identified by Maslow:
- At the bottom of the hierarchy are the “Basic needs or Physiological needs” of a human being: food, water, sleep and sex.
- The next level is “Safety Needs: Security, Order, and Stability”. These two steps are important to the physical survival of the person. Once individuals have basic nutrition, shelter and safety, they attempt to accomplish more.
- The third level of need is “Love and Belonging”, which are psychological needs; when individuals have taken care of themselves physically, they are ready to share themselves with others, such as with family and friends.
- The fourth level is achieved when individuals feel comfortable with what they have accomplished. This is the “Esteem” level, the need to be competent and recognized, such as through status and level of success.
- Then there is the “Cognitive” level, where individuals intellectually stimulate themselves and explore.
- After that is the “Aesthetic” level, which is the need for harmony, order and beauty.
- At the top of the pyramid, “Need for Self-actualization” occurs when individuals reach a state of harmony and understanding because they are engaged in achieving their full potential. Once a person has reached the self-actualization state they focus on themselves and try to build their own image. They may look at this in terms of feelings such as self-confidence or by accomplishing a set goal.
The first four levels are known as Deficit needs or D-needs. This means that if you do not have enough of one of those four needs, you will have the feeling that you need to get it. But when you do get them, then you feel content. These needs alone are not motivating.
Maslow wrote that there are certain conditions that must be fulfilled in order for the basic needs to be satisfied. For example, freedom of speech, freedom to express oneself, and freedom to seek new information are a few of the prerequisites. Any blockages of these freedoms could prevent the satisfaction of the basic needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has been subject to internet memes over the past few years. Specifically looking at the recent integration of technology in our lives.
Criticisms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
While some research showed some support for Maslow’s theories, most research has not been able to substantiate the idea of a needs hierarchy. Wahba and Bridwell reported that there was little evidence for Maslow’s ranking of these needs and even less evidence that these needs are in a hierarchical order.
Other criticisms of Maslow’s theory note that his definition of self-actualization is difficult to test scientifically. His research on self-actualization was also based on a very limited sample of individuals, including people he knew as well as biographies of famous individuals that Maslow believed to be self-actualized, such as Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt. Regardless of these criticisms, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs represents part of an important shift in psychology. Rather than focusing on abnormal behavior and development, Maslow’s humanistic psychology was focused on the development of healthy individuals.
While there was relatively little research supporting the theory, hierarchy of needs is well-known and popular both in and out of psychology. In a study published in 2011, researchers from the University of Illinois set out to put the hierarchy to the test. What they discovered is that while fulfillment of the needs was strongly correlated with happiness, people from cultures all over the reported that self-actualization and social needs were important even when many of the most basic needs were unfulfilled.