Maslow’s pyramid gets a much needed renovation

TEMPE, Ariz. — If you have ever felt that your children are your life’s work, then you may in fact be recognizing a high-level psychological need. Caring for your children, feeding them, nurturing them, educating them and making sure they get off on the right foot in life — all of the things that make parenting successful — may actually be deep rooted psychological urges that we fulfill as part of being human.

This is according to a team of psychologists who have updated a cornerstone of modern psychology — Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs. Maslow’s pyramid describes human motivations from the most basic to the most advanced. But Maslow’s time tested pyramid, first proposed in the 1940s, had begun to look a bit weathered and outdated.

So a team of psychologists, including two from Arizona State University, recast the pyramid. In doing so, they have taken on one of psychology’s iconic symbols and have generated some controversy along the way.

The revamp of Maslow’s pyramid reflects new findings and theory from fields like neuroscience, developmental psychology and evolutionary psychology, said Douglas Kenrick, an ASU professor of psychology and lead author of the paper, “Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations.” The paper was published in the March issue of Perspectives on Psychological Sciences.

Despite being one of psychology’s most memorable images, Maslow’s pyramid hasn’t always been supported by empirical research, said Steven Neuberg, an ASU Foundation professor and coauthor of the paper.

“Within the psychological sciences, the pyramid was increasingly viewed as quaint and old fashioned, and badly in need of updating,” Neuberg added.

“It was based on some great ideas, several of which are worth preserving,” Kenrick said. “But it missed out on some very basic facts about human nature, facts which weren’t well understood in Maslow’s time, but were established by later research and theory at the interface of psychology, biology and anthropology.”

Maslow developed the pyramid of needs to represent a hierarchy of human motives, with those at the bottom taking precedence over those higher up. At the base of Maslow’s pyramid are physiological needs — hunger, thirst and sexual desire.

According to Maslow, if you are starving and craving food that will trump all other goals. But if you are satisfied on one level, you move to the next. So, once you are well fed, you worry about safety. Once you are safe, you worry about affection and esteem and so forth. Perhaps most famously, at the top of Maslow’s pyramid sat the need for self-actualization — the desire to fulfill one’s own unique creative potential.

The research team — which included Vladas Griskevicius of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and Mark Schaller of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver — restructured the famous pyramid after observing how psychological processes radically change in response to evolutionarily fundamental motives, such as self-protection, mating or status concerns.

The bottom four levels of the new pyramid are highly compatible with Maslow’s, but big changes are at the top. Perhaps the most controversial modification is that self-actualization no longer appears on the pyramid at all. At the top of the new pyramid are three evolutionarily critical motives that Maslow overlooked — mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting.

The researchers state in the article that while self-actualization is interesting and important, it isn’t an evolutionarily fundamental need. Instead, many of the activities that Maslow labeled as self-actualizing (artistic creativity, for example) reflect more biologically basic drives to gain status, which in turn serves the goal of attracting mates.

“Among human aspirations that are most biologically fundamental are those that ultimately facilitate reproduction of our genes in our children’s children,” Kenrick explained. “For that reason, parenting is paramount.”

The researchers are not saying that artists or poets are consciously thinking about increasing their reproductive success when they feel the inspiration to paint or write.

“Reproductive goals are ultimate causes,” Kenrick added, “like the desire of birds to migrate because it helps them survive and reproduce. But at a proximate (or immediate psychological) level, the bird migrates because its brain registers that the length of day is changing. In our minds, we humans create simply because it feels good to us; we’re not aware of its ultimate function.”

“You could argue that a peacock’s display is as beautiful as anything any human artist has ever produced,” Kenrick said. “Yet it has a clear biological function — to attract a mate. We suspect that self actualization is also simply an expression of the more evolutionarily fundamental need to reproduce.”

But, Kenrick adds, for humans reproduction is not just about sex and producing children. It’s also about raising those children to the age at which they can reproduce as well. Consequently, parenting sits atop the revamped pyramid.

There are other distinctions as well. For Maslow, once a need was met, it disappeared as the individual moved on to the next level. In the reworked pyramid, needs overlap one another and coexist, instead of completely replacing each other. For example, certain environmental cues can make them come back. If you are walking down the street thinking about love, art or the meaning of life, you will revert quickly to the self-protection level if you see an ominous-looking gang of young men headed your way.

The new pyramid already has generated some controversy within the field. The published article was accompanied by four commentaries. While the commentaries agreed with the basic evolutionary premise of the new pyramid, they take issue with some of the specific details, including the removal of self-actualization and the prominence of parenting in the new pyramid.

“The pyramid of needs is a wonderful idea of Maslow’s,” Kenrick said. “He just got some of it wrong. Now people are talking about it again, which will help us get it right.”

Sources:

Douglas T. Kenrick, [email protected]

Steven L. Neuberg, [email protected]

Media contact:

Skip Derra, (480) 965-4823; [email protected]


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7 thoughts on “Maslow’s pyramid gets a much needed renovation”

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  2. Science is beginning to reveal that – while there are many meanings including finding food, water and shelter to simply stay alive, to rearing offspring to mentally learning things to help achieve this – there is one fundamental purpose underlying all these.

    At its most fundamental level we know that everything, yes absolutely everything you see and experience is made of energy – and everything is ultimately the result of this energy, its flow and interaction. Scientists such as Schneider and Sagan have shown how the flow of energy created life.

    Energy is integral to life, to your life. Every moment of your existence your body works to keep energy flowing. Every second you breathe air, you add food and water to replace the energy you use. Everything you sense or do is connected to the flow of energy in one form or another. You are so used to this energy flow that you hardly notice it. It is the ultimate process of your life. If your energy stops flowing you die: flowing energy differentiates living creatures from dead ones.

    Still not sure – consider how you are physically composed of 25 or so chemicals – just like everyone else. So how are you different? While all our chemicals might be the same, the energy mixed with them is different in each of us. For example, while we all have bodies with similar brains with a similar number of nerves in each, the way those nerves are connected is different in each of us. The experiences, learnings and resulting nerve connections are unique and are what makes you whom you are, makes your character and personality. Science can’t specifically tell us precisely how your character and personality works, but you know you have one that stares at us from the mirror each day. Your character cannot be easily seen, even described or its location pinpointed in scientific terms, but it exists – through the interaction of energy. As such, a major part of you is energy, in particular how your energy flows and balances.

    Whatever you believe, whether you agree with the science or not energy is integral to life. Yet few of us ever consider this and the difference that in doing so can make to your life – and how it can explain the meaning of your life.

    Science is beginning to show how. It shows that energy has at least three purposes and associated meanings:
    • Conveying and exchanging information,
    • Enabling change,
    • Doing work.

    Do these laws of energy similarly suggest that a meaning of your life is to find and convey information and then use it to bring about change through some sort of work? Is this science echoing those scriptures that suggest your soul perfect itself, live a good life, attain higher states and be perfected in every dimension?

    How to do this varies for everyone. Therefore, everyone—you included—has a slightly different meaning to someone else.

    What does your energy enable you to do best? This can be as simple as determining what you are truly passionate about or what you do better than anyone else. Unfortunately, many of us are not. As such, the individual meaning of your life is for you to discover what makes your energy flow best within you.

    In short, your individual meaning in life is determining how your energies flow best together and balance—and then continue to perfect this.

    More details at http://www.meaningoflifebook.com

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