Abraham Maslow was born in 1908, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Jews who had immigrated into America from Russia. They wanted their children to achieve the best in the new world hence they pushed Maslow to succeed in school. Consequently, Maslow found solace only in books after developing loneliness as he grew up.
We will write a custom Research Paper on Biography of Maslow and Start of his Career specifically for you
301 certified writers online
He first studied law at the City College of New York (CCNY) in a bid to satisfy his parents. He moved to Cornell after the first three semesters and then returned to CCNY. He got married to his first cousin, Bertha Goodman, despite the fact that his parents had opposed his marriage to Bertha. Maslow and Bertha got two daughters and then moved to Wisconsin for Abraham to enroll at the University of Wisconsin. While there, he gained interest in psychology as his academic work started to improve suddenly .
Abraham took some time to interact with Harlow, who was credited for his studies on attachment behavior and experiments with the rhesus monkeys. He continued with his education until he received a PhD in 1934. One year after he had graduated, Maslow went back to New York to work with E.L Thorndike at Columbia where his interest to research on human sexuality continued to grow. While he taught full time at Brooklyn College, his interaction with Europeans who immigrated into the US became significant.
Some of the people he interacted with included Fromm, alder, Horney and other Freudian and Gestalt psychologists. Between 1951- 1969, he was the chairman of psychology department at Brandeis. While at Brandeis, Abraham met Kurt Goldstein, author of ‘The Organism,’ who had introduced the idea of self-actualization in his book. This marked the period Abraham began his advocacy for humanistic psychology, which was very important to him.
In the 1940s, Maslow came up with one of the most remarkable hierarchies in his career, that of inborn needs. He was a professor at Brooklyn College and his goal was to understand and give explanations to the things that motivated human beings. He did this by combining approaches that existed such as behaviorist, Freudian, cognitive and gestalt approaches to make one theory.
He argued that the individual approaches were comprised of reasonable points only that they did not include personality in its broader view. Maslow formulated a theory that argued that the motivation behind the actions of human beings was their needs, which he represented in the form of a five-level pyramid. The most important physiological needs were at the bottom of the pyramid while advanced psychological needs appeared as the pyramid progressively went higher.
Maslow invented another field of study at the height of the Second World War, which involved the study of high-achieving individuals who were emotionally healthy. He later referred to them as self-actualizing individuals. He started by analyzing the characteristics of his mentors and the results of his investigations excited him.
He recorded in his diary that his thoughts on the self-actualizing man were not of ordinary men who had certain things added, but ordinary men who had lost nothing. He described average men as human beings whose powers were inhibited and dampened.
Maslow conducted interviews on individuals who had achieved a lot of things and was surprised to find out that most of them had reached the peak of their lives. They had experienced instances of great fulfillment and joy. In addition, their psychological health increased their happy moments. Most of the individuals he interviewed did not share in conventional religion. The language they used to describe their happiness peaks was virtually mystical and was mostly associated with feelings of success and family relations.
Maslow published his famous book, Motivation and Personality in 1954. It was a comprehensive synthesis of the many years he had spent advancing theories about the nature of human beings, something that had earned him international recognition. He was very optimistic about human nature and this stirred a lot of interest in the field. He used his position as the head of psychology department at Brandeis University to bring humanistic thinkers such as Victor Frankl and Suzuki to the university to give lectures.
Maslow’s career continued to grow significantly in the 1960s when employers wanted to get his advice on how to motivate their workers. The approach he used on employee engagement had a significant impact on regions where new concepts were being introduced.
Maslow increased the popularity of the term synergy in a bid to explain work teams where the whole was important than all its parts. He argued that it was possible to increase the productivity and innovative capacity of employees if they were urged to fully use their strengths through challenging and exciting tasks .
In 1967, Maslow suffered a serious heart attack which forced him to relocate to San Francisco Bay together with his wife Bertha because the climate was milder. Although his health continued to deteriorate, his passion for writing, teaching, consulting and interest in human potential never declined. After his death in 1970, his ideas continued to inspire many people around the world.
Maslow’s Pyramid of Human Needs
In his earlier studies of monkeys, Maslow had discovered that the degree of importance of human needs varied. For example, if a people were hungry and thirsty at the same time, they tried to quench their thirst first. It was possible for an individual to miss food for several days. Thirst was therefore considered more serious than hunger. Likewise, if a person was thirsty then got choked such that he could not breathe, the need to breathe became important than the need to quench thirst .
Get your first paper with 15% OFF
Using this idea that some needs were more urgent than others, Maslow came up with the famous hierarchy of needs. Apart from the basic needs such as food, air, water and sex, Maslow expanded the category of needs and included physiological needs, esteem needs, need for love and belonging, safety and security needs and self-actualization needs.
These included needs for oxygen, protein, water, protein, salt, calcium and other minerals and vitamins. They also included the need to have a balanced PH and temperature. Physiological needs also comprised of the needs to rest, be active, eliminate wastes such (CO2, swear, urine) and to avoid pain. Maslow categorized such needs as individual ones whose absence caused individuals to look for them.
Safety and Security Needs
This second level of needs came in when the physiological needs were adequately taken care of. After these needs were fulfilled, the interest of people was to look for security and protection. Physiological needs were no longer important since the focus shifted to the need for safety and security. The evident of these needs was the desire for individuals to feel safe in their neighborhoods and also have financial security in their places of work.
Love and Belonging Needs
After physiological and safety needs were fulfilled, the third level started to emerge. Individuals started to feel the need to have friends, children, and affectionate relationships in general. They became increasingly vulnerable to social anxieties and loneliness. The evidence of the needs for love and belonging was the desire of human beings to have families and be recognized by the community members as part of the community.
After the first three levels were filled up, individuals began to look for self-esteem. Maslow identified a lower and a higher version of esteem needs. The lower version comprised of the needs for respect of others, status, fame, glory, attention, recognition and dignity. The higher version was characterized by self-respect needs and a feeling that they were competent, confident, free and that they had achieved.
This constituted the higher version which was different from needs such as respect for other individuals. When human beings acquired self-respect, it was not easily lost. The negative side of these needs was seen through inferiority complex and sel-esteem.
Maslow reckoned with the proposal made by Adler that these needs formed the basis of psychological problems. In developed countries, majority of the people did not strife to fulfill safety and physiological needs. More often, they had love and a sense of belonging. What proved difficult for them to get was some little respect.
Maslow referred to the preceding four levels as deficit or D-needs. If individuals lacked something i.e. deficit, they felt the need. But if their needs were completely fulfilled they did not have the feelings of need. This meant that they were no longer motivated to fulfill the needs because they were already fulfilled .
Maslow made reference to homeostasis in a bid to explain the four levels. Homeostasis is a principle of operation used by the furnace thermostat. It switches the heat on and off depending on whether it is cold or hot. In the same manner, Maslow explained that when the body lacked a particular substance, it developed hunger for the substance.
When it got enough supply of the substance, the hunger disappeared. The homeostatic principle was extended to needs such as belonging, safety and esteem. He argued that the needs were essentially survival needs which were built in human beings genetically.
Maslow argued that the development of human beings generally took place in stages which were represented by the various levels. As newborns, people focused on physiological needs. After sometime, their focus was shifted to the need to be safe and secure. Soon after, they started to look for attention and affection.
Later, they began to look for self esteem. When people were exposed to stressful situations or life was difficult for them, they changed to needs that were lower in the hierarchy. When individuals lost their jobs, they usually sought little attention. When people had problems in their families and their family members left them, love became their most important need during such moments.
Maslow added that the same things occurred to the society. When the society suddenly got into problems, people started to look for a strong leader to lead the society and take things to their normal course. When they did not have food, their needs were more basic because food was a basic need .
Maslow pointed out that sometimes human beings were required to explain their life philosophies. This involved asking them what their ideal world or life would be like. If people went through serious problems during their development such as extreme insecurity, death or separation of family members and neglect, it was possible for to fixate on such needs throughout their lives.
This was how Maslow understood neurosis. For instance, he pointed out that people who experienced separation of their parents wee likely to feel insecure even when they got married. They were constantly afraid of being left because they felt that they were not good enough for their partners.
Maslow and the Concept of Self-actualization
The level of self-actualization in the hierarchy of needs invented by Maslow was a bit different. He used different terms to make reference to this level. For example, it was referred to as growth motivation instead of deficit motivation and he also named it self actualization. The needs at this level did not require homeostasis or balance.
Individuals continued to feel them once they were engaged and were likely to become stronger once they were fed. Individuals were characterized by a continuous urge to fulfill potentials and become all that they could become. The needs basically involved individuals becoming the best they could become hence acquiring the feeling of self-actualized individuals (Franken, 2001).
For this level to be attained, Maslow argued that it was important for the lower needs to be fulfilled first. If individuals struggled for food, they had to get food first, if they felt unloved and insecure, they had to look for love and security first.
He pointed out that with the difficulties that existed in the world, only a small percentage of people attained self actualization. This argument raised a pertinent question of what Maslow really meant by self-actualization. In order to answer the question, he described people he considered to have attained self- actualization through a method he referred to as biographical analysis.
Maslow started by sampling a group of historical people he knew well and people he thought fulfilled the requirements of self-actualized people. Some of the people in the group were Abraham Lincoln, William James, and Eleanor Roosevelt among others. He then carefully studied the biographies of these individuals, their acts and writings and derived qualities that seemingly defined them. These were qualities that were not possessed by the rest of the common people.
The individuals were reality centered which meant that they were able to differentiate fake and dishonest things from the ones that were genuine and honest. They were problem centered to mean that they looked at difficulties and problems of life that needed solutions not as troubles that required people to give up on them.
They perceived means and ends in their unique way because according to them, the saying that the end justified the means was not always applicable. According to them, the means could be ends themselves to imply that the journey was more crucial than the ends.
Self-actualized individuals also related with other individuals in different ways. First, they did not like company since they were happy when they stayed alone. However, they preferred deeper personal relations with selected friends as opposed to shallow relations with a large number of people. They were independent from physical and social needs and were not vulnerable to social pressure due to their nonconformist nature.
To some extent, they also had mild humor since they did not want to appear humorous or crack jokes to other people. Maslow pointed out that self-actualizers had a quality he called acceptance of self and others. They accepted people the way they were instead of trying to change them to be the way they thought they were supposed to be. They directed the same acceptance towards themselves since they did not struggle to change their negative qualities.
This quality enabled them to achieve spontaneity and simplicity since they did not portray themselves as different people. They always remained themselves. Further, these self- actualized individuals were respectful and had humility towards other people. Maslow described this quality as possession of democratic values which implied that they were not against individual and ethnic varieties but instead treasured them. Again, Maslow called this human kinship which was characterized by strong ethics .
Moreover, this group of people was characterized by an ability to discern wonder in ordinary things, a quality Maslow referred to as freshness of appreciation. This enabled them to be creative, original and inventive. Finally, they exhibited a higher degree of peak experiences in comparison with the average people. Peak experiences were experiences that took individuals out of themselves and made them feel very tiny. Such experiences were sought after by many people because they influenced them positively.
According to Maslow, individuals who had attained self actualization were not perfect because he identified various flaws in their characters. First, he found out that they experienced moments of guilt and were anxious at other moments although their guilt was a bit realistic. Some of them exhibited signs of absentmindedness and were extremely kind. Others were characterized by unpredictable ruthlessness moments and loss of humor.
The strongest qualities Maslow discovered of the self actualized individuals were that they had natural values which flowed from their personalities effortlessly. They also rose above certain societal dynamics that were deemed undeniable by other individuals. These included differences such as the ones that existed between masculine and feminine or selfish and generous (Daniel, 2001).
Discussion of Maslow’s Work
The contribution made by Maslow in personality theories was very significant. In the 1960s to be particular, people had lost faith in the mechanistic messages from the physiological and behaviorist psychologists. They were in search of meaning and purpose in their lives. They possibly looked for higher and mystical levels of meaning. Maslow was among the scholars who tried tirelessly to find the relevance of psychology among human beings and expounded on personality.
During the same time, another movement was in place. Some of the things that inspired this movement were the same things that had turned Maslow off. They included computers and information processing, and the rationalistic theories such as the cognitive development theory developed by Jean Piaget and Linguistics by Noam Chomsky. This took root as the cognitive movement in psychology.
Criticism of Maslow’s Work
Although Maslow made significant contributions in the field of psychology, his work was not without criticism. The most common criticism was in relation to the methodology he used to conduct his study. It was argued that Maslow picked a few individuals he considered to have attained self-actualization then read about them and came up with conclusions regarding what self-actualization was. This was not credible science to most people.
However, he knew this in his study and hoped that others would take over what he had started and expand his work. People were curious that Maslow who founded American Humanism had begun his career in the field of behaviorism with a strong inclination to physiology. He was not indeed a believer in science and often biology formed the basis of his ideas.
The other reason why the work of Maslow was criticized was that he complicated the concept of self-actualization so much. Self-actualization had been described by Kurt and Carl Rodgers as what every living creature did including growing and fulfilling its biological destiny. Maslow limited this definition into something that was achieved by only two percent of the living things. The argument by Rodgers that babies were an apt example of self-actualization was refuted by Maslow by saying that children rarely attained self-actualization .
Maslow argued that individuals fulfilled their lower needs before they attained self- actualization. This was questioned because there were many examples of individuals who had achieved self-actualization yet their low level needs had not been fulfilled. Many known people had experienced poverty, depression, bad upbringing and other traumatizing experiences as they grew up. It was questionable if all these individuals never portrayed some form of self actualization.
Boeree, G. (2006). Abraham Maslow: 1908-1970. Web.
Carducci, B. (2009). The Psychology of Personality:Viewpoints, Research, and Applications. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.
Daniel, M. (2001).Maslow’s Concept of Self-actualization. Web.
Engler, B. (2008). Personality Theories: An Introduction. Washington: Cengage Learning.
Ewen, R. (2003). An introduction to theories of personality. New Jersey: Routledge.
Franken, R. (2001).Human Motivation. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Goble, F. (2004). The Third Force: The Psychology of Abraham Maslow. New York: Maurice Bassett.
Hoffman, E. (2011). The Life and Legacy of Abraham Maslow. Web.
Huitt, W. (2007). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta. Web.
Schultz, D., & Ellen, S. (2011). A History of Modern Psychology. New York: Cengage Learning.