Monday, August 30, 2010

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Gets Renovated...

I remember the first time I saw Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  I was in Grade 11, taking a class called "Society: Challenge and Change".  It was my first brush with psychology and sociology and I loved it.  The hierarchy of needs, proposed in 1943 by psychologist Abraham Maslow outlined basic human needs and the progression of the attainment of those needs.  Maslow's original pyramid looks like this:

From the moment I saw this pyramid back in Grade 11, it made sense to me.  We work from the physiological up to self-actualization, solidifying the need below to move up the pyramid.  The needs hierarchy was basic and all-encompassing, allowing for much personal interpretation of how to live a life while meeting these needs throughout.

Some 60 years later, a group of psychologists, feeling Maslow's pyramid outdated, have proposed a renovation of the Hierarchy of Needs.   The group, lead by Douglas Kenrick, an ASU professor of psychology, published the paper, "Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations" in the March issue of Perspectives on Psychological Sciences.  According to the paper, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs should be renovated to look like this:

While the base needs are still similar to the original pyramid, you can see that the top has changed dramatically.  On the way up the hierarchy, we now find mate acquisition and mate retention.  WTF?

And at the top, parenting has replaced Self-Actualization because, as the authors of the paper surmise, self-actualization, although interesting, isn't an evolutionarily fundamental need.  As Doug Kenrick explains: "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."

Wow.  Hear that spinning sound?  That's Maslow spinning in his grave.  Maslow allowed for all of these possibilities (mate acquisition/retention, parenting) but didn't make them the end all and be all of human needs.  He, and rightly so in my opinion, put at the top of the pyramid loftier ambitions by including the concept of self-actualization.  Sure, parenting may be driven by a biological and evolutionary imperative, but that doesn't make it the pinnacle of human needs.

This "renovation" smacks of a justification for the narrative that currently fits the status quo.  It seems an awful lot like the Boomer generation patting itself on the back for the choices they've made, choices to marry and stick it out "for the kids".  And the abandonment of self-actualization for those mating/parenting "needs" again just seems like a justification for all those choices made by the Boomers, choices that have ultimately left their children and grandchildren with a planet in environmental crisis, a destabilized world economy and a future that feels more uncertain than ever before.   Perhaps, if the Boomers had actually paid attention to becoming self-actualized we wouldn't need to rewrite Maslow's Hierarchy at all.   

tall penguin


Eric said...

This is such complete and utter BS that it makes my head want to explode.

Also, your entry was near-perfect. It just needs to say "BOOYA" at the end.

Dylan said...


Actually, self-actualization IS a need. Read Joseph Chilton Pearce's book "Biology of Transcendance" which is an amazing look at how our brains get to a point, once other needs are met, when a person is IMPELLED to "grow" and "become"...that without fulfilling this need one feels empty in some way.

Or something like that. I read it a long time ago.

If parenting was the be-all, end-all, then I'm totally enlightened, right? So what is this in me that wants to do MORE with myself?

Oh, maybe its because I skipped that MATE RETENTION part.

Is that like WATER retention? Bloating?

Yeah, glad to be done with THAT. HA!

tall penguin said...

Okay, I've been thinking more about this. Perhaps parenting does have a place on this pyramid, but not at the expense of self-actualization. Maybe, if anything, our need for self-actualization comes before our need for parenting. Maybe we need to become more self-actualized, become better human beings, BEFORE we acquire/retain a mate and have children. Maybe Maslow had it all right, but in the wrong order.

I wonder what the world would look like if adults took more time before getting into a relationship and having children, not to acquire wealth and status, but to actually improve themselves and acquire the skills of self-actualization: "morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts." I really wonder what that world would look like.