Abraham Maslow's Self-Actualization Theory
Abraham Maslow developed a theory that has influenced numerous fields such as psychology, business, education and so on. His self-actualization theory is based on the study of healthy and mature people. It emphasizes the uniqueness of the person and the potential for self-direction and enhanced functioning. Maslow (1968, 1987) believed that people are motivated to search for personal goals which make their lives meaningful and rewarding. He had judged psychoanalysis and behaviorism for having a pessimistic, negative, and limited conception of individuals. In Maslow's belief, things could be better if people were free to express and be themselves.
Maslow's beliefs have been important in two ways
1. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow firstly suggested a view of human motivation that distinguishes between biological and psychological needs. These needs were arranged in a hierarchy from basic physiological needs to important psychological needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs consisted of 5 levels of basic human needs further supporting that all human needs are innate, or instinctive. Additionally, in this hierarchy, people must satisfy lower-level needs before they can satisfy higher-level needs.
The first level of needs which must be satisfied are the physiological needs which include hunger, sleep, oxygen, thirst, the elimination of bodily waste and sex. Once these are met we turn to the next level of needs as a source of motivation. These are the safety needs, and include security, safe circumstances to live in, self-protection and so on.
The third level of needs consists of the belongingness and love needs which include needs of affiliation and acceptance. Therefore, the forth level of needs are the Self-Esteem needs which include achievement and recognition, such as the need to see ourselves as competent achieving individuals and taking into consideration the evaluation of others.
Finally, the last and highest level of human needs is called self-actualization needs. Here Maslow (1968,1970) argues that once our basic needs are met we start to focus on our potentials, what we want from life.
2. Maslow's self-actualization studies
Maslow’s second major contribution was in 1954 with his study on healthy, self-fulfilling, self-actualizing individuals. From the research conducted he came to the conclusion that self- actualizing people have the following characteristics:
- They accept themselves and others for who they are
- They can be concerned with themselves but also are free to recognize the needs and desires of others.
- They are capable of responding to the uniqueness of people and situations rather than responding to the demands of reality.
What Maslow supports is that all people have the potential to move increasingly in the direction of these qualities.
Evaluation of Maslow’s theory
Although Maslow’s theory is high on self validity he does not seem to acknowledge Freud’s defense mechanisms which refer to the complexity of human motivation and the difficulties in explaining behavior. Therefore Maslow seems to explain human motivation to be clear-cut and also argues that the link between our needs and behavior is apparent. Although he provided useful insights into human motivation he did not give the whole picture.
Another problem lays in self-actualization, which is Maslow’s theory’s most important aspect. The problem is that the participants chosen consisted of a very small sample and they weren’t randomly selected but rather those who Maslow considered to be self actualized. Thus, there were no objective measures made and there was lack of consistency therefore, his theory appeared to be more descriptive than evaluative.
Nevertheless, why Maslow chose the particular five basic needs is unclear. Moreover the theory can’t be comprehensive because it focuses on positive growth rather than negative, like Freud’s theory does. Human motivation is explained in limited terms. Maslow gives emphasis on self-actualization but he doesn’t state how exactly this may be achieved. It is argued that he talks in very general terms. Consequently as a general theory it has been seen to be too parsimonious.
Despite any critiques or issues, Maslow’s theory appears to have had a very big impact in the area of business, education, psychology, and counseling and is still influencing people until today