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Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Abraham Harold Maslow was the oldest of seven children. His parents were the first generation of Jewish immigrants from Russia, who were not intellectually oriented but valued education. It was a tough time for Maslow, as he experienced Anti-Semitism from his teachers and from other children around the neighbourhood. He had various encounters with anti-Semitic gangs who would chase and throw rocks at him. The tension outside of his home was also felt within it; he rarely got along with his mother, and eventually developed a strong revulsion to her. He quoted saying “What I had reacted to was not only her physical appearance, but also her values and world view, her stinginess, her total selfishness, her lack of love for anyone else in the world – even her own husband and children – her narcissism, her Negro prejudice, her exploitation of everyone, her assumption that anyone was wrong who disagreed with her, her lack of friends, her sloppiness and dirtiness..”.

He also grew up with few friends other than his cousin, Will and as a result he grew up in libraries and among books. It was in the library that he developed his love for reading and learning. He went to the Boys High School, one of the top high schools in Brooklyn. There, he served as an officer to many academic clubs and became the editor of the Latin Magazine. Besides that, he got his to edit the Principia, that was the school’s Physics paper for a year.

After graduating high school, Maslow went to the City College of New York. In 1926, he began taking legal studies classes at night in addition to his undergraduate course load. He hated it and almost immediately dropped out. In 1927, he transferred to Cornell. But due to the unfortunate events, which were his poor grades and the costly education, he left just after the first semester. He re-enrol at City College and upon graduation, he went schooling at the University of Wisconsin to study psychology and graduated. In 1928, he married his first cousin Bertha, whom he had met in Brooklyn years earlier. She was still in high school at that time. Maslow’s psychology training at the UW was decidedly on the experimental-behaviourist. At Wisconsin, he pursued a line of research which included investigating primate dominance behaviour and sexuality.

Upon the recommendation of Professor Hulsey Cason, Maslow wrote his master’s thesis on ‘learning, retention and reproduction of verbal material’. Maslow regarded the research as an embarrassing trivial, but he completed his thesis on the summer of 1931 and was awarded his master’s degree in Psychology. Then after, he was extremely ashamed of the thesis that he removed it from the psychology library and tore out its catalogue listing. Ironically, Professor Carson admired the research enough to urge Maslow to submit it for publication. Much to Maslow’s surprise, his thesis was published as two articles in 1934.

He went on to further his research at Columbia University, continuing similar studies. There, he found another mentor, Alfred Adler who was one of Sigmund Freud’s early colleagues. From 1937 to 1951, Maslow was on the faculty of Brooklyn College. In New York he found two more mentors, anthropologist Ruth Benedict and gestalt psychologist, Max Wertheimer; whom he admired both professionally and personally. These two were so accomplished in both realms and such “wonderful human beings” as well, that Maslow began taking notes about them and their behaviour. This would be the basis of his lifelong research and thinking about mental health and human potential. He wrote extensively on the subject, borrowing ideas from other psychologists but adding significantly to them, especially the concepts of a hierarchy of needs, metaneeds, metamotivation, self-actualizing persons and peak experiences.

After a near-fatal heart attack in 1967, Maslow believes that the rest of his life would be short. He saw himself as a psychological pioneer; widely explore new areas of human experience that investigators would show in detail later. Seeing the exact contours of his turbulent intellectual life, we are better equipped for the cards that our world needs today to create to achieve our individual and social potential.

Maslow was a professor at Brandeis University from 1951 to 1969, and then became a fellow resident of the Laughlin Institute in California. He died of a heart attack on June 8, 1970.

Humanistic Theories of Self-Actualization
Maslow was already a 33 years old father and had children by the advent of World War II in 1941. He was thus eligible for the military. However, the horrors of war inspired a vision of peace in him instead and led to his groundbreaking psychological studies of self-actualizing people.

Many psychologists have made impacts on society’s understanding of the world. Abraham Maslow was one of them; he brought a new face to the study of human behaviour. He called his new discipline “Humanistic Psychology”. His family life and experiences influenced his psychological ideas. After World War II, Maslow began to question the way psychologists had come to their conclusions. Although he did not quite agree, he had his own ideas on how to understand the human mind.

Humanistic psychologists believe that every person has a strong desire to achieve their full potential to achieve a level of “self-realization”. To prove that people do not blindly respond to situations, but trying to accomplish something greater, Maslow studied mentally healthy individuals instead of people with serious psychological issues. This informed his theory that people experience “peak experiences”. This means the high points in life when an individual is in harmony with himself and his surroundings. In Maslow’s view, self-actualized people can have many peak experiences throughout a day, while others have those experiences less frequently.

Maslow noticed that self-actualized individuals had a better understanding of reality, deeply accepted one-self, others and the world, and not to mentioned, had faced many problems and were known to be impulsive people. These self-actualized individuals were very independent and private when it came to their environment and culture, especially their very own individual development on “potentialities and inner resources”.

Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow created this to explain his theory, which is called the Hierarchy of Needs. It is a pyramid depicting the levels of human needs, psychological and physical.

1. Physiological needs
It is a basic need for every living being. Physiological needs are thought to be the most important needs and they should be met first. If these needs are not met, humans cannot function properly and will ultimately fail.

2. Safety needs
It compiles of security, stability, order and more. It is important to the physical survival of a person. Once individuals have basic nutrition, shelter and safety, they attempt to accomplish more.

3. Belongingness & Love needs
According to Maslow, humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance in their social groups, regardless of whether these groups are large or small. For example, co-workers, religious groups, family members, intimate partners, mentors and colleagues. People need to love and be loved, both sexually and non-sexually. This need for belonging may overcome the physiological and security needs, depending on the strength of the peer

4. Esteem needs
All people need to feel respected. This includes the need for self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem presents the typical human desire to be accepted and appreciated by others. They will feel comfortable with what they have accomplished. People often engage in a profession or hobby to gain recognition. These activities allow the person to have a sense of contribution or value. People with low self-esteem often need respect from others where they may feel the need to seek honour or glory. However, fame or glory will not help the person to develop their self-esteem until they accept who they are internally. Psychological imbalances such as depression can hinder the person from obtaining a higher level of self-esteem or self-respect.

5. Self-actualization
This level of need refers to what a person’s potential is and realizing that potential. It is also when individuals reach a state of harmony and understanding. Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can. Individuals may perceive or focus on this need very specifically. For example, a person may have a strong desire to become an ideal parent. In another, it may be expressed through paintings, pictures or inventions.

Maslow based his study on the writings of other psychologists, people he knew who clearly met the standard of self-actualization. Maslow used Einstein’s writings and accomplishments to illustrate the characteristics of the self-actualized person. He realized that all the individuals he studied had similar personality traits. All of them were ‘reality centered’, where they are able to differentiate what was fraudulent and what was real. They were also ‘problem centered’ which shows that they treated life’s difficulties as problems that demanded solutions. These individuals also were comfortable being alone and had healthy personal relationships. A historical figure Maslow found to be helpful in his journey to understanding self-actualization was Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism. A principle of Taoism is people do not obtain personal meaning or pleasure by seeking material possessions.

The advantages and disadvantages of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Advantages
This theory provides a useful summary of human needs, which can be used in product design, product positioning and pricing. For example, the need for power and statuses. It also helps marketers to call and focus their advertising to specific needs of a large part of their attention from the common target group.

Maslow’s theory is too simplified and relies solely on human needs only. There is an absence in the relationship between direct causal needs and behaviour. The theory must relate to other motivational factors such as expectations, experience and perception. Needs of all employees are not uniform. Many are satisfied only with physiological needs and security of employment. The pattern of hierarchy of needs as proposed by Maslow may not be applicable uniformly to all categories of employees. Maslow’s assumption of ‘need hierarchy’ does not hold good in the present age as each person has plenty of needs to be satisfied, which may not necessarily follow Maslow’s need of hierarchy. Maslow’s theory is widely accepted, but there is little empirical evidence to support it. It is preliminary and largely untested. His writings are more philosophical than scientific.

Criticism to the Theory
The position and value of sex in the pyramid has been a source of criticism regarding to Maslow’s hierarchy. Maslow’s hierarchy defines sex in the physiological needs category along with food and breathing. It lists sex solely from an individualistic perspective. For example, sex is placed with other physiological needs which must be satisfied before a person considers “higher” levels of motivation. Some critics feel this placement of sex neglects the emotional, familial, and evolutionary implications of sex within the community.

Humanistic psychology gave rise to several different therapies, all guided by the idea that people possess through the inner resources for growth and healing. It come to the point where this therapy able to help remove obstacles and get individuals to achieve them.

The world is a dynamic place. Good and bad can come quickly and threats at any of the above levels ripple up and down the pyramid. Reaching out to request or provide assistance can help everyone to get through the bad times and celebrate the good. Complimenting others can also help them realize their potential and nevertheless, providing positive thoughts, especially when others are having trouble finding them. The Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology that was proposed in document for 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” by Abraham Maslow. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often presented in the form of a pyramid, with the most important and most fundamental needs at the base, and the need for self-actualization at the top. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs intersects with needs and motivation in organizations where managers can relate to it. For example, providing a safe and a sense of worth and belonging. Aside from that, Maslow also coined the term “metamotivation” to describe the motivation of people who go beyond the scope of the basic needs and strive for constant improvement.



Bob Poston, CST (2009). An Exercise in Personal Exploration: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Francis Heylighen (1992). A Cognitive-Systemic Reconstruction of Maslow’s Theory of Self-Actualization. Behavioural Science, Vol 37.

Michelle Emrich, Referencing, not plagiarism. [Online] Available:

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