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Revising Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs

August 2010 - A recent updating of Abraham Maslow's iconic pyramid of needs by a team of psychologists including two from Arizona State University (ASU), published together with four commentaries in Perspectives on Psychological Sciences, concludes that factors involved in successful parenting, such as caring, feeding, nurturing and educating, are indicative of a profound pyschological need that merits placement at the top of the hierarchy. Maslow's concept of ordering human motivations dates from the 1940s. The current revision, which the authors acknowledge is controversial, takes into account developments in areas such as neuroscience, developmental psychology and evolutionary psychology.

Lead author Douglas Kenrick, a professor of psychology at ASU explained:

"It was based on some great ideas, several of which are worth preserving. 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."

The researchers explain that Maslow's original concept argued that physiological needs, such as hunger, thirst and sexual desire take precedence and thus form the base of the pyramid. Once these goals are met, humans will move on to successively higher levels such the need for safety, affection and esteem. Maslow placed self-actualisation (the desire to fulfil one's potential) at the top. However, the authors argue that the concept lacks the full backing of empirical research.

Co-author Steven Neuberg, an ASU Foundation professor commented:

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

Researchers (including Vladas Griskevicius of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and Mark Schaller of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver) restructured Maslow's pyramid to take into account radical changes in psychological processes that occur in response to evolutionary motives. Self-actualisation has been replaced by three motives described as “evolutionarily critical” – mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting. The researchers argue that many activities defined as self-actualising (such as creativity) actually reflect a biologically basic need to increase status and thereby attract mates.

Douglas Kenrick said:

"Among human aspirations that are most biologically fundamental are those that ultimately facilitate reproduction of our genes in our children's children. For that reason, parenting is paramount."

The researchers comment that they are not implying that creative individuals are consciously motivated by the goal of reproductive success.

Douglas Kenrick commented:

"Reproductive goals are ultimate causes, 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. Yet it has a clear biological function – to attract a mate. We suspect that self actualisation is also simply an expression of the more evolutionarily fundamental need to reproduce."

The researcher argue that reproduction also involves raising children to an age at which they can reproduce. They therefore place parenting at the top of the revised pyramid.

Other proposed amendments involve overlapping, co-existing needs rather than replacement of a met need by the next in the hierarchy. The authors argue that external environmental factors can destabilise the situation, for example by requiring a response to a new or unanticipated threat.

Douglas Kenrick concluded:

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

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