Art, Design and Psychoanalysis

Abraham Maslow 1908 – 1970

Professor at Brooklyn College (1937-51) and Brandeis University (1951-61) Considered to be the founder of humanistic psychology.
Articulated the concepts of needs hierarchy, self-actualization, and peak experience, which became founding principles of the humanistic model.

Wrote Motivation and Personality (1954), Toward a Psychology of Being (1968), among others.
  • Innate - although most of the ways in which needs may be gratified must be learnt 
  • Failure to gratify a need will result in psychological or physiological dysfunction.
  • The need will remain important to the person until it is satisfied
  • On the other hand, a need that is consistently gratified will cease to be important, and growth of the individual can occur, with other, less primitive needs becoming important.

Healthy growth, then, is a shifting of the relative importance of needs from the most primitive to the most advanced - the most “human”.

Abraham Maslow  



In Motivation and Personality (1954) Maslow wrote,
 "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be."

Maslow placed actualization into a hierarchy of motivation. Self-actualization is the highest drive, but before a person can address it, he or she must satisfy lower motivations like hunger, safety and belonging.

The hierarchy has five levels:

(1) Physiological (hunger, thirst, shelter, sex, etc.) the causes of illness, preoccupation with these needs (because of difficulty in gratifying them) blocks growth

(2) Safety (security, protection from physical and emotional harm) insufficient gratification lead to preoccupation with them and possibly  to various forms of neurosis

(3) Social (affection, belonging, acceptance, friendship) Prolonged deprivation leads to feelings of rejection and loneliness, which can result in severe psychological disturbances

(4) Esteem (also called ego). The internal ones are self respect, autonomy, achievement and the external ones are status, recognition, attention.
Failure to gratify the need for esteem will develop feelings of inferiority and helplessness, which may manifest themselves in depression

(5) Self actualization (doing that which maximizes one's potential and fulfills one's innate aspirations) The final need which can be fulfilled only if the others have been satisfied.  This last need is the most difficult to define.

Maslow's hierarchy seems to follow the life cycle. A baby's needs are almost entirely physiological. As the baby grows, it needs safety, then love. Toddlers are eager for social interaction. Teenagers are anxious about social needs, young adults are concerned with esteem and only more mature people transcend the first four levels to spend much time self-actualizing. However, it is possible to have difficulties at any of the levels at any time in a person's life, hence the model is not strictly developmental.

According to Maslow, a self actualised person has:

  •  a more efficient perception of reality
  • demonstrates greater acceptance of self, others and nature
  • is more spontaneous
  • pays more attention to problems outside himself or herself
  • is more comfortable  with solitude and privacy
  • shows greater independence from culture and environment
  • appreciates a variety of experiences
  •   identifies fully with humanity
  • engages in more profound interpersonal relationships
  • is more creative
  • has a more philosophical sense of humour

  Maslow  would say that for most people in our society physiological needs cease to be of significant importance (except during periods of deprivation) rather early in life.  People are much more likely to suffer some deprivation of the needs for belongingness and love and for esteem.  Many (perhaps most) people never completely outgrow a preoccupation with these needs, their behaviour is said to be driven by deficiency motivation.  Deficiency motivation is an aversive state of tension that makes the person seek the goals that will fulfil the need, and thus reduce the tension.  (At least in this regard, Maslow was a drive theorist, like Freud.) 

  On the other hand, the need for self actualisation provides what Maslow called growth motivation.  In contrast to deficiency motivation, which is a response to a lack, growth motivation stimulates  development of a person’s potential.  At this stage they are beyond the gratification of needs and are striving for self actualisation.  Even their perceptions and cognitions change from those of deficiency to those of “being”.   People no longer strive to obtain things they need; because their needs are met they strive to become better, more effective, more self actualised.

  Critique of Maslow’s Theory of Personality

Readers of Maslow’s works are likely to come away feeling that they should try to make better persons of themselves.  But as a theoretical description of the basis of human personality, Maslow’s work suffers badly.

  • untestable
  • concepts not well defined
  • not susceptible to experimental verification
  • difficult to predict particular behaviours in particular situations

  However, such criticisms are not felt as important by followers who regard experimentation as inappropriate to the study of human behaviour. 


Web page listing Maslow's writings with further links

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