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Crazy old virals

In 1943, Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, published his work - "A Theory of Human Motivation”, in the Psychological Review magazine. Though Maslow has never depicted his theory in a pyramid format, the only name the theory is known for is "Maslow's pyramid", as it was built, years later, by Charles McDermid, a management consultant, in the Business Horizon article ”How money motivates men”.

Briefly, the theory of human motivation is a hierarchical human needs organization system, from the most basic ones to those that enable more profound emotions.

It is true Maslow created a hierarchy of needs, but he also specified that it's not mandatory that an entire category of needs must be fulfilled before addressing the next levels' needs.

This is why Philipp Guttmann's representation of the needs is a more appropriate one.

Despite being one of the most controversial theories, missing not only the scientific basis but also being reviewed several times by Maslow himself, this is one of the most known, appreciated and used tools, especially in management. This happens mainly thanks to McDermid who reinterpreted it as a theory of motivating employees, but also thanks to its relatable content. While multiple researchers have pointed out the inaccuracies and the missing elements, we all recognize our needs in the original five categories.

In this article, I'll briefly mention some of the studies that disputed "Maslow's pyramid", its last known version as created by Maslow and I will mention a complementary theory which, in my opinion, answers Maslow's unrest.

Abraham Maslow created the original theory by studying and observing primates' behaviors, which seemed to be determined by the priority that different individual needs had for them (Poston, Bob (August 2009). "An Exercise in Personal Exploration: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" (PDF). The Surgical Technologist. Association of Surgical Technologists. 308: 348.). Later, he analyzed a series of peakers like Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt, updating the list with additional needs.

In 1958, Harry Harlow, an American psychologist, ran a suite of experiments on rhesus monkey babies to understand the role the babies' caregivers have in the future development of these children. Today, those experiments would be considered immoral and unethical. His findings contradict, at least partially, Maslow's theory. Taken away from their mothers and left to choose between an artificial surrogate fluffy mother they could cuddle in and a metal one "offering" milk, the rhesus monkey babies have consistently chosen the comforting one, against the food. This meant that the need of being loved and comforted was more important than food, which is a basic physiological need.

A study performed in 1981 has demonstrated that the levels of needs vary with age (Goebel, B. L.; Brown, D. R. (1981). "Age differences in motivation related to Maslow's need hierarchy". Developmental Psychology. 17 (6): 809–815. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.17.6.809.) and another study has found that the levels depend of the type of society (collectivist or individualist) the individual was educated in (Monnot, M. J.; Beehr, T. A. (2022). "The Good Life Versus the "Goods Life": An Investigation of Goal Contents Theory and Employee Subjective Well-Being Across Asian Countries". Journal of Happiness Studies. 23 (3): 12–15–1244. doi:10.1007/s10902-021-00447-5. S2CID 239678199.).

These studies and many others were performed even decades after 1943 and my opinion is that Maslow was a pioneer. In a time when psychologists were only studying mental illnesses as abnormal instances of humanity, he chose to focus his energy on humanity's positive aspects and build models of mental health and well-being.

Reading a part of his work, one can only notice that, like many others before and after him, Maslow was looking for answers to questions like "Why we are here?", "How can we reach our potential?", moving slowly between psychology and philosophy.

The last known version of the human motivation theory is closer to a development framework than to what its name says. The initial categories of needs, except self-actualization, are grouped into what he calls the deficiency needs, or the D-Realm, which is living for filling gaps and satisfying lacks. Self-actualization becomes part, together with new elements, of the being needs, or the B-Realm, which is living by being present (letting go or choosing not-doing and being fine with it, looking for things and experiences that bring meaning and purpose, that transcend the ego, reaching flow states, etc.)

Because Maslow didn't think of pyramids and I don't see development as going-upwards scale, I am not adding any picture of this last version of his work, but you can find plenty of pyramids online.

The complementary model I was mentioning earlier, which I think answers Maslow's struggle is the Ego Development theory, coined by Susanne Greuter-Cook in 1999-2000 and evolved ever since ( I just leave the graphical representation of this model and I'll detail it in a future article.


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