Abraham Maslow: Needs-Hierarchy Theory
The study of human personality is one of the key aspects in understanding the human nature in modern psychology. Some centuries ago, the psychologists paid relatively little attention to the concept of personality. (D. P. Schultz, & S. E Schultz, p. 7) However, it is quite difficult to understand why the person behaves in a certain way. This paper seeks to analyze Abraham Maslow`s Needs-Hierarchy Theory and point out its core advantages and disadvantages.
The major principles of the theory are the following. Firstly, it should be pointed out that the Needs-Hierarchy Theory analyzes the human major demands. It is graphically presented as a pyramid with several levels of human needs. The first level is the most vital needs – the need for food, water, reproduction, and oxygen. Without these things, people cannot live and develop normally. People want to feel safe and secure in the surrounding environment and that is the second human needs level. This point also implies the presence of the house, some material resources, as well as the confidence in the future. However, it should be noted that each person has his or her own idea of comfort and safety. The level of love is the highest need of a person. Maslow believed that every person wants to be loved. The approval of other people is an essential part of human development in a society and it is another important human need. The other need is the need to develop intellectually and to learn new things. During his or her life, the person should make his or her own discoveries, as well as to learn and experience previously unprecedented and exciting things and feelings. The following stage of the pyramid contains the human need for aesthetic pleasure. It implies taking care of the body and soul, as well as of the world around. It includes observation of nature and art. This search for the beauty leads to the development of the spiritual, inner harmony of a person. The need for self-realization and self-development is at the top of the hierarchy of the individual`s needs. When a person comes to the need of self-development, he or she begins to discover new opportunities and potential to develop abilities that are inherent to the human nature. Maslow stated that the development and improvement of a person is the peak of his or her self-actualization. The scientist has proved that self-actualization is the pinnacle of human needs. It is believed that one can only reach the last stage by going all the previous ones and securing him/herself with the comfort, love, and recognition. If the person wants to realize his or her own potential, he or she should strive toward self-actualization. However, not all people can reach the last stage of the pyramid. Such life experiences as divorce or loss of job can prevent the human self-actualization. Maslow believed that all people, who are on the last stage of hierarchy, have common characteristics and they are the following:
- self-respect and respect for others;
- goodwill and tolerance;
- interest in the world around them;
- seeking to understand themselves.
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The theory addresses many aspects from sociology and psychology, including differences in gender and culture. According to Maslow, a great part of the needs experience the impact of culture. Indeed, general culture greatly influences the hierarchy of human needs. People from all cultures have both psychological and physiological needs and Maslow proved that the human behavior is controlled by both internal and external factors. All people can make choices, as well as exercise free will. The psychologist has stated that almost all human needs are genetic in nature and if the person interchanges the levels of needs, he or she is very often unhappy. As for the culture, Maslow noticed that the cultural values are transcended only by self-actualized people. The critics of the theory stated that Maslow failed to analyze the gender differences in needs.
In order to satisfy the highest needs, one should satisfy the lower ones. Physiological needs are similar for both genders – boys and girls need food, water, and oxygen. As for the gender`s role in personality`s development, it should be said that both men and women are typically reared in accordance with the traditional stereotypes. The upbringing of boys and girls influences their personality in different ways (D. P. Schultz, & S. E. Schultz, p. 13).
People develop their personality by satisfying the needs of different levels – one after another. Maslow did not believe that the person who changed the order of levels of needs could develop successfully and be happy. When analyzing the theory, one can conclude that it presents a comprehensive explanation of how personality develops; however, some shortcomings still exist. Firstly, this theory is too general. It does not explain the situations of duality – when one person is on the several stages of hierarchy at a time. In addition, it almost fails to explain the impact of society on a person, which is extremely important. Analyzing it, Babak Nemati concluded, “People are affected by their surroundings” (p. 7).
The Needs-Hierarchy Theory has been disputed by many scholars and the instability of the hierarchy is not the core reason for this. However, even Abraham Maslow, the creator of the theory of motivation, confessed that these stages were not as stable as they seemed. There are people, whose hierarchy of needs is an exception to the rules of the pyramid. For many people, self-affirmation is more important than love and relationships. The careerists serve as a perfect example of it. In uncommon situations, such as war or extreme poverty, people managed to create great works of art and do some heroic deeds. Therefore, the scientists tried to prove that the people could realize their full potential even without satisfying their basic needs like safety or love.
As for the positive sides of the theory, it should be said that it is widely used at the workplace in order to motivate staff, trade, as well as in the trainings of the personal growth.
This theory is simple and concise and is widespread because of the absence of the more convenient one. It is quite universal and suitable for various social organizations. Indeed, this theory serves as a prototype; its improved versions are often found in different psychological concepts.
Maslow has believed that people are motivated to search for personal purposes, and it makes their lives meaningful and significant. Indeed, the motivational processes are at the heart of the humanistic theory of personality.
Analyzing the development of the human needs, the theory explains the changes in personality over the lifespan. Maslow pointed out that generally, the whole human life was satisfying the needs. When the child is just born, it has physiological needs for food, water, and sleep. The need for security, as well as stability and order, appears after 1-2 years of life. Little children are afraid of being far from mother; they need constant support. Teenagers have the need for love, family, and friendship. Numerous juveniles join different social groups searching for those attributes of life. Young people need respect of other people, self-esteem, and recognition. Very often only adults need self-actualization and development of skills. Analyzing this phenomenon, one can make a conclusion that the whole lifespan is divided into the timeframes when the person tries to satisfy one or another level of needs. Generally speaking, the list of things that the person needs is not very big: health, family, job, house, love, money, leisure, education, and travelling.
Some researchers, criticizing the theory, offer to incorporate self-transcendence into the theory. For example, Koltko-Rivera (2006) states that self-transcendence would help to “develop a better grasp of how different people and cultures construe the meaning of life.” (p. 313)
I believe that this theory has too general character; it is unable to take into account the individual characteristics of the person. However, such universality of the theory cannot be considered a drawback, but a special feature or peculiarity. Despite the fact that the pyramid was his own creation, even the great psychologist himself believed that the hierarchy of needs was not fixed and it depended on the individual characteristics of every person.
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In conclusion, it should be pointed out that this theory has made a great contribution into psychology and development of personality, as well. The Needs-Hierarchy Theory is the part of the Humanistic Psychology and it tries to explain and systemize all the core levels of human life. I suppose that the theory is quite useful for the modern researchers since it explains the concepts of personality rather adequately. It contains numerous ideas gathered for centuries by prominent psychologists and can answer many questions regarding the human personality. Indeed, despite the fact that the theory adequately explains the concepts of personality, numerous exceptions and deviations from the hierarchy of needs for individuals exist. Like every theory, the Needs-Hierarchy Theory has both positive and negative features but it has been valid for many years already because, in spite of all its shortcomings, there is no better and simpler model of the personality development.