Maslow Critic

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Maslow revis(it)ed

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PAPER

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Maslow revis(it)ed

Bob Dick (2001) Maslow revis(it)ed: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs examined and reformulated. A discussion paper originally written in the 1980s, revised 1990, 1993. This version 2001.

Contents
Maslow’s hierarchy The nature of Maslow’s hierarchy From fact to logic Maslow’s hierarchy as a taxonomy The validation of a macro-theory Internal/external dimension Conditional vs unconditional dimension The hierarchy explored further The people vs events dimension Some further elements of similarity Two unresolved issues The overall model 2 5 5 10 14 14 15 16 19 20 22 23

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Robust processes — papers

Underlying almost all human behaviour is an attempt to satisfy some human need. An understanding of needs, of motives, therefore precedes an understanding of behaviour. In this document I take one of the better known theories of human needs, that of Abraham Maslow (1970). I first subject it to a logical analysis which leads to some revision. Some of the implications of this are then considered. The first section briefly describes the theory in its usual form.

Maslow’s hierarchy
Maslow postulates that under different conditions, different classes of needs rise to salience. The classes of needs are arranged hierarchically. The lowest unsatisfied level is the salient level: the level which commands our attention. But as soon as it becomes satisfied it ceases to be important. In its most common formulation the hierarchy contains five levels of needs. From highest to lowest they are as in Figure 1: physiological, security, belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation. So if the physiological needs are unsatisfied they are most important and attract most of a person’s attention. But as they become satisfied they fade into the background. The next level, comprising the safety or security needs, comes to the fore.

Maslow revis(it)ed

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self-actualisation esteem social security physiological

Fig. 1 Maslow’s hierarchy. The lower needs are most salient until satisfied, at which point the next higher needs come into play

The physiological level is usually defined to cover such needs as those for food, clothing and shelter, and those associated with such bodily functions as sex, elimination and the like. A need for oxygen is an instructive example. It is a need which is most pressing when it is unsatisfied. We neglect it and take it for granted when it is not at risk. One of the striking aspects of Maslow’s theory is the contradiction apparent in its high and continuing popularity, and the almost complete absence of empirical support. Of several scores of studies which have been conducted a handful provide some measure of support. The remainder are either ambivalent or negative. Wahba and Bridwell (1976) summarise the research. They also acknowledge that the theory is “almost untestable” (p234). I suspect that the popularity arises for three reasons, which tend to be associated to some extent. One of the reasons may be the wide gap which exists between experimental and practical psychology. Therefore many of the people who use the theory may not be in the habit of reading the experimental literature. Indeed, many of them might well regard it as irrelevant to many aspects of the practical world.

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Robust processes — papers

A second possible reason is that the theory is intuitively satisfying. It accords with people’s experience that physiological needs are pressing when not met, but otherwise almost completely disregarded. A third reason may be found in the practical implications which can be drawn from the theory, and which again accord with experience. As people become more mature (in the work force, for example) they do often switch their attention from physiological to security needs, and then in turn to social and esteem needs. In the face of such an overwhelming body of disconfirming evidence, however, one would by...
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