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University of Wyoming

Abraham Maslow

"Human nature is not nearly as bad as it has been thought to be."

Biography | Hierarchy of needs | Peak experiences | Educational applications


Maslow, Abraham Harold (1908-70)

Psychologist, born in Brooklyn, NY. A professor at Brooklyn College (1937-51) and Brandeis University (1951-61), and then became a resident fellow of the Laughlin Institute in California.

He is regarded as the founder of humanistic psychology.

His seminal Motivation and Personality (1954) explored the new humanistic model, and introduced such psychological concepts as the need hierarchy, self-actualization, and peak experience.

He died of a heart attack in 1970.

Maslow's thinking was surprisingly original -- most psychology before him had been concerned with the abnormal and the ill. He wanted to know what constituted positive mental health. Humanistic psychology gave rise to several different therapies, all guided by the idea that people possess the inner resources for growth and healing and that the point of therapy is to help remove obstacles to individuals' achieving this.

Hierarchy of needs

Maslow saw human beings' needs arranged like a ladder.

The most basic needs, at the bottom, were physical -- air, water, food, sex.

Then came safety needs -- security, stability

followed by psychological, or social needs -- for belonging, love, acceptance.

At the top of it all were the self-actualizing needs -- the need to fulfill oneself, to become all that one is capable of becoming.

Maslow felt that unfulfilled needs lower on the ladder would inhibit the person from climbing to the next step. Someone dying of thirst quickly forgets their thirst when they have no oxygen, as he pointed out.

People who dealt in managing the higher needs were what he called self-actualizing people. Benedict and Wertheimer were Maslow's models of self-actualization, from which he generalized that, among other characteristics, self-actualizing people tend to focus on problems outside of themselves, have a clear sense of what is true and what is phony, are spontaneous and creative, and are not bound too strictly by social conventions.

Peak Experiences

Peak experiences are profound moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, when a person feels more whole, alive, self-sufficient and yet a part of the world, more aware of truth, justice, harmony, goodness, and so on.

Self-actualizing people have many such peak experiences.

Educational Applications

The most important educational goal is for students to learn.

Another important goal is to make this newly gained knowledge and information purposeful and meaningful to the students so that it may be retained and useful throughout their lives.

An essential factor involved in meeting these goals is motivation.

If students are unmotivated in one way or another, it is likely that little learning will take place, or if by chance some learning should take place, it is probable that it will not be retained.

This theory has great impact on educational structure.

In order to maximize on the effectiveness of school-wide and individual classroom teaching programs, administrators and teachers must consider student needs and their hierarchial order.

This must be a top priority in the developent of these programs so that students have the capability of reaching their highest levels of potential.

For instance, if a student has not had her breakfast before she comes to school, she will not be concentrating on learning; she will be preoccupied with the need for food. Because there are many children who come to school without a proper breakfast, school systems must meet this need by providing breakfast programs so that these children will be more likely to learn effectively.