Maslow, Abraham

views updated May 21 2018


(b. New York, New York, 1 April 1908; d. Menlo Park, California, 8 June 1970),

psychology, psychology of personality, humanistic psychology.

Maslow was a prominent personality theorist and one of the best-known American psychologists of the twentieth century. Skeptical of behaviorism and psychoanalysis, Maslow worked to develop a more expansive theory of human motivation, one that could accommodate the powerful influence of biology and the environment while honoring the human capacity for free will. Entitled the “hierarchy of needs,” Maslow’s theory provided the foundation for a wide-ranging program to reform the discipline of psychology. Convinced that psychology was selling humanity short, Maslow hoped to change the discipline in its entirety, and to this end he played a leading role in establishing “humanistic psychology” in the late 1950s. In the 1960s Maslow’s emphasis on self-expression and the human capacity to transcend limitations found a mass audience across a wide spectrum of people in search of a new vocabulary of selfhood, and he became a guru to both business executives and the counterculture. In 1968 his renown was acknowledged by his election as president of the American Psychological Association.

Origins and Education . Although Maslow lived to see his ideas enter the American mainstream, he always thought of himself as the “marginal man, the Outsider, the rejected person who has no home” (Maslow, 1960, p. 13). Born into a Russian Jewish immigrant family in Manhattan in 1908, Maslow felt little affinity for his body, his family, or his faith. His father, Samuel Maslow, was a cooper, but it was his mother, Rose Maslow (his father’s first cousin), who played a larger and particularly menacing role in his upbringing. As an adult, Maslow described her as a kind of anti-mother: the very opposite of the stable, nurturing “Yiddishe Mameh” so revered in the Eastern European Jewish immigrant community. “My mother, a horrible woman, hated me utterly” he recalled bitterly (Maslow, 1932). Maslow felt particularly aggrieved by his mother’s vicious attacks on his physical appearance. Rose would frequently complain about her son’s ugly, skinny body; as much as he hated her, Maslow found it difficult not to internalize this message. He developed a near-paralyzing self-consciousness that at times prevented him from entering a subway car so as not to inflict his pathetic physicality on the rest of humanity.

Haunted by a desire for a powerful body, Maslow reacted angrily to his mother’s unrelenting reminders of his physical limitations. Over time, hatred for Rose grew into a generalized antipathy for everything she represented—including Jewish religious practice. Maslow recalled feeling that Judaism “was a totally nonsensical religion” and that “all people who were religious were either hypocrites or feeble-minded” (Maslow, 1960, p. 23). Although he was disdainful of Jewish religious tradition, Maslow developed a deep appreciation for “Jewish heritage that sent me to school books and libraries as a matter of course” (Maslow, 1979, p. 950). As a youth he spent much of his spare time in the library, and by the time he reached adolescence, Maslow was well on his way to becoming part of what David Hollinger (1996) has described as a community of “free-thinking Jews.” These were Jews who “took little interest in Judaism but did not become Christians, and who, even more portentously, brought a skeptical disposition into the American discussions of national and world issues” (p. 19).

Anti-Semitism was a crucial catalyst in Maslow’s burgeoning skeptical sensibility. Although he felt little affinity for his faith or his culturally symbolic frail body, he quickly learned that being a Jew was as much a cultural identity as it was a form of religious expression. He heard teachers speaking contemptuously of him as “that smart Jew,” and throughout his youth he was tormented by gangs of anti-Semitic thugs (Hoffman, 1988, p. 4). Deeply resentful, Maslow dreamed of “destroy[ing] the priests & the churches that had hurt me so much” (Maslow, 1979, p. 387). These dreams stayed with him long after he left the ethnically divided neighborhoods of New York City, and they helped condition the iconoclastic, “outsider” posture that characterized Maslow’s approach to psychology.

Enamored with ideas from an early age, Maslow enrolled as an undergraduate philosophy major at the City College of New York in 1926. Intellectually restless and unsure of what to do with his future, Maslow transferred to Cornell in 1927 and then moved to the University of Wisconsin in 1928. At Wisconsin, Maslow found the direction he was looking for in the work of well-known behaviorist psychologist John B. Watson. Behaviorist psychology hit Maslow like a religious epiphany: “I suddenly saw unrolling before me into the future the possibility of a science of psychology, a program of work which promised real progress, real advance, real solutions to real problems. All that was necessary was devotion and hard work” (Maslow, 1979, p. 277). With Watsonian behaviorism as his inspiration, Maslow dedicated himself to psychology, completing a BA in 1930 and then enrolling in Wisconsin’s graduate program.

In graduate school Maslow studied experimental psychology under the supervision of Harry Harlow at the University of Wisconsin, and he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the relation between sexual conduct and dominance hierarchies in monkeys. A hard-working and original student, Maslow was highly regarded by Harlow, who later described him as a “fine monkey man” (Harlow, 1972). Although Maslow undertook no further research on primates after graduate school, the experience of working with monkeys made an enduring impression on him. He remained convinced that primates represented an unadorned and truthful view of what was fundamentally human. “I always felt about the monkeys and apes,” he later remarked, “as if I was seeing the roots of human nature laid bare” (Maslow, 1979, p. 331). For the rest of his career, Maslow viewed society as something that was influential but fundamentally artificial. As a humanistic psychologist, he argued that psychological development involved transcending the artifice and constraints of socialization and releasing an inborn biological potential.

Although Maslow spent more than five years studying primate behavior, he was never completely enamored with the structure and ethos of laboratory psychology. As a young graduate student he commented critically on the “publish or perish” mentality that pervaded the laboratory and the kind of atheoretical anti-intellectualism that this ethos breeds. Maslow was equally critical of the scholarly substance of psychology. As a graduate student, he was convinced that the discipline had become hostage to a scientistic sensibility that put loyalty to method ahead of intellectual creativity. Subsequent exposure to Adlerian psychology and cultural anthropology further entrenched this idea, and by the early 1950s the intellectual poverty of psychology had become a cornerstone of Maslovian thought.

Early Career . After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a PhD in 1934, Maslow tried to obtain an academic appointment, but in the anti-Semitic context of the 1930s his applications met with little success. However, he did obtain a postdoctoral fellowship in New York City at Teachers College, Columbia University, working under the direction of the renowned psychologist Edward Thorndike. At Teachers College Maslow continued his research on sexuality and dominance, but instead of using primates as subjects he now employed female undergraduates, arguing that “girls [are] more tractable” (“Barnard Girls,” 1936). In a series of papers based on this research, Maslow maintained that there was a fundamental continuity between human sexuality and primate sexuality: “In general,” he remarked in a 1942 article, “it is fair to say that human sexuality is almost exactly like primate sexuality with the exception that cultural pressures added to the picture, drive a good deal of sexual behavior underground into fantasies, dreams, and unexpressed wishes” (Maslow, 1942, p. 291).

Maslow’s productivity and intellect impressed Thorndike, but anti-Semitic hiring practices continued to thwart his progress. Effectively barred from more prestigious institutions, Maslow was hired in 1937 by Brooklyn College, a predominantly Jewish teaching-intensive institution. The job was poorly paid and left little time for research, but it did keep Maslow in New York City at a time of extraordinary intellectual ferment. The city was home to a remarkable collection of American intellectuals and German émigré scholars. In what little spare time he had, Maslow became acquainted with such distinguished figures such as Alfred Adler, Ruth Benedict, Karen Horney, and Erich Fromm, all of whom emphasized the social basis of behavior and, to varying degrees, individual agency. Under their influence, Maslow became increasingly sensitive to the impact of culture on personality, arguing in a 1937 paper that “we must treat the individual first as a member of a particular cultural group, and only after treat him as a member of the general human species” (p. 418).

With the encouragement of Benedict, Maslow sought to apply his newfound cultural awareness through anthropological fieldwork. He obtained a grant from the Social Science Research Council and spent the summer of 1938 on the reserve of the Northern Blackfoot Indians near Calgary, in Alberta, Canada, in order to study dominance and emotional security among native people. The trip was an eye-opening experience for Maslow, and it led him to question further the cultural limitations of psychological techniques and concepts. In New York City Maslow had developed a questionnaire to test personal dominance, but to his dismay he soon discovered that it had limited value. “The test was ridiculously useless when used to measure secure people” he later remarked. “Many of the questions in this test were completely incomprehensible to the Blackfoot; others were merely funny” (cited in Hoffman, 1988, p. 123). Ironically, the fieldwork also prompted Maslow to question the very idea that had prompted him to undertake the trip in the first place: the centrality of culture. Having spent the summer interacting with the Blackfoot people, Maslow was struck not by their cultural distinctiveness but by their common humanity. The Blackfoot seemed to have the same basic character types and psychological issues as members of the larger culture; some of the values and modes of expression were different, but the people were the same. “I found almost the same range of personalities as I find in our society,” he reported. “I am not struggling with a notion of a ‘fundamental’ or ‘natural’ personality” (cited in Hoffman, 1988, p. 128).

Human Motivation . At Brooklyn College Maslow’s heavy teaching load left little time for research, but the relative importance and relationship of biology and culture on personality remained active in his mind. Increasingly convinced that personality was biological, Maslow was nevertheless dissatisfied with existing biologically based formulations, most particularly psychoanalysis, that reduced motivation to a single impulse. Drawing again from the stimulating intellectual environment of New York City, he began to reflect on the implications of a lecture by the celebrated German psychologist Max Wertheimer on the significance of behavior that was not directly related to physiological needs (e.g., playfulness and aesthetic enjoyment).

Maslow also became fascinated by the motivational structure of many of the distinguished scholars with whom he had interacted. They were, as a group, warm, friendly, intellectually creative, and personally dynamic. How did they become this way? “They were puzzling” he later remarked. “They didn't fit. It was as if they came from another planet … [What] I knew didn't explain them” (cited in Hoffman, 1988, p. 152). In reflecting on these “good human beings,” Maslow (1945) was undertaking something relatively unusual in psychology. Psychoanalytically inspired theory was based largely on the study of people experiencing personal difficulties. This approach had clearly yielded a wealth of insight, but Maslow argued that it had resulted in a distorted and unduly narrow conception of human motivation. A new theory was needed, one that would integrate existing formulations from psychoanalysis and behavioral psychology with insights derived from the study of the “psychologically healthy.”

The result of these theoretical deliberations was Maslow’s most celebrated work: his theory of motivation, known as the “hierarchy of needs.” First published in 1943, the theory maintained that human beings were motivated by five sets of hierarchically arranged goals: physiological needs, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. When satisfaction had been achieved at one stage, the motivational focus of the person would shift to the next goal. This new and “higher” need would then “dominate the conscious life” of the person and “serve as a center of organization of behavior” (Maslow, 1943, p. 395). In proposing this theory, Maslow stressed the limitations of each need. Once a need had been satisfied, it no longer served as a source of motivation. For example, once a hungry person had a reliable source of food “other (and ‘higher’) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism” (Maslow, 1943, p. 375).

In acknowledging the biological and environmental basis of behavior, the hierarchy drew on existing psychological theory. However, Maslow’s theory also posited the existence of an additional innate human need that was located at the summit of the hierarchy. Known as “self-actualization,” this need referred to a biologically based sense of inner destiny, a “desire for self fulfillment … to become everything that one is capable of becoming” (Maslow, 1943, p. 382). Although self-actualization was a relatively small component of Maslow’s original paper, it took up an increasingly large portion of his attention in his subsequent work, and he became closely identified with the term.

Humanistic Psychology . Maslow left Brooklyn College in 1951 and joined the faculty at the newly established Brandeis University. Hired as chair of the Psychology Department, Maslow played an important role in building the new department and attracting such distinguished faculty as Richard Held, Ulrich Neisser, Kurt Goldstein, and George Kelley. Amidst his numerous administrative duties, Maslow wrote Motivation and Personality (1954), a groundbreaking work that attracted considerable attention within psychology. At its center was an extended discussion of the hierarchy of needs and a consideration of how the science of psychology could contribute to a new, life-affirming set of human values. It was a hopeful message imbued with a distinctively American spirit of optimism. However, it went against the grain of an American psychology that was still wedded to behaviorism and animal experimentation.

Keenly aware of the unorthodox nature of his ideas, Maslow presented in this work both a critique of contemporary psychology and a commentary on human nature. He chastised mainstream psychology for elevating a devotion to scientific method over a commitment to real human experience, noting that “the science [of psychology] as a whole too often pursues limited or trivial goals with limited methods and techniques under the guidance of limited vocabulary and concepts” (Maslow, 1954, p. 354). The discipline was “means centered” insofar as it emphasized technique, when it should be more “problem centered”—concerned with the reality of human psychology (Maslow, 1970, p. 11). Inspired by psychology’s potential but convinced that the field was misdirected, Maslow devoted himself to the task of moving the discipline’s boundaries, thereby creating a “larger jurisdiction for psychology” (Maslow, 1968, p. xv). This was as much a metaphysical ambition as it was a bureaucratic project. Psychology’s larger jurisdiction was to be a zone where conventional distinctions no longer applied: science, religion, psychology, and pseudo-science would all merge into one persuasive and empowering idiom that could take humanity to a higher plane of experience.

Maslow’s critique resonated with a number of psychologists long frustrated with the limitations of mainstream psychology. Increasingly aware of a growing community of like-minded psychologists, in the late 1950s and early 1960s Maslow helped establish an institutional framework for an alternative psychology, known as “humanistic” or “third-force” psychology. In 1961 he helped found the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and in 1963 he helped establish the Association for Humanistic

Psychology, an organization that included prominent psychologists such as Charlotte Bühler, Rollo May, Henry Murray, and Carl Rogers. Building on the success of this humanistic project, Maslow published Toward a Psychology of Being (1962); he applied humanistic psychology to business in Eupsychian Management (1965) and to science in The Psychology of Science (1966).

After coming to Brandeis, Maslow largely abandoned empirical work in favor of theoretical innovation and analysis. Though he worked outside the laboratory, Maslow continued to view his work in scientific terms, and he was convinced that the hierarchy of needs was a statement of scientific fact and not an expression of social value. Promoting the theory as “science,” contributed to its influence, but the hierarchy of needs was not without a political and cultural context. The placement of material needs as a precondition for higher needs is less a universal human truth than a reflection of American middle-class sensibilities. American values are also evident in the pronounced individualism of his psychology. Echoing liberals such as Adam Smith, Maslow placed the autonomous individual at the center of his psychology, and he argued that unobstructed self-interest was the best way to ensure the public good. Although Maslow strenuously denied the charge, his approach appeared to condone an individualistic, self-seeking approach to life and a culture of narcissism. Feminist theorists have also suggested that the vision of selfhood as a hierarchy is itself a reflection of a Western male bias that privileges autonomy and independence at the expense of relatedness and reciprocity.

Maslow was not indifferent to such criticism, and he commented pointedly on the Western male values that are contained in the ostensibly neutral discourse of science. He was in fact a pioneering figure in his explicit acknowledgment of the gendered character of science and in his attempt to transcend the rigid dichotomy of masculinity-femininity. Despite his awareness of these issues, Maslow found it difficult to completely abandon the scientism of his youth. He continued to view science “as a God” and looked to biology as a basis for psychology and ethics (1979, p. 426). His stinging criticisms of the shortcomings of scientific psychology were accompanied by an unwavering biological essentialism in which “truth, goodness, beauty, [and] justice” would ultimately be explained through “biochemical, neurological, endocrinological substrates or body machinery” (1971, p. 22).

Psychological Guru . The social ferment of the 1960s propelled Maslow onto the national stage. Many Americans had become dissatisfied with the gray-flannel conventionality of the 1950s, and in humanistic psychology they discovered a refreshing alternative and an important ideological resource. Influential feminists such as Betty Friedan (1963) drew on Maslow’s concept of self-actualization to explain the alienation of American women. For counterculture activists such as Abby Hoffman, the language of self-actualization was a warrant to challenge convention and trust inner impulses (Hoffman, 1980). “Maslovian theory laid a solid foundation for launching the optimism of the sixties” Hoffman remarked. “Existential, altruistic and upbeat, his teachings became my personal code” (p. 26). Maslow himself was uneasy about the spiritual and political conclusions that others drew from his work, and in his private correspondence he characterized student activists as “perpetual adolescents” and complained bitterly about “dominant, castrating” women (1979, p. 603, p. 77).

Maslow held no such reservations about another group attracted to his ideas: American business. In 1962 Maslow spent part of the year as a paid consultant for Non Linear Systems, a California-based engineering firm. The firm’s president, Andrew Kay, had a reputation for innovative management techniques, and he was eager to apply Maslow’s humanistic ideas to his company. Although Maslow was a longtime academic, he found the experience of working in a business environment invigorating, and he spent hours discussing the relevance of humanistic psychology to the practical problems of American industry. In 1965 he published the results of his observations in a book titled Eupsychian Management. The book took its curious title from the term eupsychia—a word Maslow had invented to refer to a utopia of self-actualized people. In innovative management, Maslow saw the possibility of putting American society on a more psychologically healthy foundation. Although Maslow was overly ambitious in gauging the potential of his ideas to transform society, the hierarchy became a staple in discussions of organizational behavior; in business schools it continues to enjoy the status of a classic among classics. Maslovian thought remains an important touchstone for meaning-based jobs, human relations training, and worker participation in management.

Although Maslow promoted a psychology of hope and transcendence, he found little repose in his private life, and he often complained of feeling unappreciated by his family, colleagues, and students. Election to the presidency of the American Psychological Association in 1968 was a welcome surprise, but Maslow remained frequently stressed and dissatisfied. In 1970 he died of a heart attack at age sixty-two, survived by his wife Bertha Goodman and his two children, Ann and Ellen. His final major work, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, was published posthumously in 1971.

Maslow remains a figure of considerable renown in psychology. A recent study polled 1,725 members of the American Psychological Society, asking them to list the top psychologists of the twentieth century (Haggbloom, 2002). Maslow ranked tenth, ahead of such distinguished figures as Carl Jung, John Watson, and Lewis Terman. The “hierarchy of needs” has evolved into a psychological classic familiar to every psychology undergraduate, and although humanistic psychology remains a marginal presence in academic psychology, Maslow’s work has helped to diversify the field’s questions and categories. For all of his influence on academic psychology, Maslow’s most enduring legacy is cultural. Since his death his work has provided the foundation for countless popular psychologies, and his psychological language of “needs” and “self-actualization” has become part of the everyday idiom of American selfhood.


Maslow’s papers are on deposit at the Archives of the History of American Psychology, University of Akron. The collection contains correspondence, photographs, and unpublished journals and manuscripts.


Unpublished journal. Archives of the History of American Psychology, University of Akron, 1932.

“Personality and Patterns of Culture.” In Psychology of Personality, edited by R. Stagner. New York: McGraw Hill, 1937.

“Self-esteem (Dominance-feeling) and Sexuality among Women.” Journal of Social Psychology 16 (1942): 259–294.

“A Theory of Human Motivation.” Psychological Review 50 (1943): 370–396.

“Journal of Good Human Beings.” Unpublished manuscript, Maslow Papers, Archives of the History of American Psychology, University of Akron, 1945.

Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row, 1954. 2nd ed., New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

“Interview with Dorothy Lee.” Maslow Papers, Archives of the History of American Psychology, University of Akron, 1960.

The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1968 (original work published in 1962).

Eupsychian Management: A Journal. Homewood, IL: R. D. Irwin, 1965.

The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking Press, 1971.

The Journals of A. H. Maslow. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1979.


“Barnard Girls Taking Place of Scientist’s Apes.” New York Herald, 15 May 1936. Maslow Papers, Archives of the History of American Psychology, University of Akron.

Cullen, Dallas. “Maslow, Monkeys and Motivation Theory.” Organization 4 (1997): 355–373.

Daniels, Michael. “The Myth of Self-actualization.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 28, no. 1 (1988): 7–38.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton, 1963.

Haggbloom, Steven J. “The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century.” Review of General Psychology 6 (2002): 139–152.

Harlow, Harold. “Reflections on Abraham Maslow.” Unpublished manuscript. Maslow Papers, Archives of the History of American Psychology, University of Akron, 1972.

Herman, E. The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in an Age of Experts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Hoffman, Abbie. Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture. New York: Perigee Books, 1980.

Hoffman, Edward. The Right to Be Human: A Biography of Abraham Maslow. Los Angeles: Jeremy Tarcher, 1988.

Hollinger, David A. Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-twentieth-century American Intellectual History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Nicholson, Ian A. M. “‘Giving Up Maleness’: Abraham Maslow, Masculinity and the Boundaries of Psychology.” History of Psychology 4 (2001): 79–91.

Shaw, Robert, and Karn Colimore. “Humanistic Psychology as Ideology: An Analysis of Maslow’s Contradictions.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 28 (1988): 51–74.

Ian A. M. Nicholson

Maslow, Abraham

views updated May 11 2018

Maslow, Abraham 1908-1970


Abraham Harold Maslow, often referred to as the father of humanist psychology, was born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 1, 1908. He was the first of seven children born to Jewish immigrants from Russia. Maslow completed his BA, MA, and PhD, all in psychology, at the University of Wisconsin. After graduating, he held various academic positions, spending the bulk of his career at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Maslow served as the chair of the Brandeis Psychology Department from 1951 until 1969. An avid researcher, lecturer, and writer, he published extensively, authoring more than thirty-one articles and eight books. Maslow died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-two on June 8, 1970. His work remains among the most influential in humanist psychology and enjoys continued recognition and application in myriad disciplines, including education, marketing, management, psychology, sociology, and communications.

Maslow is best known for his hierarchy of human needs, first proposed in 1943 in A Theory of Human Motivation. In the original paper, Maslow concluded that humans have five sets of basic needs:

Physiological needs : These are the most basic of all human needs and include air, food, shelter, water, sex, and sleep.

Safety needs : This need category includes physical and psychological safety. Issues of personal safety and security of family, property, and employment are all included.

Love needs : Although Maslow originally labeled this as love, later interpretations expanded the notion and renamed it belongingness. Maslow stated that all individuals desire affection and a sense of belonging.

Esteem needs : Maslow argued that all individuals have a need for self-respect and the respect of others. This need category was divided into two subsidiary sets: (1) the need for strength, achievement, and adequacy; and (2) the desire for reputation and prestige, recognition, attention, and appreciation.

The need for self-actualization : Maslow described this as the need for individuals to do what they were meant to do, and argued that individuals could not be truly satisfied unless they became all that they were capable of becoming. He noted that a singer must sing and a poet must write if they are to be truly healthy and happy.

Maslow argued that these needs are arranged in a hierarchy of prepotency, and that individuals are motivated to fulfill lower-level needs before they are motivated to fulfill higher-level needs. For example, an individual experiencing thirst will be motivated to satisfy that need before other (higher) needs are considered. Once all physiological needs are met, the individual will be motivated by safety needs. According to Maslow, the four lowest levels are deficiency needs, and the top level is a growth need.

Most modern-day depictions of Maslows hierarchy place the five levels of needs in a triangle or pyramid formation, with the lowest level of needs (physiological) at the bottom and self-actualization at the top. In many texts, this is all we see of Maslows work, and his name has become almost synonymous with the motivation triangle.

Despite the widespread use and adaptation of Maslows hierarchy of needs, it is not without its critics. Much of the criticism lies in the lack of empirical support for the hierarchy. Other criticisms stem from the methods used in Maslows research, citing small sample sizes and pseudoscientific methods. Maslow himself argued that his theories were overused and understudied. In his personal journals, he wrote about limitations of reliability, validity, and small sample sizes and urged people to replicate his research to address these issues. Despite these criticisms, the hierarchy still holds a prominent place in motivation theory and can be found in many university textbooks. Many new theories of motivation have been introduced since Maslows work was completed. Although these theories claim better reliability and validity, and have more empirical support, Maslows conceptualization of a needs-based theory of motivation lies at the core of many of the new theories.

The hierarchy of needs is but a small sample of Maslows contribution. Although best known for his work on the hierarchy of needs, Maslow was much more concerned with moving members of society beyond the basic needs, through self-actualization, to a more enlightened existence that he called eupsychia. Maslows work also offered insights into leadership theory, psychotherapy, organizational change, dominance and sexuality, and the meaning of work. Influenced by such great thinkers as Sigmund Freud (18561939), Karl Marx (18181883), Kurt Goldstein (18781965), Alfred Adler (18701937), Erich Fromm (19001980), and Karen Horney (18851952), Abraham Maslows contribution to humanist psychology is undeniable. Indeed, many credit him with founding the third force of psychology, following on the heels of the behaviorism and psychoanalytic schools of thought.

SEE ALSO Motivation; Needs; Psychology; Reliability, Statistical; Self-Actualization; Validity, Statistical


Dye, Kelly, Albert J. Mills, and Terrance Weatherbee. 2005. Maslow: Man Interrupted: Reading Management Theory in Context. Management Decision 43 (10): 13751395.

Lowry, Richard, ed. 1979. The Journals of A. H. Maslow. 2 vols. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Maslow, Abraham H. 1943. A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review 50: 370396.

Maslow, Abraham H. 1970. Motivation and Personality. 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row.

Wilson, Colin. 1972. New Pathways in Psychology: Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution. New York: Taplinger.

Kelly Dye

Maslow, Abraham

views updated May 17 2018

Abraham Maslow

American psychologist.

A central figure in humanistic psychology and in the human potential movement , Abraham Maslow is known especially for his theory of motivation . He was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in 1934. Maslow then began medical studies, which he discontinued within a year, after which he was offered a postdoctoral research fellowship to work with Edward Thorndike at Columbia University. After moving to New York, Maslow met many prominent European psychologists

and social scientists who had fled Nazi Germany. Several of these emigrés became his mentors, including psychoanalysts Alfred Adler , Erich Fromm , and Karen Horney and Gestalt psychologists Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) and Kurt Koffka (1886-1941). In 1937 Maslow began teaching at the newly opened Brooklyn College. At the urging of anthropologist Ruth Benedict (1887-1948), whom Maslow had met at Columbia, he spent the summer of 1938 doing field work on a Blackfoot Indian reservation in Alberta, Canada, with financial support from the Social Science Research Council. In 1951 Maslow became the head of the psychology department at Brandeis University, where he remained until a year before his death in 1970.

During the 1940s, Maslow began to work out his theory of human motivation, which was eventually published in Motivation and Human Personality in 1954. Rejecting the determinism of both the psychoanalytic and behaviorist approaches, Maslow took an optimistic approach to human behavior that emphasized developing one's full potential. Instead of basing his psychological model on people with mental and emotional problems, he used as his point of reference a collection of exceptionally dynamic and successful historical and contemporary figures whom he considered "self-actualizers," including Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Abraham Lin-

coln (1809-1865), Jane Addams (1860-1935), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), and Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962). In addition to drawing up a list of the common traits of self-actualized individuals, Maslow placed self-actualization at the peak of his hierarchy of human motivations, the concept for which he is best known today.

This hierarchy is generally portrayed as a pyramid with five levels, ranging from the most basic needs at the bottom to the most complex and sophisticated at the top. From bottom to top, the levels are biological needs (food, water, shelter); safety; belongingness and love; the need to be esteemed by others; and self-actualization, the need to realize one's full potential. According to Maslow, the needs at each level must be met before one can move on to the next level. With so many other issues to concern them, the vast majority of people never grapple with self-actualization; Maslow considered fewer than one percent of the population to be self-actualized individuals. However, he believed that all human beings still possessed an innate (if unmet) need to reach this state.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Maslow became associated with the movement known as humanistic psychology, which he also referred to as the Third Force because it offered an alternative to the prevailing schools of psychoanalysis and behaviorism in both theory and therapeutic practice. Like Maslow, colleagues such as Carl Rogers and Rollo May rejected the idea that human behavior was determined by childhood events or conditioning and stressed instead the individual's power to grow and change in the present. They believed that the goal of psychotherapy was to remove the obstacles that prevented their clients from self-actualizing.

As humanistic psychology gave birth to the human potential movement of the 1960s, Maslow became one of its central figures, lecturing at the Esalen Institute at Big Sur, California, which offered workshops by psychologists, social scientists, philosophers, and other intellectual figures. During these years, he also popularized the concept of the peak experience, an unusual moment of extreme joy, serenity, beauty, or wonder that he believed was closely related to self-actualization. In 1967 and 1968, Maslow served as president of the American Psychological Association. In 1969, he moved to Menlo Park, California, where he died of a heart attack a year later. In his lifetime Maslow published over 100 articles in magazines and professional journals. His other books include Toward a Psychology of Being (1962), Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences (1964), Eupsychian Management (1965), The Psychology of Science (1966), and a posthumous collection of papers entitled The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971).

Further Reading

Hoffman, Edward. The Right to be Human: A Biography of Abraham Maslow. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1988.

Maslow, Abraham H.

views updated Jun 11 2018

Maslow, Abraham H. (1908–70) An American psychologist who developed a theory of self-actualization from his observations of well-functioning individuals. He is often seen as the leading proponent of the so-called Third Force in psychology—emphasizing humanism and existentialism over behaviourism and Freudianism. See also NEEDS, HIERARCHY OF.

Maslow, Abraham H.

views updated May 14 2018


MASLOW, ABRAHAM H. (1908–1970), U.S. psychologist. Maslow was professor and chairman of the psychology department at Brandeis University from 1951. He was president of the American Psychological Association. Maslow was best known as a personality theorist, interested in motivational structure. In his work, he conceptualized within a phenomenological frame of reference that emphasizes the inherent goodness of man. He postulated a hierarchical theory of human motivation, wherein needs arrange themselves in a hierarchy from basic biological needs to those of self-esteem and self-actualization. Maslow's books include: Principles of Abnormal Psychology (1951) with B. Mittelmann; Motivation and Personality (1954); New Knowledge in Human Values (1959); and Towarda Psychology of Being (1962).

[Manny Sternlicht]

Maslow, Abraham Harold

views updated May 18 2018

Maslow, Abraham Harold (1908–70). Psychologist and theorist of human personality. He proposed ‘a hierarchical prepotency of basic needs’, goals to which we address ourselves in roughly the same order, with one desire rapidly succeeding another when the first is satisfied: physiological, safety, love, esteem, self-actualization. The self-actualized person exhibits unusual degrees of detachment and self-dependence. S/he also achieves peak-experiences in greater number, which take the individual far beyond the ordinary levels of striving to achieve more proximate goals. He argued that religions derive from founders who have sustained extended peak-experiences.

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Abraham H Maslow

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