Abraham Maslow, His Theory & Contribution to Psychology

Who is Abraham Maslow and What are His Contributions to Psychology Abraham Maslow was one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century.

Among his many contributions to psychology were his advancements to the field of humanistic psychology and his development of the hierarchy of needs.

Maslow’s career in psychology greatly predated the modern positive psychology movement, yet the field as we know it would likely look very different were it not for him.

This article will discuss some of Maslow’s formative experiences, his contributions to psychology, and his work’s relationship to the positive psychology movement.

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Abraham Maslow’s Life

Abraham Maslow was born in New York in 1908. He was the son of poor Russian-Jewish parents, who, like many others at the time, immigrated from Eastern Europe to flee persecution and secure a better future for their family (Hoffman, 2008).

Throughout various interviews, Maslow described himself as neurotic, shy, lonely, and self-reflective throughout his teens and twenties. This was, in part, because of the racism and ethnic prejudice he experienced owing to his Jewish appearance. He himself, however, was non-religious.

Maslow also did not enjoy being in the family home, so he spent much of his time at the library, where he developed his academic gifts (DeCarvalho, 1991). Consequently, Maslow later attributed his interest in self-actualization and the optimization of the human experience to his timid nature and the isolation it caused (Frick, 2000).

Education and Career

After attending public school in a working-class neighborhood in New York, Maslow attended the University of Wisconsin to study psychology. Initially, he was interested in philosophy, but he soon grew frustrated with its inapplicability to real-world situations and switched his focus to psychology (Frick, 2000).

Maslow was originally engaged in the field of behaviorism, which argues that human behavior can be explained and altered using forms of conditioning. In line with the laboratory-based methods at the time, Maslow conducted research with dogs and apes, and some of his earliest works looked at the emotion of disgust in dogs and the learning processes of primates (DeCarvalho, 1991).

While Maslow ultimately pivoted from behaviorism, he was observed to have remained staunchly loyal to the principles of positivism throughout all stages of his education and career, which are at the foundation of this branch of psychology (Hoffman, 2008).

According to this philosophy, only that which is scientifically verifiable or can be shown using logical or mathematical proof is considered valid.

As such, Maslow was a firm believer in the power of empirical data and measurability for forwarding human knowledge. He was known to have resisted the interest in mysticism that dominated in the 1960s, preferring instead to study businesses and entrepreneurship (Hoffman, 2008).

Maslow eventually studied gestalt psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York. He later joined the faculty of Brooklyn College and rose to become head of the psychology department at Brandeis University in Waltham, where he remained until 1969 (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2021).

During his career, Maslow co-founded the Journal of Humanistic Psychology in 1961, and the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology in 1969 (Richards, 2017). Today, both journals are highly cited, well-respected outlets in their fields, serving as a tribute to Maslow’s legacy in the field of psychology.

The Impact of World War II

With the onset of World War II, Maslow’s intellectual focus is reported to have changed, and this was when his work began to shift the landscape of the psychology field. At the time, Maslow was thirty-three years old and the father of two children.

In his writings, he lamented that the U.S. forces did not understand the German opposition and felt that the field of psychology could help facilitate understanding and restore peace to the world (Hoffman, 1999).

Therefore, given the horrors of the war, Maslow conducted his research with a renewed sense of urgency. This led to his famous works on the concept of self-actualization and the introduction of his seminal hierarchy of needs in the mid-1940s (Hoffman, 2008).

Maslow’s Contributions to Humanistic Psychology

Soon after Maslow began his career, he grew frustrated with the two dominant forces of psychology at the time, Freudian psychoanalysis and behavioral psychology (Koznjak, 2017).

Maslow believed that psychoanalysis focused too much on “the sick half of psychology” (Koznjak, 2017, p. 261). Likewise, he believed that behaviorism did not focus enough on how humans differ from the animals studied in behaviorism. He thus contributed to the third force of psychology that arose in response to this frustration: humanistic psychology.

Humanistic psychology gained influence in the mid-20th century for its focus on individuals’ innate drive to self-actualize, express oneself, and achieve their full potential.

Such foci represented a significant shift from the pathologizing and behaviorist approaches of the past, and Abraham Maslow’s work is widely considered having been at the center of this movement.

At the core of the humanistic psychology movement was the idea from gestalt psychology that human beings are more than just the sum of their parts and that spiritual aspiration is a fundamental part of one’s psyche.

Maslow himself was known to have been a big believer in this view; he was widely known for his optimism throughout his research. Further, his works were some of the first to deviate from psychology’s dominant focus on pathology and instead explore what it takes for humans to reach their full potential.

A key reason why Maslow’s work triggered a movement is owed to the way he positioned the role of human unconsciousness. Like Freud, a proponent of the dominant psychoanalytic approach at the time, Maslow acknowledged the presence of the human unconscious (Maslow, 1970).

However, whereas Freud argued that much of who we are as people is inaccessible to us, Maslow argued people are acutely aware of their own motivations and drives in an ongoing pursuit of self-understanding and self-acceptance. These ideas were ultimately reflected in his seminal works on self-actualization and his hierarchy of human needs (Maslow, 1970).

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The Hierarchy of Needs Maslow
In 1943, Maslow published the epoch-making article of his career, A Theory of Human Motivation, which appeared in the journal, Motivation and Personality (DeCarvalho, 1991). In the paper, Maslow argued that “the fundamental desires of human beings are similar despite the multitude of conscious desires” (Zalenski & Raspa, 2006, p. 1121).

According to the theory, humans possess higher- and lower-order needs, which are arranged in a hierarchy.

These needs are:

  • Physiological needs;
  • Safety;
  • Belongingness and love;
  • Esteem; and
  • Self-actualization (Maslow, 1943).

In his article, Maslow (1943) describes these needs as being arranged in a hierarchy of prepotency.

In other words, the first level of needs are the most important and will monopolize consciousness until they are addressed. Once one level of needs is taken care of, the mind moves on to the next level, and so on, until self-actualization is reached.

Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy

Let’s inspect each of the levels in Maslow’s hierarchy.

At the bottom of the hierarchy are physiological needs, which are considered universal. Among the physiological needs are air, water, food, sleep, health, clothes, and shelter. These needs’ positioned at the bottom of the pyramid signifies they are fundamental to human wellbeing and will always take priority over other needs.

Next in the hierarchy are safety needs. If a person does not feel safe in their environment, they are unlikely to guide attention toward trying to meet higher-order needs. In particular, safety needs include personal and emotional security (e.g., safety from abuse), financial security, and wellbeing.

Third in the hierarchy is the need for love and belonging through family connections, friendship, and intimacy.

Humans are wired for connection, meaning that we seek acceptance and support from others, either one-on-one or in groups, such as clubs, professional organizations, or online communities. In the absence of these connections, we fall susceptible to states of ill-being, such as clinical depression (Teo, 2013).

The fourth level of the hierarchy is esteem needs. According to Maslow, there are two subtypes of esteem. The first is esteem reflected in others’ perceptions of us. That is, esteem in the form of prestige, status, recognition, attention, appreciation, or admiration (Maslow, 1943).

The second form of esteem is rooted in a desire for confidence, strength, independence, and the ability to achieve. Further, Maslow notes that when our esteem needs are thwarted, feelings of inferiority, weakness, or helplessness are likely to arise (Maslow, 1943).

Self-Actualization, Peak Experiences and Self-Transcendence Needs

At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization. According to Maslow, humans will only seek the satisfaction of this need following the satisfaction of all the lower-order needs (Maslow, 1943).

While scholars have refined the definition of self-actualization over the years, Maslow related it to the feeling of discontent and restlessness when one is not putting their strengths to full use:

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”

Maslow (1943, p. 382)

Examples of self-actualization needs include the acquisition of a romantic partner, parenting, the utilization and development of one’s talents and abilities, and goal pursuit (Deckers, 2018).

Toward the end of his career, Maslow revisited his original conceptualization of the pyramid and argued a sixth need above self-actualization. He called this need self-transcendence, defined as a person’s desire to “further a cause beyond the self and to experience a communion beyond the boundaries of the self through peak experience” (Koltko-Rivera, 2006, p. 303).

Examples of behaviors that reflect the pursuit of self-transcendence include devoting oneself to discovering a ‘truth,’ supporting a cause, such as social justice or environmentalism, or seeking unity with what is perceived to be transcendent or divine (e.g., strengthening one’s relationship with God).

According to Maslow, those pursuing self-actualization and self-transcendence are more likely to have peak experiences, which are profound moments of love, rapture, understanding, or joy (Maslow, 1961).

Examples of peak experiences can include mystical experiences, interactions with nature, and sexual experiences wherein a person’s sense of self transcends beyond the personal self (Koltko-Rivera, 2006).

Criticisms and Modern Applications of Maslow’s Hierarchy

While modern research has confirmed the presence of universal human needs (Tay & Diener, 2011), most psychologists would agree that there is insufficient evidence to suggest such needs exist within a hierarchy.

This is one of just several criticisms of Maslow’s hierarchy and work. Other issues raised by scholars are:

  • The failure to account for cultural differences stemming from one’s upbringing within an individualist versus a collective society, as these differences may influence how a person prioritizes their needs (Wahba & Bridwell, 1976);
  • The positioning of sex within the hierarchy which Maslow argued falls under physiological needs (Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg, & Schaller, 2010); and
  • The possibility that the ordering of needs may change depending on region, geopolitics, and so forth. For instance, the positioning of safety and physiological needs in the hierarchy may change during times of war (Tang & West, 1997).

Despite these criticisms, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still widely taught and a staple of any introductory psychology course. Further, the hierarchy has been adapted for use across a range of fields, including urban planning, development, management, and policing (de Guzman & Kim, 2017; Scheller, 2016; Zalenski & Raspa, 2006).

Among these modern applications of the theory are works adapting the theory to apply to communities rather than to individuals (de Guzman & Kim, 2017; Scheller, 2016), suggesting that Maslow’s hierarchy has influenced modern psychology in ways he likely did not intend.

Abraham Maslow and Positive Psychology

So what does Abraham Maslow have to do with positive psychology?

According to humanistic psychologist Nelson Goud, “the recent Positive Psychology movement focuses on themes addressed by Maslow over 50 years ago.” Goud also believed “that Maslow would encourage the scholarly approach [positive psychology] uses for studying topics such as happiness, flow, courage, hope and optimism, responsibility, and civility” (Goud, 2008, p. 450).

More than anything, both Maslow and proponents of positive psychology are driven by the idea that traditional psychology has abandoned studying the entire human experience in favor of focusing on mental illness (Rathunde, 2001).

Indeed, Maslow held a conviction that none of the available psychological theories and approaches to studying the human mind did justice to the healthy human being’s functioning, modes of living, or goals (Buhler, 1971).

To proponents of positive psychology, this reasoning should sound familiar. In fact, Maslow even used the term “positive psychology” to refer to his brand of humanistic psychology, though modern positive psychologists like Martin Seligman claim that humanistic psychology lacks adequate empirical validation (Rennie, 2008).

At the end of the day, both proponents of positive psychology and Maslow believe(d) that humanity is more than the sum of its parts and especially more than its illnesses or deficiencies. To a positive psychologist, optimizing the life and wellbeing of a healthy person is just as important as normalizing the life of a person who is sick, and Abraham Maslow helped legitimize this idea within the field of psychology.

A Take-Home Message

If we are to sum up Maslow’s impact on the field of psychology, we might credit him for encouraging a generation of psychologists to think more holistically about their approach to studying the human condition.

For the psychologists of the time, pathologizing and theories from behaviorist research with animals were some of the only tools available to understand people’s complex inner worlds. Yet, these tools were inadequate as they failed to account for the uniqueness of each individual.

Shaped by his experiences as a child and during WWII, Maslow introduced a whole new set of tools to the psychologist’s toolkit, enabling scientists and practitioners to affect people’s lives positively beyond mental illness and treating symptoms.

It is clear that Maslow was driven by a desire to help people live the best lives they could, acknowledging their unique humanity along the way. May his work and dedication to pursuing human happiness serve as an inspiration to us all.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.


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  • DeCarvalho, R. J. (1991). Abraham H. Maslow (1908-1970): An intellectual biography. Thought: Fordham University Quarterly, 66(1), 32-50.
  • Deckers, L. (2018). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental (5th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
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What our readers think

  1. Ehtisham Manzoor

    Your Work is excellent and everything is in detail for better understanding about Maslow’s Contributions to Humanistic Psychology. I am a PhD Education Research Scholar in University of the Punjab and got many thought provoking ideas about how to change behavior of children’s Psychology in School environment. Hats off to you for doing such a marvelous Article.

  2. Joshua Toromel

    Please when was the article published?
    Because of the citation purpose.

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Joshua,

      This article was published the 29th of September, 2017.

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      • Randy

        I’m looking for like-minded people to talk to, and bounce some ideas off of. If you’re interested in conversation outside the limits of human perception. How does a Man who needed no induction of information to be informed of these issues, get on the panel? I’m in my own category of psychology. And i need some help on how to move forward. Please and thank you

  3. Elena

    Hello, what year was this article written in? (for citation purposes)

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Elena,

      This article was written in 2017 🙂

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  4. Conrad Hall

    “Despite these criticisms, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still widely taught and a staple of any introductory psychology course.”

    This is interesting given Maslow’s recanting of the hierarchy in his 3rd edition of “Motivation and Personality” (1987).

    There are countless examples of people in jail who achieve a particular purpose (often high school diplomas or college degrees) while having a primarily negative sense of belonging, no freedom, limited sources of fun, and often questioning their likelihood of survival. The diary of Anne Frank is another example of self-actualization by someone unable to fulfill almost all other needs.

    If you’re going to quote a person’s work, please do everyone the courtesy of quoting his most recent work rather than his first draft.

  5. Donn Kenneth Harris

    The Hierarchy is Maslow’s best-known concept and rightfully so. It is well-reasoned, intuitive, explains much about human behavior and can bring both atheist and clergyman to a transcendent space. It also has the accessibility of a pop psychology idea – it holds the simple and the complex easily.
    I did not come across any mention in the comments of a much more challenging idea Maslow gave us: The Law of the Instrument, where the individual owning only a hammer tends to view every problem as a nail. The metaphoric possibilities of this brilliant psychological insight are endless, and as a way to understand humanity, especially leaders, it holds true wherever it is applied. Leadership is critical in the Millennial Era; many of us are leaders, workers, specialists and generalists in various roles we occupy in different facets of our lives, and to experience leadership stuttering and sparking from the unprepared and the emotionally ungrounded is to watch the hammer being used over and over in situations where a screwdriver, a wedge, a clamp, a wrench or a simple piece of tape are called for. The frazzled leader misreads human motivation, sees fear and reactivity as the primary forces operating within people, and uses the hammer to keep them in line. Being “put back in one’s place” like a nail flush against a wooden board is a message the fearful and hierarchical understand. Those with other motivations may eventually expose the hammer-wielder as a limited and crude operator miscast in a leadership role, but even with that, the individual may be promoted, shifted horizontally, selected for a circumstance where he is a “better fit.” Maslow’s subtle and circular idea could be a core principle in personal transformation and institutional values implementation: that we develop a range of tools, strategies, and techniques, and observe situations through a lens of inquiry and discovery. When we are needed we can then apply a tool that fits the circumstance. But this is rarely even partially realized. Culture develops not from observation and choice, but by preconceived template and judgmental evaluation against that template. All of this is much harder to grasp than the Hierarchy, and could have a great impact on our world if woven into the fabric of social behavior. Maslow’s supporters should spend more time on The Instrument; the Hierarchy is immediately accessible and can stand easily on its own.

  6. Robert M. Rosenbaum

    Thanks for reminding me about the addition of transcendence to the top of his pyramid. I still feel that Love needs to be elevated, especially if considered it all its forms: Love of one’s country and culture, Interpersonal relations (partners & family), Love of God, transference in therapy, etc.

    To be fair, his negative influences also need to be addressed. By putting self-actualization at the top he became (perhaps unwittingly) a founder of the ME Generation. As this generation “matured” there has been an unfortunate shift away from good works & compassion which is only now being corrected.

    It’s interesting to note the parallels between Maslow and Victor Frankl. Both got stuck in a self-oriented place but eventually discovered a higher value. The elevation of Love & Spirituality still faces resistance. Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Ultimate Meaning has not received anything like the attention given to The Search For Meaning. Perhaps the critique of Psychoanalysis has limited his acceptance in some psychotherapy circles. It must be hard to accept the argument that many patients have been discouraged from exploring their spiritual feelings! Most of my earlier therapists were Jewish atheists like myself but I finally found a devout Lutheran who is helping me move forward.

  7. Pricilla

    if it is ok that I can site this website?

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Pricilla,

      Yes, absolutely — feel free to cite us in your writing 🙂

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  8. Em

    Just pondering something, after reading your article…
    Maslow is cited as having wanted to shift the focus of Psychology away from psychopathology, to looking at optimal health and functioning for everyone. All well and good. However, his dismissal of mentally unwell people as “cripples” who do not interest him because they would yield only “cripple psychology and cripple philosophy” ought to strike readers as deeply disturbing. As should his narrow research focus upon an elite 1% of society.
    Research is something that, to be valid and of use to society, needs to be replicable and representative. How is a focus upon only a tiny percentage of society at large to be considered a representative sample? Maslow, by his own admission, focussed upon the 1% of totally fit and healthy college students in society – meaning that the remained of the populace were… What? Beneath his consideration? Not worth studying? There is no way whatsoever that Maslow’s research (if that is what we can call it) covers a representative sample. In this respect, it is hard to see how it can truly be considered even valid.
    Yet more disturbing is the fact that Maslow’s work in the field of human self-actualization was written around 1943. Think about it! Maslow is writing at a period in time when, because of a certain world war, EUGENICIST ideologies are often at the forefront of both academic, and everyday, thought and discourse. Before anyone starts condemning me, or ranting at me, please allow me to remind you all that the German NAZI party under Adolf Hitler were NOT the only people ever to have considered eugenics, or to have theorized in this area. Indeed, the field of Eugenics goes back way before the advent of Nazism, having been discussed as far back as 400BC by scholars such as Plato, who writes about “selective breeding”. Thus, the concept predates the actual term Eugenics; but by the 19th Century AD, the term was being used, and its advocates regarded it as a way of “improving humanity”.
    Eugenics is not what one might politely term a pleasant concept. It is closely associated with scientific racism, and white supremacy. Indeed, proponents of Eugenics have also been known to cannibalize and to appropriate other, less spurious theories, using them to their own ends – hence the links made between Darwinian Evolutionary Theory, and Eugenics. The contemporary history of Eugenics began in the UK and US in the early 20th Century, spreading to places like Canada, Australia, and much of Europe, too. Eugenicists advocated “improving humanity” by classifying people into those who were “fit” to reproduce, and those who were not – the latter usually being labelled “socially undesirable”. The latter; who might be forcibly sterilized, imprisoned, sent to workhouses and asylums, or, worse, to death camps (Concentration camps); tended to comprise of people who were physically disabled, mentally disabled or ill, non-heterosexual, or of non-white or otherwise spurious racial heritage (e.g. black, Hispanic, Romany). They were also often poor, lower-class, immigrants, unemployed, lower-educated, prostitutes, alcoholics, victims of crime such as rape or domestic violence, and similar. Socially undesirable, see?
    Maslow’s language has a distinctly eugenicist tone to it. Describing mentally unwell people as “cripples” unworthy of his interest. And the fact that he suggests that, were he to study them, it would lead only to “cripple psychology” – well?! Are we to understand that Maslow believed that only supremely healthy specimens of humanity ever self-actualized and made a success of their lives? Then how might he (were he alive today) explain the intellectual ability, physical prowess, and overall success of such diverse individuals as Steven Hawking, Carrie Fisher, Abraham Lincoln, Robin Williams, Stephen Fry, Winston Churchill, Alison Lapper, Ludwig Van Beethoven, and many more? All of whom have the following in common – that they were/are physically disabled and/or mentally unwell. Have they not self-actualized in ways that some so-called fully “healthy” people have never been able to? I mean, if I had been capable of achieving but a fraction of what Hawking, or Beethoven, or Lapper has, in a lifetime, I would consider myself a genius!
    Whilst positive Psychology may be all well and good, in a populist sort of a way – and it is linked to many of these people who make a quick killing out of selling self-help manuals, NLP online courses, and similar questionable activities – ought we not to be asking how a theorist (Maslow) who wrote about only a tiny, elite fraction of society has come to be so (over?)hyped?
    There is nothing wrong with wanting to optimize the life and well-being of healthy people, as well as normalizing the experiences of the unwell, but this does not appear to have been Maslow’s argument. His sole focus was upon a minute elite, who did not even represent the vast majority of humanity (99%), who comprised both healthy, and otherwise. What of their experiences? Positive Psychology is not the same as what Maslow conjectures, and this does really need to be understood. If the argument is that positive Psychology focuses upon the WHOLE of humankind, and not just upon those who are unwell, then we really must understand that this is VERY DIFFERENT to what Maslow was doing.
    Though it may be true that humans do have some universal needs, which might just be similar to those hypothesized by Maslow, his theory otherwise lacks any relevance in terms of explaining so-called self-actualization. In failing to study diverse types of people, including those who were ill in some way or other, as well as those experiencing deprivation and disadvantaged, Maslow can give us little understanding of true self-actualization, for his work has no way whatsoever of accounting for the ways in which physically disabled people self-actualize, or the ways in which learning disabled people might do so, or the ways mentally ill people self-actualize. Furthermore, it is questionable as to whether it can explain the ways by which people who face multiple, intersecting adversities and disadvantages might self-actualize. If you only focus on 1% of totally healthy college-educated people, then you are likely focussing on an elite of sorts. An elite who experience privilege. What about the under-privileged? How does the young woman whose father is an alcoholic spending time in prison, and whose mother is a Latina prostitute, and who lives in a cramped house in a ghetto with seven siblings, one of whom has Downs Syndrome, self-actualize? When she comes from a family with no money? Who cannot afford healthcare? Who have little time or energy for education? Who an only get a place at an overcrowded, underfunded school? Who get shouted at and abused on the street? Called “scroungers” or “illegal immigrants”? A family where the mother is rarely home, and the father not at all? Where children have to take on adult tasks, such as housework, childcare, and maybe even employment?
    Show me the theory that explains all this. That explains why it is that some people who come from disadvantage can outperform and outclass people who come from privilege. That explains why some people can fight and fight and fight disadvantage while still trying to remain positive, whilst some people who have everything handed to them on a plate cannot cope even with the slightest upset. Explain to me why some people have to face a lifetime of setbacks, hardship, disadvantages, and still try their best – even when sometimes they are abused and insulted for trying. When they are knocked back down, and told to get back in their place. When they are reminded of their problems or difficult upbringing and family background by others who do not want to see them succeed.
    Give me a definition of Positive Psychology, and then explain to me how it can account for all of the above. There is too much in Psychology – in academia generally – of people speaking from places of privilege about situations they have never experienced themselves. Or, people writing only about a privileged few, and then generalizing in the assumption that this explains things for everyone. NOT so! People are all different, and people’s experiences are all different. In looking down upon people who were mentally ill and/or disabled, Maslow shows his ignorance and his prejudice. It is worrying that others cannot see this.
    And, if anyone is interested to know, I am not some crazy conspiracy theorist. I am someone with a genuine interest, but who has raised genuine concerns regarding potential flaws in Maslow’s work. Someone who is concerned about the over-popularization of this theories. I am also someone who was raised in a lower-class family, in a poor town, with two parents neither of whom had a University education, with a mentally ill mother… but who went on to gain postgraduate qualifications in both Psychology and Social Research. So, believe me, I have studied Maslow! And his background. So, I would argue my concerns are valid. While Maslow never officially came out as a eugenicist, many of his close circle were, and it ought to be asked whether he was sympathetic to those views. For example, Maslow associated with (and wrote about) the Roosevelts (especially Eleanor) – Theodore Roosevelt was an overt supporter of eugenic interventions (especially anti-black), Eleanor, whose marriage to him was fractious, disagreed a lot and argued against her husband. It is clear Maslow admires Eleanor, but it is also hard to discern whether he shared her, or her husband’s, views respecting eugenics.

    I would love to know more what people think about this issue, and whether there is any way of effectively finding out more about it. I ask this because I am in the process of writing about the topic, and find it hard to make up my mind as to whether Maslow’s beliefs (especially related to hierarchy of needs/self-actualization, and to disinterest in psychopathology) are
    a) merely a desire to change the focus of Psychology
    b) eugenicist
    c) non-eugenicist (in the sense that Maslow admires Eleanor Rooseveldt)?
    For those who wish to interrogate what I have written here, information about Maslow, eugenics, the Rooseveldts and similar can be found online – just do a Google search. There are numerous articles, and the more you read, the more (like me) you will likely end up confused! Anyone able to help out?

    • Kathryn Dorton

      Hi! I think you are over-reacting to Mazlow’s orientation and views. If you re-read the article, it specifically says that human wellness is as equally important as human illness/ mental illness. It doesn’t say that pathology is not important. The reason that this concept is so emphasized is that Maslow was one of the first to deviate from the traditional approaches that solely focused on mental illness. He was one of the first to deviate from an approach to persons as only incomplete parts, such as the id , ego and superego, hence the gestaltist view that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. Finally, regarding Racism, Maslow was first generation Jewish, and his formative years were during the Second World War. He suffered inferiority and isolation because of this. He was the opposite of what you have suggested.

      • Kathryn Dorton

        I meant to say… The whole is equal to more than the sum of its parts…

    • RJR

      Do not be worrying about a good solid opinion you have.
      It’s very important and it is displayed well and perfectly fine. Nothing irrelevant here.
      It’s visible anywhere in social settings if you observe closely.
      Wishing you all the Best.

    • Mfon

      I just want to say i think this is quite thought provoking and i see your point and they seem pretty valid to me, and it is something that can be looked into further. If you have carried out the research Iwould be intrerested in reading what you have found and written.

    • Donn Kenneth Harris

      Em: You have given us an engaging and dramatic rant that seems to expect Maslow to conform to your version of an influencer – studying all of life, building a theory that encompasses everything, proving his legitimacy by interacting with and studying all social classes and environments. Maslow is a specialist; perhaps he told us something about excellence and transcendence that he would never have reached had he spread himself thin across the multiple domains you insist are the only way to define stature in a field. There are countless others studying pathology, sociopathy, disorders, deviations from the norm or from the healthy or from the expected – we don’t lose anything by Maslow steering himself to dive deeply into his big ideas.
      And to imply that The Hierarchy is a narrow western construct is to really miss the power and utility of the structure of his idea. Changing any specific need for another, or recategorizing needs based on cultural differences, conventions of an era, level of danger present ……… of course that is necessary across cultures and eras, the point being, we have an internal architecture that builds strength in a systematic manner. Whatever the specific qualities end up being in a given iteration of the Hierarchy, Maslow sketched out a frame that rings with truth and authenticity, akin to Jung’s archetypes.
      As for his involvement or belief in eugenics and other reprehensible thought experiments of this sort, I was not aware of the connection, and will certainly follow your lead and find out more. I admit to praising Maslow for the simple elegance of the Hierarchy and even more for the profound ramifications of The Law of the Instrument. I would not like to let a man’s opinion on topics in the public arena be cause for severing a professional relationship, but certain subjects carry enough evil history that I would reconsider any past or future involvement – eugenics among them.

  9. Caysee Dirks

    I need a Cite and 10 facts about Maslow.

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Cause,

      Just below the heading that says ‘A Take Home Message’, you’ll find a button to expand the reference list, which will show all the sources.

      Hope this helps.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  10. Tina

    Did Abraham Maslow conduct actual experiments with quantifiable results, or was his research solely based on observation? My daughter is in a high school AP psychology course and is being asked to talk about his experiments, but she can’t actually find any. Thanks in advance!

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Tina,

      Interesting question! Check out this paper for a review of his work (and the work of subsequent scholars) attempting to verify Maslow’s theory.

      – Nicole | Community Manager


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