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Maslow re-visited

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Trawling through the literature on Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs, there appear to have been the following responses:

  • Some psychologists have simply put forwards their alternative hypotheses without thoroughly explaining what they consider wrong with Maslow's approach
  • Others from the psychological sciences denounce it as being unsupported by empirical evidence (notwithstanding that economists in recent years have provided significant evidence for something along Maslow's lines)
  • Outside the psychological sciences world people simply accept Maslow's approach at face value

Yet, whilst Maslow's approach is so widely used, particularly in the management sciences, there are some glaring inconsistencies in the framework.

The most obvious logical problems with it are:

  • It would be more consistent to treat all the needs as having both mental and physical components, rather than progressing from purely physical to mental
  • Levels 3 (social and belonging needs) and Level 4 (self-respect) as currently constructed can be better understood as the outcome of actions to meet our needs, rather than being core needs
  • The idea that being social 'kicks in' at Level 3 is nonsensical - our ancestors learnt to live in tribes to meet their basic survival needs and nowadays we are as reliant on interaction with other humans to get our daily needs as ever (shopping).
  • Maslow assumed that good health and sex were both Level 1 needs, where evidence is now readily available that they could not be

Maslow's approach has gained such traction because it feels broadly right. So, rather than trying to come up with something completely different, what about refining it. A revised version of Maslow's Hierarchy would potentially look like:

Level 1 - Stimulation (mind and senses) and basic Physiological Needs

Level 2 - Security (mental) and Safety (physical) Needs

Level 3 - Mental and Physical Health (such that the social interaction and formation of families and communities results from meeting that individualistic need)

Level 4 - Information and Autonomy Needs (we gain self-respect from having the right information and being able to act on it)

If Maslow's hypothesis is broadly correct, then we logically dedicate time each day meeting these needs. For example:

Level 1 - shopping and eating

Level 2 - going to work and generally earning an income

Level 3 - sleeping and looking after our health, including socialising with friends

Level 4 - reading the news, looking for new homes, jobs and so on, making informed decisions

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Maslow's hierarchy of needs has widespread influence outside academia, perhaps because it explains things "that most humans immediately recognize in themselves and others".[35] Still, academically, Maslow's idea is heavily contested. Although recent research appears to validate the existence of universal human needs, as well as shared ordering of the way in which people seek and satisfy needs, the exact hierarchy proposed by Maslow is called into question.[12][13] The most common criticism is the expectation that different individuals, with similar backgrounds and at similar junctures in their respective lives, when faced with the same situation, would end up taking the same decision. Instead of that, a common observation is that humans are driven by a unique set of motivations, and their behavior cannot be reliably predicted based on the Maslowian principles. Another criticism is that people will only go up this pyramid when most of the time people are going up and down this pyramid all the time.


Global ranking[edit]

In a 1976 review of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, little evidence was found for the specific ranking of needs that Maslow described or for the existence of a definite hierarchy at all.[37] This refutation was claimed to be supported by the majority of longitudinal data and cross-sectional studies at the time, with the limited support for Maslow's hierarchy criticized due to poor measurement criteria and selection of control groups.[37]

In 1984, the order in which the hierarchy is arranged was criticized as being ethnocentric by Geert Hofstede.[38] In turn, Hofstede's work was criticized by others.[39] Maslow's hierarchy of needs was argued as failing to illustrate and expand upon the difference between the social and intellectual needs of those raised in individualistic societies and those raised in collectivist societies. The needs and drives of those in individualistic societies tend to be more self-centered than those in collectivist societies, focusing on the improvement of the self, with self-actualization being the apex of self-improvement. In collectivist societies, the needs of acceptance and community will outweigh the needs for freedom and individuality.[40]

Criticisms towards the theory have also been expressed on the lack of consideration towards individualism and collectivism in the context of spirituality.[33]

Maslow's ideas are well received in the scientific community and you seem to be presenting it as some type of wide spread revelation of fact. His ideas were not supported by any empirical evidence and while touted by some his ideas are not generally accepted as factual and are at best just his opinions. 

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