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Abraham Maslow Theory – Psychology


Abraham Harold Maslow was an American psychologist born in 1908 in Brooklyn, New York. He died in 1970 in Menlo Park, California (Poston, 2009). Maslow is still one of the most influential people in the field of psychology. He was a professor in four major institutions of higher learning in America. In addition, he was a faculty member at Columbia University, Brandies University, Brooklyn University, and the New School for Social Research where he taught psychology.

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The alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is famous for conceptualizing a theory of human motivation called the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Poston, 2009). Maslow developed the theory to explain the human desire to pursue happiness and satisfy curiosity.

According to Maslow, psychologists who came before him focused a lot on other areas of research and ignored the area of human behavior. Some of the psychologist who inspired him to study human behavior included Alfred Adler, Kurt Goldstein, and Henry Murray (Zalenski & Raspa, 2006).

Maslow argued that the biggest motivating factor that pushed him to propose the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory was a desire to understand human happiness. He left a rich legacy in the field of psychology that continues to inspire many people. Some of the most notable elements of his legacy are the theory of human motivation, and the Journal of Humanistic Psychology that he co-founded with Tony Sutich in 1961 (Poston, 2009).


Maslow had a tough childhood because he grew up in a multiethnic neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Despite shouldering the burden of guiding his six younger siblings, Maslow had a major personal issue that affected him significantly. Psychologist had established that he was mentally unstable (Poston, 2009). This situation was worsened by the fact that his family was not financially stable. Maslow’s parents were not keen on educating him, and he had to deal with the stigma of being a Semite in their neighborhood.

On the other hand, he had a strained relationship with his mother because of her selfishness and the inappropriate values she tried to instill in him and his siblings. This forced Maslow to spend much of his time away from home because of his overbearing mother as well as the tough life he lived at home. He tried various activities to keep himself busy but ended up spending much time in the local library (Zalenski & Raspa, 2006). Maslow’s visits to the library heightened his interest and passion for reading and advancing his knowledge.

He studied at Boys High School in Brooklyn and got good grades that got him admitted to college. He enrolled and dropped out of numerous colleges before finally settling for the University of Wisconsin. From there, he graduated as a trained psychologist. His research project at the university focused on studying human behaviors and sexuality (Poston, 2009).

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Maslow’s research projects focused on the themes of human behavior and sexuality. His family life and nature of upbringing influenced his research studies and psychological concepts significantly. Maslow was a family man and was married to his first cousin with whom they had two children.

After World War II, Maslow developed his own discipline about the science of mental life, which he named humanistic psychology (Zalenski & Raspa, 2006). His motivation was to understand the human mind, especially after disagreeing with other psychologists’ interpretations of the events of World War II.

Maslow wanted to know what motivated people to achieve self-actualization and other things that they needed to achieve various feats. This desire was the origin of Maslow’s motivation theory. In his initial research, Maslow engaged the expertise of Ruth Benedict and Max Wertheimer, who mentored him in his career (Poston, 2009). Maslow had an admiration for the professionalism of these two psychologists as well as their personalities, which created a desire in him to try to understand human behavior.

Maslow died of a heart attack aged 62 while jogging at the Menlo Park, California (Zalenski & Raspa, 2006). Maslow’s death was a big blow to the growth of psychology, although he left his colleagues with numerous gaps to explore following his extensive research while developing the theory.

Maslow’s theory of human motivation

Maslow proposed this theory in 1943 through one of his publications titled A Theory of Human Motivation. The article was published in a periodical called the Psychological Review, and it explained Maslow’s thoughts on human behavior and the unconditioned desire to satisfy curiosity (Poston, 2009). The theory focuses on exploring the concept of human motivation. In addition, it identifies and explains the various phases of human motivation depending on the needs of an individual.

Ironically, Maslow said that his research towards developing the theory examined the behavior of perfect individuals and avoided psychologically ill and irrational people. He did that in order to avoid developing a crippled psychology and way of thinking (Jerome, 2013).

The perfect individuals who were examined in his research included Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Jane Addams among others. Studies have shown that this theory is widely used in conducting research, developing psychology curriculums, as well as training managers and psychiatrists (Zalenski & Raspa, 2006).

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Hierarchy of needs

The five phases or levels of human needs that influence human motivation apply in a pyramid-shaped hierarchy. The most basic needs are at the bottom and the less basic needs are at the top of the hierarchy. Starting with the most basic ones, the five levels are psychological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization (Jerome, 2013). Psychological needs represent the necessities essential for physical functioning of the body and human survival. These are priority needs.

They include food, water, sex, sleep, aeration, and excretion among others. Safety needs represent necessities that play the important role of enhancing human survival whenever psychological needs are not fulfilled in their entirety. They represent conditions that people would prefer in comparison to being completely miserable. They include security of body, employment, resources, family, health, morality, and property among others (Jerome, 2013). These needs are common among people who are highly vulnerable, such as children and the aged.

Love needs represent necessities that make individuals express affection towards others and develop the need for identity. These needs play an important role in human development because their deficiency can influence an individual’s ability to develop meaningful relationships with others (Zalenski & Raspa, 2006). Examples of love needs include friendship, sexual intimacy, and friendship among others.

These needs can be met in social groups such as sport teams, religious groups, family, colleagues, and voluntary groups among others. The next level is represented by esteem needs. These refer to human necessities that make them feel comfortable about themselves and respected by others. Maslow argued that all human beings have a desire to feel valuable, needed, and accepted by others for who they are (Zalenski & Raspa, 2006).

People tend to engage in things that allow them to contribute towards a certain goal or purpose. Deficiency of esteem needs can have negative effects such as depression, lack of confidence, and loss of self worth (Jerome, 2013). Examples of needs in this level include self-esteem, confidence, achievement, and respect for others.

The final level of needs is self-actualization. This level represents the desire to achieve goals and become an important individual in life. These needs comprise the desire and willingness by individuals to do and become their best by exploiting their potential (Jerome, 2013).

Examples of human needs in this level include morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts. Others include perfection, uniqueness, beauty, wholeness, and goodness among others. According to Maslow, the first four levels represent needs whose deficiency can influence human survival and development in a negative manner. It is also important to note that the most basic needs must be met before moving to needs on higher levels (Poston, 2009).


The great works of Maslow inspired a number of contemporary psychologists such as Elliot Aronson, Wayne Dyer, Douglas McGregor, and Colin Wilson among others. Despite a challenging childhood, Maslow managed to weave through a series of challenges and disappointments to become one of the most influential people in the field of psychology.

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Several years Maslow’s death, his research findings continue to influence the way people perceive and comprehend human behavior. The legacy of Abraham Maslow will live forever through his theory called the hierarchy of needs.


Jerome, N. (2013). Application of the Maslow’s hierarchy of need theory; Impacts and implications on organizational culture, human resource and employee performance. International Journal of Business and Management Invention, 2(3), 39-45. 

Poston, B. (2009). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Association of Surgical Technologists, 13(8), 347- 353. Web.

Zalenski, R. J., & Raspa, R. (2006). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: a framework for achieving human potential in hospice. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 9(5), 1120-1127. Web.

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