An Evaluation of Needs: The Theory


Abraham Maslow is the father of self-actualizing research and creator of the popular model, Hierarchy of Needs.  Maslow believes individuals are motivated to perform based on a ranking division of needs.  Once basic needs are met, the individual seeks elite status within society and culture.  Greater satisfaction and happiness in life are then acquired through reaching higher levels of needs.  Those he considered actualized were highly inventive, innovative and creative individuals.

In a recent study performed at the University of Illinois, Maslow’s theory is roughly supported by current data “found that the fulfillment of more basic needs – for money, food or shelter, for example – was more closely linked to a positive life evaluation, the way an individual ranked his or her life on a scale from worst to best.  The satisfaction of higher needs – for social support, respect, autonomy or mastery – was “more strongly related to enjoying life – having more positive feelings and less negative feelings.”  While this may prove these needs are important factors in defining the level of satisfaction of an individual’s life, it does not, in any way, prove his theory as a true hierarchical path to actualization.

As one may conceive, Maslow’s theory has not come without strict criticism. Different from his fellow psychologists of the time, he focused on the positive aspects of human nature and how the brain kept itself sane. Maslow theorized there were five categories of needs that need to be met before an individual reaches actualization. While not all areas need to be met 100% to move along the path, the common thought is that each category is sufficiently met to allow an individual the freedom to concern oneself with needs closer to the top.

According to Maslow, the journey to actualization is never finished. Humans always leave room to improve and become better humans. As individuals adapt to their environment and situation, they learn new things, and see life with different eyes. New choices present themselves with greater affluence, curiosity feeds itself and the cycle to the top never stops. He suggests, then, if the journey does stop, danger lurks in the corners as it represents an unhealthy approach to life and an acceptance of status quo.


Maslow’s original theory was conveyed using a pyramid structure during it’s first introduction in the 1940’s. During that period of American History, people were recovering from the dire effects of The Great Depression and The Second World War. Labor was extremely important and the idea that one would have the time to create and think was very small, and probably reserved for the already existent rich elites.

Using Maslow’s theory as a basis, America in the 1940’s was a country full of individuals seeking to fulfill their lower levels of needs – those pertaining to physiological, safety and social categories. The economy during that period lent itself as a challenging era for individuals seeking actualization.  In addition, intellectual study was not easily accessible. Women, African-Americans and other minorities were struggling to find their voice. Seventy-years later, America has since prospered and more people have graduated from college than any other period in the country’s history. The America in 2016 is a much more educated, more affluent America than the America of 1940.  Today’s era may be defined as The Rise of the Actualized Individual.

What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. (Maslow, 1954, Motivation and Personality,  p. 93)


To be continued,…UP NEXT:  The Ideal Self

New to the series?  Start at the beginning by reading the Preface here.



Sources: Critique of Self-Actualization by A.H. Maslow, Brandeis University;,,, and



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