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In the middle of the 20th century, Abraham Maslow changed psychology when he founded humanistic psychology. In this lesson, we’ll look at his major contributions to psychology: his hierarchy of needs and his role in the humanistic movement.

Humanistic Psychology

Abraham Maslow wasn’t satisfied with the way things had always been done. He was a psychologist, but he didn’t like the way other psychologists viewed people. In the first half of the 20th century, most psychologists believed one of two things about humans. Behaviorists believed that people’s behaviors were purely determined by rewards and punishments. They viewed people as simply the product of conditioning; that is, if they got rewarded for doing something, people would keep doing it over and over.

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On the other hand, psychoanalysts believed that people were slaves to their urges. They believed that subconscious desires drove our behaviors and feelings.Maslow didn’t like these views of humans. He believed that humans had great potential. He thought that there had to be more to humans than simply rewards, punishments, and subconscious urges.

To Maslow, people were full of positive potential.He developed humanistic psychology, which focuses on the potential of people to become all that they can be. Other psychologists helped develop different elements of humanistic psychology, but Maslow is largely considered to be the father of the humanist movement in psychology. Let’s look closer at his primary contributions to humanism, including his ‘hierarchy of needs’ and his work to make humanism a recognized psychological model.

Hierarchy of Needs

Perhaps Maslow’s greatest and most famous contribution to psychology is his hierarchy of needs, which says that some needs take priority over other needs.

The seeds of the hierarchy of needs were planted when Maslow was a young psychologist doing research on monkeys. He noticed that if a monkey was really hungry and really thirsty, it would work to quench its thirst before working to satisfy its hunger. This made sense to Maslow. Though monkeys (and humans, too) can go long periods without food, they will die very quickly from dehydration.So, Maslow developed a hierarchy, which is usually represented as a pyramid or a ladder. On the bottom are the needs that must be fulfilled first. As you move up the hierarchy, the needs become less and less about survival and more about becoming the best ‘you’ possible.

The levels of the hierarchy, listed from the lowest level and moving up, are:

  1. Physical needs, which are those that involve base biological or physiological needs. These are things like food, water, and shelter.
  2. Safety needs involve things like protection from the elements, security, law, and stability.
  3. Social needs fulfill the urge for love and belonging. This can come from romantic relationships or from friendships, family, or work groups.

  4. Esteem needs are related to your sense of self-worth. They include things like self-esteem, achievement, and prestige.
  5. Self-actualization needs, which are at the top of the hierarchy, focus on realizing your full potential. People who are working towards meeting these needs are looking for self-fulfillment and personal growth.

The Movement

Though his hierarchy of needs is the contribution that Maslow is most famous for, he did much more than that for the field of humanistic psychology.

He was a fundamental force in the early days of humanism and was key in getting the field recognized as a legitimate model of psychology. In the late 1950s, Maslow and one of his colleagues organized two meetings of psychologists who were interested in forming a new professional association dedicated to humanistic psychology. All of the psychologists who shared Maslow’s view that psychology should focus on the enormous potential of humans met in Detroit to set out guidelines for what humanistic psychology would be.A few years later, in 1961, a professional journal titled the Journal of Humanistic Psychology was first published. This was a major step in getting humanism recognized as a key player in psychological circles. Maslow was one of the founders of this journal. At the time, Maslow was chair of the psychology department at Brandeis University.

In 1962, he convinced the university to sponsor the professional association, which became known as the Association for Humanistic Psychology. By the mid-1960s, humanistic psychology was seen as an important model of psychology and a viable alternative to behaviorism and psychoanalytic theory. This was in large part due to the tireless efforts of Maslow.

Lesson Summary

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who is considered to be the father of humanistic psychology.

His greatest contribution to the humanist movement was his hierarchy of needs, which said that basic physical needs must be met first before people can realize their full potential. He was also a key figure in the movement to make sure that the humanistic model was recognized as an important psychological model.

Learning Outcomes

Once you’ve finished with this lesson, you should have the ability to:

  • Describe Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and explain its impact on the humanistic movement
  • Identify the levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
  • Explain Maslow’s efforts in ensuring that humanistic psychology was accepted as a psychological model

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