Abraham Maslow

You are a little Jewish boy growing up in Brooklyn. Your parents are immigrants with little money or education. They value education, though, and you love reading and learning! Once you get to college, you struggle to figure out what you want to study and how to pay for it. Eventually, you settle on studying psychology for your graduate degree, with no idea of the impact you will have in the years to come!

Abraham Maslow Abraham Maslow

Create learning materials about Abraham Maslow with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents
    • What are some of Abraham Maslow's accomplishments?
    • What are Maslow’s contributions to psychology?
    • What is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory?
    • What does Maslow’s term “self-actualization” mean?
    • What do Maslow and Carl Rogers have in common?

    Abraham Maslow’s Accomplishments

    Abraham Maslow was born in Brooklyn in 1908. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants who had six more children after Abraham. Growing up in Brooklyn, he experienced prejudice, discrimination, and racism. He spent lots of time in libraries since he loved reading. He married Bertha soon after high school, and they had two kids.

    Several important things happened to Maslow during his college years. Alfred Adler mentored him, and Maslow's advisor for his doctorate was Harry Harlow. When Maslow was in college, behaviorism was the dominant field in psychology. Maslow felt like something important was missing in this perspective, though. He developed a positive view of psychology in reaction to behaviorism.

    Even though we usually categorize Maslow’s works under humanistic psychology, Maslow called it “positive psychology.” Later, Martin Seligman built on Maslow’s ideas to create an entire field of positive psychology!

    Positive psychology is the study of how to create, develop, and maintain human health and happiness.

    Maslow was a psychology professor and author. He helped get an academic journal started for humanistic psychology (1961) and another for transpersonal psychology (1969). In 1968, Maslow became the president of the American Psychological Association. He was also nominated for president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology earlier in 1963. Still, he turned down this honor so that others would have more voice in this new movement.

    Abraham Maslow photograph of Abraham Maslow StudySmarterMaslow, wikimedia.commons.org

    Abraham Maslow’s Contributions to Psychology

    After the horrible things that happened during World War II, Maslow felt even more strongly about focusing on the good side of humanity. He wanted to know how people can achieve mental health and reach their fullest potential for success and goodness. His ideas became known as humanistic psychology.

    Humanistic psychology focuses on what is happening right now rather than the past. It includes the ideas of personal responsibility for your actions, the inherent worth of all human beings, and how to achieve personal growth through greater self-understanding.

    There are two essential ideas in humanistic psychology: humans are fundamentally good and possess free will. Maslow believed in these ideas and wanted other psychologists to recognize and incorporate them. Most psychologists then focused on explaining and treating human struggles and problems. They pretty much wholly overlooked the positive side of human life.

    “It is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half.”

    - Maslow1

    A famous saying called "Maslow's hammer" goes like this: "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." 2 By this, he meant that if you only see the bad in people, you constantly try to fix them. You won't be able to see their strengths and positive side. So far, psychology had only developed tools for explaining what is wrong with humanity. Maslow also wanted to explain how to help things go right.

    Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

    Most people probably immediately think of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory when they hear his name. This hierarchy is a series of steps that people try to climb in life to achieve their full potential. At the bottom, it starts with meeting basic needs like food and water. As you move up, the needs become more complicated, like achieving financial security and forming intimate relationships. If a person climbs all the steps, at the very top is happiness, health, and satisfaction with life.

    Abraham Maslow infographic of the Hierarchy of Needs StudySmarterHierarchy of Needs, StudySmarter Original

    The top level of Maslow's hierarchy is split into two extra levels. The first is cognitive or intellectual: the person works on meeting the need to learn and explore new things. The second is aesthetic, which means a search for beauty, order, and harmony in yourself and the world. These two extra levels help the person climb up to their fullest potential.

    One huge strength of Maslow's theory is that it can be applied to fields other than psychology. Researchers use it for history, criminal behavior and justice, marketing, and economics. A study by Allen et al. (2019) even applied it to satisfaction ratings of a public transport system!

    Abraham Maslow’s Self-Actualization

    What happens when you get to the top of the hierarchy? According to Maslow, not everyone makes it to the top. If you do, you will experience what he called self-actualization.

    Self-actualization means living out your full potential for beauty, truth, and goodness in your talents and interests.

    Self-actualization looks different for every person. It depends on what kind of talents and interests you have. It also depends on your personality and what you like or value.

    Through his studies, Maslow identified several people he thought had achieved self-actualization: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Henry David Thoreau.

    Even though it will look somewhat different for each person, Maslow did come up with qualities he thought all self-actualized people would possess. He called these “being values” or “B-values,” because they are character traits that make up a human being. He believed that possessing these B-values would lead to mental health and happiness.

    Abraham Maslow a word art infographic of Maslow's B-values StudySmarterMaslow's B-Values, StudySmarter Original

    It is important to note that Maslow's ideas about self-actualization are more of a philosophy than a scientific explanation. It is hard to objectively define and study self-actualization since it depends on personal beliefs about human beings and life. It is still a useful concept in psychology, and other psychologists besides Maslow are interested in the idea.

    Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers

    Maslow was a massive contributor to humanistic psychology. Probably the most well-known psychologist in humanistic psychology is Carl Rogers, who was alive at the same time as Maslow. Both Maslow and Rogers believed that human beings are fundamentally good and want to become the best version of themselves.

    Maslow was a professor and writer, but Rogers was a therapist. He developed a method of helping people overcome struggles and achieve their desires called client-centered therapy. It is about treating other people with warmth, kindness, and understanding. Rogers believed that creating a warm, accepting environment is the best way to help people achieve their full potential.

    Abraham Maslow - Key takeaways

    • Martin Seligman built on Maslow’s ideas to create the field of positive psychology: the study of how to create, develop, and maintain human health and happiness.
    • Humanistic psychology focuses on personal responsibility for your own actions, the inherent worth of all human beings, and how to achieve personal growth through greater self-understanding.
    • There is a famous saying called “Maslow’s hammer” that goes like this: "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”2
    • One huge strength of Maslow’s theory is that it can be applied to fields other than psychology, like history, criminal behavior and justice, marketing, and economics.
    • Self-actualization means living out your full potential for beauty, truth, and goodness in your talents and interests.

    References

    1. Maslow, A. H. (1968) Toward a psychology of being. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
    2. Abraham H. Maslow (1966). The Psychology of Science. p. 15.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham Maslow

    What is Abraham Maslow best known for?  

    Abraham Maslow is best known for his hierarchy of needs theory.

    What is Abraham Maslow's theory?  

    Abraham Maslow's theory is the hierarchy of needs.

    What are the 5 levels of Maslow hierarchy of needs?  

    THe 5 levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs are physiological needs, safety needs, belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization.

    What are some examples of Maslow's five levels of human needs?  

    Some examples of Maslow's five levels of human needs are food, water, and clothing; security and stability; family, friends, and spouses; recognition and competency; and confidence and happiness.

    Why is Maslow's theory important?  

    Maslow's theory is important because it can be applied to many other areas of study besides psychology.

    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Abraham Maslow Teachers

    • 7 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App