Abraham Maslow pioneered and led the humanistic psychology movement. He was born in 1908 in Brooklyn, New York. The oldest of seven children from parents who immigrated to the United States from Russia, Maslow was quoted as describing his childhood as miserable and his family as unhappy and unloving. For Maslow, study and education provided a way to overcome poverty and loneliness. His desire was to study “everything,” earning a bachelor’s degree from City College in New York and his PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 1934 in experimental psychology. Learning was matched by a passion for his friend and cousin, Bertha Goodman. He was 20 and she was 19 years old when they married on December 31, 1928. The marriage provided Maslow with a feeling of belonging and a sense of direction.
Mentored first by Harry Harlow and later by Alfred Adler, anthropologist Ruth Benedict, and Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer, Maslow is credited with developing humanistic psychology, the “third force” in psychology, which provided an alternative to the prevailing psychoanalytic and behavioral models of his time. Rather than working with individuals in a clinical setting, Maslow wanted to study and focus on the best examples of humanity in order to gain insight into human nature.
Maslow laid the groundwork for what has now become his classic theory on self-actualization by making the assumption that each of us has an intrinsic nature that is good, or, at the very least, neutral. He conceptualized a hierarchy of needs that activate and direct human behavior. These needs, arranged in order from strongest to weakest, include physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem needs (from self and others), and ultimately self-actualization. The lower needs must be at least partially satisfied before higher needs become influential, and according to Maslow, only a minority of individuals actually progress to the highest, self-actualizing level.
Self-actualization depends on the maximum realization and fulfillment of our potentials, talents, and abilities. Self-actualization is not limited to particular occupations or interests. It is the process of maximizing personal abilities and reaching the fullest personality development. Environments that threaten the individual and do not allow for the satisfaction of basic needs are detrimental to growth, while those that are supportive and provide for the gratification of needs promote growth toward self-actualization.
Maslow taught at Brooklyn College for 14 years, and then at Brandeis University from 1951 to 1969. Maslow was President of the American Psychological Association in 1967. That same year, he accepted a fellowship at the Laughlin Foundation in Menlo Park, California, to devote all his time to writing. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack in 1970, at the age of 62, leaving behind his profound influence on psychology.
- H. Maslow Publications, http://www.maslow.com/
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