Maslow and self-actualisation


DID you learn something from Ivan Pavlov and his work on classical condition, as in my article last week?
It is interesting stuff, isn’t it?
Some of the aspects of that theory explains why our bodies react to certain things (like objects or songs) because we associate the “neutral stimulus” (the song) with the “unconditioned stimulus” (a person we love) and that gives the “conditioned response” (feeling sad).
A person’s fear of dogs after being bitten by one is another example where the bite of one dog from an experience some time ago now causes the person to be fearful of any and all dogs.
It must be mentioned that some of those observations of how our mind and body work were known by people through experiences long before they learned about Pavlov and his work.
In today’s article, I turn to an interesting concept proposed by an American psychologist Abraham Maslow.

What is psychology?
I have been using the word “psychology” in my last article and I just want to define it before we continue on with other stuff.
According to one site, psychology is said to be the scientific study of the mind and behaviour.
Psychology is a multifaceted discipline and includes many sub-fields of study such areas as human development, sports, health, clinical, social behaviour and cognitive processes.
Learning a little psychology can help you deal with people a bit better in that you get to know a little about how their mind works and how people behave the way they do.
I must also say that our traditional people also had their own way of studying people – the way they think and behave the way that they do. (Do you recall our old people describing people by comparing them to animals – as the man who is like the lone eagle in the sky, or the wild boar that forages for food in the forest? And, that depends on his character.)
Even though that traditional form of knowledge was not a separate field of study, the elders in the old society were aware of the ways of people in their locality.

Maslow and hierarchy of needs
Maslow (1908-1970) promoted humanistic psychology which is different to behaviourism – the type of psychology that Pavlov and others promoted, one that states that the environment shapes the behaviour of the person.
Behaviourism neglects the internal aspects of a person like his thoughts, emotions and beliefs.
Maslow is known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualisation.
As described in, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, usually presented in a triangle (as shown in the diagram), shows the ranking of needs that people need to satisfy while living.
It is built under the premise of the highest level in the hierarchy which is “what a one can be, one must be” – or what is termed as self-actualisation.
A person’s growth in life can start from the bottom level and if all is well, s/he moves up the triangle and eventually reaches the top level.
The five levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are listed below, from lowest to the highest:
1. Physiological Needs: The physiological needs includes the basic needs that man needs for the survival of his body which food, clothing, air, shelter, and the homeostatic processes such as excretion. The people who are willing to do whatever it takes to feed their families are good representatives of those who are in this level; they would risk their dreams of becoming a doctor, risk the safety of their survival, their freedom (such as in committing criminal acts), just so they could have food for dinner. Once the physiological needs are satisfied, a person could move on to the next level which is the need for safety.
2. Safety Needs: Once the need for the body’s maintenance has been secured, the need to feel safe takes precedence. Safety needs take various forms such as personal safety which is the need to feel free from physical harm such as war and domestic violence. Financial security, which no longer needs to be explained because you can access internet, is another example.
3. Love/Belonging: Once a person feels safe, he or she will need to feel loved and accepted by others. This takes form in two ways, sexual and non-sexual. This can be shown by people who perform at below optimal levels when they feel ostracized from friends or by people who were lovelorn. When a person has already received love and belonging, they feel much better and more motivated which is now the next level.
4. Self-Esteem: This is now the point where people seek self-respect and esteem rather than just love and belonging. It can be done by seeking fame and glory, which Maslow describes as the lower version. The higher version is the one which is more internally-oriented which is the need for strength, self-mastery, and self-respect.
5. Self-Actualisation: These four are the “deprivation needs” that needed to be satisfied in the five levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They are called as such because it is satisfied by the absence of its lacking and once a person no longer lacks these four, a person is now ready to satisfy the highest level, “growth need,” which is self-actualisation, or the need to become what one is capable of being, whatever it may be.

Application of Maslow’s theory
These are some of my thoughts on how Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be applied in working with a child who is learning.
Can you see how we can apply the hierarchy of needs concept to achieve effective learning – where a child’s needs are satisfied before he attains the level where he is the best that he can be?
You cannot have effective learning when the child is hungry or cold or sick. That is, his physiological needs must be satisfied.
You cannot have effective learning if a child does not feel safe in the learning area – or even walking along the road every morning to go to school to learn and then returning home.
And then, love and belonging can have a huge way of urging a learner do better in what he wants to learn.
Self-esteem is something that we talk a lot about these days. It is confidence in one’s own worth or abilities and does affect someone’s performance in school or work.
No-one will do a good job if one has a low self-esteem, the same goes for a learning child.
And if a child does not possess self-esteem, it is likely that he cannot reach self-actualisation, the top level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
You can apply the same concepts to how a parent takes care of his or her children, and also how a state or government takes care of its people.
If those in charge do not supply food, water and other physiological needs for people under their charge, their people will not be able to become as good as they are supposed to be.
You can apply the same to sports also. If you want your team to do well, you – as a manager – must plan to take care of those needs as listed by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Only then can they become as good as they should be.

Last thoughts on the theory
When I was writing my paper on Maslow’s theory in university, I argued that generally the hierarchy of needs is a suitable model to use to plan for a group or people, or learners.
However, I stated that some people can reach the top level in their lives without actually passing through the lower levels of the triangle, or having enough of what the lower levels have.
Think about a missionary living in a remote area of a nation. S/he does not need all the basic needs satisfied to be effective in mission work.
For some of these missionaries, willingly denying creature comforts and even living lives that are more-or-less lonely do not deter them from being effective in their duties.
It seems, the lower levels of the triangle for such people may actually be thinner or narrower because their aim is to be the best they can be without being concerned too much about the needs at the lower levels.
And even then, they try to be the best they can be not to just improve themselves (or discover their inner self) but are doing it for a superior being – like for God, the one who they are trying to please.
But again, as I have said in the article on Pavlov’s classical conditioning, we all can learn something from these theories in psychology.
We take bits and pieces from them and make them work in our duty, either as teachers, coaches or even social planners in our nation.

  • Next week: Do we punish or detain a child? Thomas Hukahu is a freelance writer.