Archive: October 21st, 2008

Abraham Maslow: Motivation and Personality

[Readings] (10.21.08, 5:27 pm)

In a general sense, Maslow is important in psychology and cognitive science. Specifically, Maslow is important for understanding and modeling human behavior, and for juxtaposition against the Sims, whose representation of behavior comes straight from Maslow.

Elements of a Psychological Approach to Science

Early in his introduction, Maslow criticizes a disembodied and objective theory of science and psychology. He frames science as a pursuit of certain needs, specifically to understand. He emphasizes the role of values within science. It is especially important to understand the values and psychology behind the study of science, to understand the scientists themselves. Maslow’s subtle concern is that scientific values themselves might contaminate science itself. “It should reassure the uneasy pure scientist to know that the point of all this disquieting talk about values is to achieve more efficiently his goal, i.e., the improvement of our knowledge of nature, the decontamination of our knowledge of the known by study of the knower.” (p. 8)

What is interesting here is Maslow’s broad understanding and inclusiveness in science. Also significant is the defense of non-scientists. Ties into generalization and the destressing of method. We should focus instead on values. One of Maslow’s points is to encourage the aesthetic and humanistic values within science.

Problem Centering versus Means Centering in Science

The overview of this section is criticism of the means centered scientific approach. Means centering is the practice of focusing scientific inquiry around certain means, rather than centering on broader problems. Means centering tends to create an orthodoxy where new questions are not asked. I don’t think this is a criticism of the scientific method exactly, but rather its application and use, where only one technique is used for conducting experiements, for example: stimulus and response methods in psychology.

Holistic-Dynamic Theory in the Study of Personality

Maslow is interested in an approach to psychology different from the current approaches in use. The opening of this section is critical of the idea that there is soem discrete datum that may be isolated and studied in psychology. The idea of reducing individuals to collections of discrete elements that may be studied in isolation (eg, behaviorism) is a reductive-analytic approach. An alternative is to study the whole, which is a holistic approach. This comes in two flavors. Holistic-analytic is flawed because it still has an atomistic and static viewpoint. In this perspective, the subject being studied is essentially a passive target. Maslow’s emphasis is on a holistic-dynamic approach which treats the subject as having a more active role.

Preface to Motivation Theory

This section is made up of 16 principles foundational to motivation theory.

  1. The individual is a whole, indivisible.
  2. Hunger is a reasonable base of study for motivation.
  3. Desires are merely means to ends, rather than ends in of themselves.
  4. Desires can be satisfied according to a culture. Maslow’s argument here does not account for different cultures having different intrinsic needs, but rather that the means for satisfaction (of esteem for example) might vary. The claim is that the needs are universal.
  5. Desires may express multiple motivations. A desire for sex might merely represent a biological urge, but it might also represent a need for love or esteem.
  6. An individual’s state affects motivation, and is affected in turn.
  7. Motivations preclude others. Motivations are never ending.
  8. To list all drives is a fallacy. The idea of doing so implies that drives are equal and independent.
  9. Should focus on motivation and needs rather than behavior alone.
  10. Animal instinct is different from human drives, which require learned behavior.
  11. Environmental basis is at odds with motivation. Behavior theory needs situation theory in order to make sense.
  12. Occasionally, the organism is not whole, but disjointed when in a stressed state.
  13. Motivations relate to achievable goals.
  14. Role of impulses (Freud’s id) is unknown.
  15. Motivation should be studied in healthy people.

A Theory of Human Motivation

This chapter is about the famous heirarchy of needs. At the base are physiological needs, which are unusual because of their atomicity. Basic needs are atomic because the need for a certain salt concentration in the bloodstream is entirely separate from the need for a certain concentration of sugar. Classic examples of basic needs are breathing and hunger. The point of physiological needs is that they are prepotent, taking priority over others. It is notable that, as described, hunger as described is very different from appetite, but rather an urgent and terrible need for sustenance.

Above physiology is safety and then belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization. It is still important to understand these needs in terms of their potential absence. There is a strong differentiation between higher and lower needs, especially basic needs. When lower needs are unfulfilled, or frustrated, the higher needs lose value. It is suggested that while needs form a definite heirarchy, their tradeoffs are somewhat complex, and relate to health and accustomization. If higher needs are frustrated, then lower needs are taken for granted. Satisfaction of needs leads to overall health, and each level of satisfied needs is a level of mental health.

Maslow renders his model as a system of percentage scales of needs, where if one need is satisfied, another emerges, and all needs decay at certain rates.

If one need is satisfied, then another emerges. This statement might give the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100 percent before the next need emerges. In actual fact, most members of our society who are nomal are partially satisfied in all their basic needs and partially unsatisfied in all their basic needs at the same time. A more realistic description of the hierarchy would be in terms of decreasing percentages of satisfaction as we go up the hierarchy of prepotency. For instance, if I may assign arbitrary figures for the sake of illustration, it is as if the average citizen is satisfied perhaps 85 percent in his physiological needs, 70 percent in his safety needs, 50 percent in his love needs, 40 percent in his self-esteem needs, and 10 percent in his self-actualization needs. (p. 100-101)

This is not preciesly the same model, but the description given here has dramatic resemblance to needs in The Sims.

Higher and Lower Needs

An interesting point here is on the issue of ethics. Referencing Plato’s diverging horses, Maslow instead asserts that higher needs are themselves horses. Motivation theory does away with the sort of moral quandary that involves dissociated and diverging elements of identity.

The Expressive Component of Behavior

Motivation theory is at odds with expression. If every individual is fraught with needs that require satisfaction, expression is much less important. Maslow presents a possibility that expression might be a need, but if that were the case, then it would definitionally not be expression. He continues to explain a difference between expressive and coping behaviors. Coping is a motivated behavior, while expression is not. He explains a suite of differences between the two, but not really why expression occurs. The suggestion seems to be that expression is manifested in need gratification, in the absence of frustration. So if needs are not frustrated, then the approaches to gratify those needs may be expressive.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorMaslow, Abraham
TitleMotivation and Personality
ContextUseful as a comparison against The Sims
Tagsspecials, psychology
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon