Evolutionary Psychologists Sex Up Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs
    By Hank Campbell | August 19th 2010 10:21 AM | 10 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Despite being one of psychology's most memorable concepts and a genuinely good idea, Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, immortalized in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" and later Motivation and Personality, needs a makeover, say some researchers.  

    Maslow's hierarchy says humans will fulfill basic needs before moving on to higher level ones.    If you're unemployed and losing your house because fuzzy 'jobs saved or created' statistics have no real value to you, for example, global warming will not be your biggest concern.   

    In Maslow's pyramid, food and water and sleep were at the base while philosophical ideas, like remaking Maslow's hierarchy of needs, would be at the top after literally nothing else is left to do.  The higher up the pyramid your needs are satisfied, the closer you get to self-actualization.   Physiological issues are most important, followed by security, then social, esteem and finally self-actualizing needs.  

    But Maslow's pyramid isn't supported by empirical research, says Steven Neuberg, an Arizona State University evolutionary psychologist and coauthor of a paper that seeks to remake Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - the pyramid - and incorporate much-maligned evolutionary psychology aspects. 

    Credit: University of Tasmania.

    "Within the psychological sciences, the pyramid was increasingly viewed as quaint and old fashioned, and badly in need of updating," says Neuberg.  "It was based on some great ideas, several of which are worth preserving, but it missed out on some very basic facts about human nature, facts which weren't well understood in Maslow's time, but were established by later research and theory at the interface of psychology, biology and anthropology."

    So is research important or not?   If Maslow's hierarchy was not supported by empirical research, how will hypotheses in evolutionary psychology be better?   We'll see.  The authors of the new pyramid believe status and mating are fundamental, which is in defiance of ... well, everything ... and they get rid of self-actualization entirely and replace it with being a good parent.

    They concede that self-actualization is interesting but, let's face it, if evolutionary psychology is going to get any respect, it has to be at the top.  Basically, they remake everything so it is evolutionary psychology.  Art, for example, previously an idea near the top of the pyramid, is not just art now but rather a way to get laid.   Evolutionary psychologists love their sex.  Translation of those new top three: sex.

    The new hierarchy of needs, presumably it would not be Maslow any more.  Credit: Doug Kenrick, Arizona State University

    I am not inferring here.  They come right out and claim that artists and poets are consciously thinking about increasing their reproductive success when they feel the inspiration to paint or write.  Like science, artists do it for the chicks.   

    They are helped in that they know just enough biology to be wrong but not enough to know they are wrong.   "You could argue that a peacock's display is as beautiful as anything any human artist has ever produced," says Douglas Kenrick, another ASU professor of psychology. "Yet it has a clear biological function – to attract a mate. We suspect that self actualization is also simply an expression of the more evolutionarily fundamental need to reproduce."

    So why isn't sex at the top then?   Humans are apparently baser than we thought and our fundamental driving process is to raise the children we gain by having sex to an age at which they can reproduce as well.  So parenting gets the top spot on the revamped pyramid.

    They call these changes architectural extensions but they are a dramatic overthrow - and not grounded in solid theory or data.  The commentaries that are included in the same issue don't clobber the whole thing, it's bad for other evolutionary psychologists to say that anyone in a fledgling, controversial field is out of their minds, but rather just argue that self-actualization is not just a quaint artifact of the 1940s but makes more sense than saying everyone on the planet is driven by the need to be parents.

    Douglas T. Kenrick, Vladas Griskevicius, Steven L. Neuberg, Mark Schaller, 'Renovating the Pyramid of Needs Contemporary Extensions Built Upon Ancient Foundations', Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 5 no. 3 292-314 doi:10.1177/1745691610369469 

    Christopher Peterson, Nansook Park, 'What Happened to Self-Actualization? Commentary on Kenrick et al.' (2010) Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 5 no. 3 320-322  doi: 10.1177/1745691610369471 


    Gerhard Adam
    Well, it does explain their need to overthrow Maslow's Hierarchy .... so now we know the motivation, we can equally blow off their conclusions.
    Mundus vult decipi
    You said 'blow'.  In evolutionary psychology that means you favor this hypothesis that shares
    all the salient traits of the best ideas of evolutionary psychology: it is brilliant, makes evolutionary sense, and is untestable.
    It's obvious that procreation is important in an evolution sense but I like how they use some logical backflipping to map it to their agenda.    This idea of theirs hardly seems like a vital addition to the psychology lexicon, more like Ted Turner colorizing movies because he thinks younger people won't watch black and white ones.
    Fred Phillips
    Different strokes for different folks. Speaking to her own needs, my daughter said, "Maslow forgot consumer electronics."
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually the pyramid they've posted is nonsense.  Especially to put parenting at the top of the list makes no sense in any context.  They clearly don't know what they're talking about.
    Mundus vult decipi
    This new labeling of the pyramid doesn't supplant the original, it only ads subdivisions to it. Reproductive strategy and success are components of self-actualization. The new authors seem to leave out the crucial issue of point-of-view. Self actualization is about an individuals point of view; it can not be quantified. Some people are fully actualized without achieving any reproductive success in the traditional Darwinian definition. Others use reproductive strategy as a tool and others define their success in terms of reproductive success. This 'new' labeling of the pyramid appears (IMO) to be an attempt at stirring interest and getting published rather than a serious, well considered remaking of the original theory.

    Gerhard Adam
    This new labeling of the pyramid doesn't supplant the original, it only ads subdivisions to it.
    Then it's even dumber than I first thought. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Steve Davis
    This is high school level criticism. Parenting is a major factor, but they don't realise that it's a major factor because it's connected to every level of Maslow's hierarchy.
    Of course, there are some other versions of Maslow's pyramid of needs:

    That's the funniest thing I will see today, unless Ray Kurzweil and PZ Myers go at each other again.
    It is plain that these new psychologists are just as confounded by the essential notion of self-actualization as most people are. Abraham Maslow's conception was animated by spectacular intelligence; hence impenetrably mysterious. Most critics of Maslow fail to grasp the deceptive simplicity of the Hierarchy of Needs because the scheme is actually deeply complexified by interiority. Maslow understood this. Maslow was a genius. Most people read Maslow as words on a page. But these writings are some of the most elusive ideas in print. For example, the levels of belongingness and self-esteem are some of the most impossibly difficult in Maslow's work. Most people never exit or even enter the self-esteem level en route to self-actualization. One critic once remarked that the problem with the theory is that only a few people attain Maslow's zenith. It is not Maslow's problem. It is the human condition as Maslow saw it.
    - Godfrey Silas