Maslow’s hierarchy has a new pinnacle of human achievement

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been a landmark of psychology, used in education and even church ministries.  Now some psychologists are revising his model, making the pinnacle not “self-actualization” but, in the words of a Christianity Today column by Elrena Evans, “something more self-giving”:

Psychologists are considering a shift to famed psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Long a fixture in the training of educators and workforce managers, Maslow’s pyramid argues that humans’ basic needs (food, water, air, sleep) must be met before they can begin to seek other, “higher” fulfillments. It makes sense: bereft of basic needs, people can’t concentrate on bigger goals. I saw this pyramid again and again when in college, minoring in education, used to stress that a child who feels hungry, tired, and unsafe is really not going to care about learning algebra, and with good reason.

Now, though, a team of four researchers headed by Arizona State University social psychology professor Douglas T. Kenrick is challenging the top tier of Maslow’s pyramid. They write in a paper recently published in Perspectives on Psychological Science that Maslow’s ultimate goal, the pinnacle of human achievement, is not “self-actualization” or the accomplishment of such higher-order functions as creativity, problem-solving, and morality. It is — wait for it — parenting.

via Her.meneutics: Why Parenting May Be Your ‘Highest’ Calling.

The reasoning is evolutionary:  Life’s biological goal cannot be self-focused, but has to be the perpetuation of the species.  Still, I think the re-focus is more in line with Christianity.   To get our moral thinking away from righteousness being just private conformity to rules and instead being an orientation to other people–loving and serving one’s neighbor– would be a big advance, and I’m glad if Maslow can help towards that end.

Indeed, the old hierarchy included “morality” but classified that as “self-actualization” rather than as loving and serving the neighbor.  Even non-parents can find the “pinnacle” of life in selfless service, since it  animates not just parenthood but all vocations.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    Bingo!
    Why else would God reveal Himself as the Father?
    Out of all the paradigms He could have chosen — doctor, governor, even professor— He chose Father.
    The highest vocation in many ways.
    Are we teaching this to our sons?

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    Bingo!
    Why else would God reveal Himself as the Father?
    Out of all the paradigms He could have chosen — doctor, governor, even professor— He chose Father.
    The highest vocation in many ways.
    Are we teaching this to our sons?

  • Tom Hering

    So self-actualization is realized in other-actualization. Helping others to meet both their basic and higher needs. Including their self-actualization, which they too would realize in other-actualization. And round and round it would go; one could almost imagine a good society resulting. Except for that recalcitrant ass, the Old Adam. :-(

  • Tom Hering

    So self-actualization is realized in other-actualization. Helping others to meet both their basic and higher needs. Including their self-actualization, which they too would realize in other-actualization. And round and round it would go; one could almost imagine a good society resulting. Except for that recalcitrant ass, the Old Adam. :-(

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Nothing new under the sun. Leaders in the church were to be married and manage their children well. 1 Timothy 3:2-4.

    Obviously these men probably would be good at many managerial roles because they had already mastered themselves and gained the willing respect of others. Probably pretty self actualized and caring in order for those other situations to develop.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Nothing new under the sun. Leaders in the church were to be married and manage their children well. 1 Timothy 3:2-4.

    Obviously these men probably would be good at many managerial roles because they had already mastered themselves and gained the willing respect of others. Probably pretty self actualized and caring in order for those other situations to develop.

  • http://www.cumberlandisland.blogspot.com Adrian Keister

    I’d be curious to see if the new model is as vulnerable to Jay Adams’s critique as the old one. In his A Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image, Adams gave the old Maslow hierarchy the thrashing I believe it deserved.

  • http://www.cumberlandisland.blogspot.com Adrian Keister

    I’d be curious to see if the new model is as vulnerable to Jay Adams’s critique as the old one. In his A Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image, Adams gave the old Maslow hierarchy the thrashing I believe it deserved.

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