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Parenting Is Paramount

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By Linda Dobson

MaslowPyramidIt’s likely to be controversial, but Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs has been updated according to information that wasn’t readily available in Maslow’s time, according to a Science Daily articled titled “Maslow Updated: Reworking of the Famous Psychological Pyramid of Needs Puts Parenting at the Top.”

Maslow’s pyramid describes human motivations from the most basic to the most advanced. But Maslow’s time tested pyramid, first proposed in the 1940s, had begun to look a bit weathered and outdated.

So a team of psychologists, including two from Arizona State University, recast the pyramid. In doing so, they have taken on one of psychology’s iconic symbols and have generated some controversy along the way.

The revamp of Maslow’s pyramid reflects new findings and theory from fields like neuroscience, developmental psychology and evolutionary psychology, said Douglas Kenrick, an ASU professor of psychology and lead author of the paper, “Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations.” The paper was published in the March issue of Perspectives on Psychological Sciences.

Despite being one of psychology’s most memorable images, Maslow’s pyramid hasn’t always been supported by empirical research, said Steven Neuberg, an ASU Foundation professor and coauthor of the paper.

“Within the psychological sciences, the pyramid was increasingly viewed as quaint and old fashioned, and badly in need of updating,” Neuberg added.

The bottom four levels of the new pyramid are highly compatible with Maslow’s, but big changes are at the top. Perhaps the most controversial modification is that self-actualization no longer appears on the pyramid at all. At the top of the new pyramid are three evolutionarily critical motives that Maslow overlooked — mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting.

The researchers state in the article that while self-actualization is interesting and important, it isn’t an evolutionarily fundamental need. Instead, many of the activities that Maslow labeled as self-actualizing (artistic creativity, for example) reflect more biologically basic drives to gain status, which in turn serves the goal of attracting mates.

“Among human aspirations that are most biologically fundamental are those that ultimately facilitate reproduction of our genes in our children’s children,” Kenrick explained. “For that reason, parenting is paramount.”

The researchers are not saying that artists or poets are consciously thinking about increasing their reproductive success when they feel the inspiration to paint or write.

“Reproductive goals are ultimate causes,” Kenrick added, “like the desire of birds to migrate because it helps them survive and reproduce. But at a proximate (or immediate psychological) level, the bird migrates because its brain registers that the length of day is changing. In our minds, we humans create simply because it feels good to us; we’re not aware of its ultimate function.”

“You could argue that a peacock’s display is as beautiful as anything any human artist has ever produced,” Kenrick said. “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.”

But, Kenrick adds, for humans reproduction is not just about sex and producing children. It’s also about raising those children to the age at which they can reproduce as well. Consequently, parenting sits atop the revamped pyramid.

There are other distinctions as well. For Maslow, once a need was met, it disappeared as the individual moved on to the next level. In the reworked pyramid, needs overlap one another and coexist, instead of completely replacing each other. For example, certain environmental cues can make them come back. If you are walking down the street thinking about love, art or the meaning of life, you will revert quickly to the self-protection level if you see an ominous-looking gang of young men headed your way.

Arizona State University (2010, August 23). Maslow Updated: Reworking of the famous psychological pyramid of needs puts parenting at the top. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.comĀ­ /releases/2010/08/100819112118.htm

Isn’t it nice to get scientific recognition of everything you already knew in your heart and “gut” to be true? The next time anyone gives you grief for following those instincts when deciding what is right and good for your children instead of following the crowd (for its own sake), you now have a scientific report to back you up nicely.

If you have ever felt that your children are your life’s work, then you may in fact be recognizing a high-level psychological need. Caring for your children, feeding them, nurturing them, educating them and making sure they get off on the right foot in life — all of the things that make parenting successful — may actually be deep rooted psychological urges that we fulfill as part of being human.

Go forth, Parents at the Helm, and fulfill your deep rooted psychological urges! (Isn’t this what you’ve always known?)

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