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A COGNITIVE-SYSTEMIC RECONSTRUCTION OF MASLOW'S THEORY OF SELF-ACTUALIZATION by Francis Heylighen 1 PESP, Free University of Brussels, Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium Maslow's need hierarchy and model of the self-actualizing per- sonality are reviewed and criticized. The definition of self-actualiza- tion is found to be confusing, and the gratification of all needs is con- cluded to be insufficient to explain self-actualization. Therefore the theory is reconstructed on the basis of a second-order, cognitive-sys- temic framework. A hierarchy of basic needs is derived from the ur- gency of perturbations which an autonomous system must compensate in order to maintain its identity. It comprises the needs for homeosta- sis, safety, protection, feedback and exploration. Self-actualization is redefined as the perceived competence to satisfy these basic needs in due time. This competence has three components: material, cognitive and subjective. Material and/or cognitive incompetence during child- hood create subjective incompetence, which in turn inhibits the further development of cognitive competence, and thus of self-actualization. KEY WORDS: humanistic psychology, self-actualization, competence, cognition, autonomous systems, human motivation, problem-solving. TYPE OF ARTICLE: nonquantitative theory DIMENSIONS AND UNITS: none ~ INTRODUCTION enced by behaviorism, which tends to re- duce human behavior to statistical correla- tions between different kinds of stimuli, responses and personality traits. Instead of merely modelling normal behavior or of curing clear dysfunctions, a humanistic psychologist tries to help people to develop in a better way, thus making them more competent, more aware, more happy, in the hope of reaching some state of “optimal” mental health [12]. O NE OF THE MAIN VALUES driving sys- tems research is to provide con- cepts and methods for stimulating learning, growth and development, as well in individual persons as in society, thus enhancing well-being and the overall quality of life. The same positive aim char- acterizes so-called humanistic psychology [9], which defines itself as a "third force", in contrast with clinical psychology, influ- enced by Freudian psycho-analysis, which studies mental illness, i.e. the negative side of human behavior, and traditional aca- demic, experimental psychology, influ- Probably the best known proponent of this approach is Abraham Maslow. What distinguishes his work from that of other "humanists", such as Carl Rogers or Erich Fromm [12], is that he proposes a model of how a happy, healthy, well-functioning 39 Behavioral Science, Volume 37, 1992
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40 HEYLIGHEN person behaves, which is based on concrete observations of real people, rather than on formulating ideal requirements. Moreover Maslow proposes a simple, and intuitively appealing theory of motivation [8], which explains where such a "self-actualizing" personality comes from. In parallel with systems theory, Maslow reacts against too
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