Thursday, September 09, 2010

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Confirmation Bias?

Something to explore later when I have more time, but is Megan McArdle saying that Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs was developed to fit his view of the world rather than his observations of it? From a passage she quotes on her blog [emphasis mine] (the Atlantic):

Maslow admired many people I admire, Abraham Lincoln for example. But he and I can't admire Lincoln through some objective lens as psychologists or scientists. We can only say we admire Lincoln with the same level of objectivity that someone else might admire Jefferson Davis. Maslow wanted to give an objective validation that, for example, the Viet Nam war protestor was objectively superior to the Viet Nam general, the environmentalist was objectively superior to the captain of industry etc. Many cultural elites ate it up, just as Soviet elites ate it up when their psychiatrists said that anyone who didn't love the government was mentally ill and needed electroshock treatment post-haste.

Psychologists and social scientists generally still venture repeatedly today into the territory of human values and attempt to claim the ability to make objective judgments about which are the most healthy or scientifically validated. They don't ever seem to learn that they are often just trying to rationalize cultural fashions: In the 1940s the "mentally healthy" person was one who respected tradition, but he morphed into the to-be-pitied "organization man" in the 1950s. Psychologists valorized divorce as the "mentally healthy choice" for those who were not "growing" in the 1970s, whereas today they tend to say that it's better to stick it out and stop complaining so much.
Over the years, I've heard that the Hierarchy of Needs wasn't evidence based nor had there been much corroborating research but this is the first time I've heard how it was developed. Definitely something to explore further.

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