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Abraham H. Maslow (1908-1970)

Abraham Maslow is best known for his work on a theory of motivation and for his enormous impact on humanistic psychology, also known as the third force in psychology. Born April 1, 1908, in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Maslow was the oldest of seven children. He attended City College of New York and Cornell University before transferring, in 1928, to the University of Wisconsin. During this time he married Bertha Goodman, with whom he would have two daughters. At the University of Wisconsin Maslow studied primate behavior, working with Harry Harlow, the experimental psychologist who became famous for his work with attachment behavior and baby rhesus monkeys. Maslow received his A.B. in 1930, his M.A. in 1931, and his Ph.D. in 1934. He worked as a Carnegie Fellow at Columbia University before accepting a position at Brooklyn College, where he taught and researched from 1937 to 1951. In 1951 he accepted a position at Brandeis University, where he remained until 1969. He served as president of the American Psychological Association from 1967 to 1968. After leaving Brandeis, Maslow worked as Resident Fellow at the W. Price Laughlin Charitable Foundation in California until his death of a massive heart attack on June 8, 1970.

Maslow is best known for his work in the area of motivation. Overall, he wanted to emphasize what was positive about humans, rather than focusing on the negative or deficient. Maslow used a holistic approach, which emphasizes the individual as a complete being rather than a collection of separate, and possibly disparate, components. He developed a theory of motivation that placed human needs into a hierarchy. This hierarchy of needs theory posits that every person must fulfill the most basic needs first, with other needs being addressed after lower needs are satisfied. Physiological needs such as oxygen and food are at the base of the hierarchy, followed by safety, Abraham H. Maslow used a holistic approach in developing his theory of motivation. (UPI/Corbis Bettmann) belongingness, and esteem. Only when these needs have been satisfied can humans fully realize their potential. In realizing their potential and achieving everything they are capable of, an individual becomes a self-actualized person.

Among Maslow's better known works are Motivation and Personality and Toward a Psychology of Being. Maslow also published over a hundred articles and book chapters on a variety of topics.


Hoffman, E. The Right to Be Human: A Biography of Abraham Maslow. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1988.

Publications by Maslow

"A Theory of Human Motivation." Psychological Review 50(1943):370-396.

Toward a Psychology of Being, 2nd edition. New York: Van Nostrand/Reinhold, 1968.

Motivation and Personality, 3rd edition, edited by Robert Frager, James Fadiman, and Ruth Cox. New York: Harper and Row, 1987.

Jennifer S. Feenstra

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 5