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A woman holds a pyramid figure towards the sun to welcome the spring equinox in the pre-hispanic city of Teotihuacan on the outskirts of Mexico City
Reuters/Edgard Garrido
Is motivation in the eye of the beholder?

“Maslow’s pyramid” is based on an elitist misreading of the psychologist’s work

Lila MacLellan
Member exclusive by Lila MacLellan

Depending on your life experiences, you may think one of two ways about Maslow’s pyramid of needs.

You might believe what I did before reporting this story: That the rainbow-colored pyramid, perhaps first seared into memory in grade school, organizes truths about what motivates people. First, we satisfy our “lower level” needs, like basic nourishment and safety, the base layers of the pyramid. Only then can we be concerned with “higher level” needs, like love and belonging, and esteem, the stepping stones to self-actualization, the reaching of one’s full potential and the pinnacle of the pyramid.

If you’re a psychologist or organizational behavior scientist, however, you may reject the pyramid of needs as unscientific and outdated. But you’ve probably come to accept how ubiquitous it is as a piece of pop psychology.

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