As a young boy, Maslow believed physical strength to be the single most defining characteristic of a true male; hence, he exercised often and took up weight lifting in hopes of being transformed into a more muscular, tough-looking guy, however, he was unable to achieve this due to his humble-looking and chaste figure as well as his studiousness.
Born in 1908 and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Maslow was the oldest of seven children and was classed as "mentally unstable" by a Psychologist. His parents were first generation Jewish immigrants from Kiev, then part of Russia, who fled from Czarist persecution in the early 20th century. They had decided to live in New York City and in a multiethnic, working-class neighborhood. His parents were poor and not intellectually focused, but they valued education. It was a tough time for Maslow, as he experienced anti-Semitism from his teachers and from other children around the neighborhood. He had various encounters with anti-Semitic gangs who would chase and throw rocks at him. Maslow and other young people with his background were struggling to overcome such acts of racism and ethnic prejudice in the attempt to establish an idealistic world based on widespread education and economic justice. The tension outside his home was also felt within it, as he rarely got along with his mother, and eventually developed a strong revulsion towards her. He is quoted as saying, "What I had reacted to was not only her physical appearance, but also her values and world view, her stinginess, her total selfishness, her lack of love for anyone else in the world – even her own husband and children – her narcissism, her Negro prejudice, her exploitation of everyone, her assumption that anyone was wrong who disagreed with her, her lack of friends, her sloppiness and dirtiness...". He also grew up with few friends other than his cousin Will, and as a result "...[He] grew up in libraries and among books." It was here that he developed his love for reading and learning. He went to Boys High School, one of the top high schools in Brooklyn. Here, he served as the officer to many academic clubs, and became Editor of the Latin Magazine. He also edited Principia, the school's Physics paper, for a year. He developed other strengths as well:
Maslow attended the City College of New York after high school. In 1926 he began taking legal studies classes at night in addition to his undergraduate course load. He hated it and almost immediately dropped out. In 1927 he transferred to Cornell, but he left after just one semester due to poor grades and high costs. He later graduated from City College and went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin to study psychology. In 1928, he married his first cousin Bertha, who was still in high school at the time. The pair had met in Brooklyn years earlier. Maslow's psychology training at UW was decidedly experimental-behaviorist. At Wisconsin he pursued a line of research which included investigating primate dominance behavior and sexuality. Maslow's early experience with behaviorism would leave him with a strong positivist mindset. Upon the recommendation of Professor Hulsey Cason, Maslow wrote his master's thesis on "learning, retention, and reproduction of Verbal material". Maslow regarded the research as embarrassingly trivial, but he completed his thesis the summer of 1931 and was awarded his master's degree in psychology. He was so ashamed of the thesis that he removed it from the psychology library and tore out its catalog listing. However, Professor Carson admired the research enough to urge Maslow to submit it for publication. Maslow's thesis was published as two articles in 1934.
He continued his research at Columbia University on similar themes. There he found another mentor in Alfred Adler, one of Sigmund Freud's early colleagues. From 1937 to 1951, Maslow was on the faculty of Brooklyn College. His family life and his experiences influenced his psychological ideas. After World War II, Maslow began to question the way Psychologists had come to their conclusions, and although he did not completely disagree, he had his own ideas on how to understand the human mind. He called his new discipline humanistic psychology. Maslow was already a 33-year-old father and had two children when the United States entered World War II in 1941. He was thus ineligible for the military. However, the horrors of war inspired a vision of peace in him leading to his groundbreaking psychological studies of self-actualizing. The studies began under the supervision of two mentors, Anthropologist Ruth Benedict and Gestalt Psychologist Max Wertheimer, whom he admired both professionally and personally. They accomplished a lot in both realms. Being such "wonderful human beings" as well, they inspired Maslow to take notes about them and their behavior. This would be the basis of his lifelong research and thinking about mental health and human potential. He extended the subject, borrowing ideas from other Psychologists and adding new ones, such as the concepts of a hierarchy of needs, metaneeds, metamotivation, self-actualizing persons, and peak experiences. Maslow was a professor at Brandeis University from 1951 to 1969. He became a resident fellow of the Laughlin Institute in California. In 1967, Maslow had a serious heart attack and knew his time was limited. He considered himself to be a psychological pioneer. He gave Future Psychologists a push by bringing to light different paths to ponder. He built the framework that later allowed other Psychologists to conduct more comprehensive studies. Maslow believed that leadership should be non-intervening. Consistent with this approach, he rejected a nomination in 1963 to be the President of the Association for Humanistic Psychology because he felt that the organization should develop an intellectual movement without a leader.
During the 1960s Maslow founded with Stanislav Grof, Viktor Frankl, James Fadiman, Anthony Sutich, Miles Vich and Michael Murphy, the school of transpersonal psychology. Maslow had concluded that humanistic psychology was incapable of explaining all aspects of human experience. He identified various mystical, ecstatic, or spiritual states known as "peak experiences" as experiences beyond self-actualization. Maslow called these experiences "a fourth force in psychology", which he named transpersonal psychology. Transpersonal psychology was concerned with the "empirical, scientific study of, and responsible implementation of the finding relevant to, becoming, mystical, ecstatic, and spiritual states" (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2011).
In the spring of 1961, Maslow and Tony Sutich founded the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, with Miles Vich as Editor until 1971. The journal printed its first issue in early 1961 and continues to publish academic papers.
Maslow published in 1962 a collection of papers on this theme, which developed into his 1968 book Toward a Psychology of Being. In this book Maslow stresses the importance of transpersonal psychology to human beings, writing: "without the transpersonal, we get sick, violent, and nihilistic, or else hopeless and apathetic" (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2011). Human beings, he came to believe, need something bigger than themselves that they are connected to in a naturalistic sense, but not in a religious sense: Maslow himself was an atheist and found it difficult to accept religious experience as valid unless placed in a positivistic framework.
Maslow attended the Association for Humanistic Psychology's founding meeting in 1963 where he declined nomination as its President, arguing that the new organization should develop an intellectual movement without a leader which resulted in useful strategy during the field's early years.
He is also known for Maslow's hammer, popularly phrased as "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" from his book The Psychology of Science, published in 1966.
In 1967, Maslow was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association.
Maslow called his work positive psychology. His work has influenced since 1968 the development of Positive Psychotherapy, a transcultural, humanistic based psychodynamic psychotherapy method used in mental health and psychosomatic treatment founded by Nossrat Peseschkian . Since 1999 Maslows work enjoyed a revival of interest and influence among Leaders of the positive psychology movement such as Martin Seligman. This movement focuses only on a higher human nature. Positive psychology spends its research looking at the positive side of things and how they go right rather than the pessimistic side.
Awareness of transpersonal psychology became widespread within psychology, and the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology was founded in 1969, a year after Abraham Maslow became the President of the American Psychological Association. In the United States, transpersonal psychology encouraged recognition for non-western psychologies, philosophies, and religions, and promoted understanding of "higher states of consciousness", for instance through intense meditation. Transpersonal psychology has been applied in many areas, including transpersonal Business studies.
While jogging, Maslow suffered a severe heart attack and died on June 8, 1970, at the age of 62 in Menlo Park, California.
Maslow's concept of self-actualizing people was united with Piaget's developmental theory to the process of initiation in 1993.
Maslow's ideas have been criticized for their lack of scientific rigor. He was criticized as too soft scientifically by American Empiricists. In 2006, author and former philosophy professor Christina Hoff Sommers and practicing Psychiatrist Sally Satel asserted that, due to lack of empirical support, Maslow's ideas have fallen out of fashion and are "no longer taken seriously in the world of academic psychology." Positive psychology spends much of its research looking for how things go right rather than the more pessimistic view point, how things go wrong. Furthermore, the Hierarchy of Needs has been accused of having a cultural bias—mainly reflecting Western values and ideologies. From the perspective of many cultural Psychologists, this concept is considered relative to each culture and society and cannot be universally applied. However, according to the University of Illinois researchers Ed Diener and Louis Tay, who put Maslow's ideas to the test with data collected from 60,865 participants in 123 countries around the world over the period of five years (2005-2010), Maslow was essentially right in that there are universal human needs regardless of cultural differences, although the authors claim to have found certain departures from the order of their fulfillment Maslow described. In particular, while they found—clearly in accordance with Maslow—that people tend to achieve basic and safety needs before other needs, as well as that other 'higher needs' tend to be fulfilled in a certain order, the order in which they are fulfilled apparently does not strongly influence their subjective well-being (SWB). As put by the authors of the study, humans thus
Maslow defined self-actualization as achieving the fullest use of one's talents and interests—the need "to become everything that one is capable of becoming." As implied by its name, self-actualization is highly individualistic and reflects Maslow's premise that the self is "sovereign and inviolable" and entitled to "his or her own tastes, opinions, values, etc." Indeed, some have characterized self-actualization as "healthy narcissism."