Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode Maslow's Human Needs

Brandeis Psychology professor Margie Lachman works in the same office where Abraham Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs. She describes his lasting influence on psychology.

About Margie Lachman

Margie Lachman is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Lifespan Developmental Psychology Lab at Brandeis University. Her current work identifies psychosocial and behavioral factors that can protect against, or compensate for, declines in cognition and health.

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It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. You'd never know it from just walking around, but in a simple, mid-century building on the campus of Brandeis University near Boston, there's an office where some of the most revolutionary ideas in psychology were first developed.

An office - it's just a room.


RAZ: No plaque outside...

LACHMAN: Yeah, we really should have a plaque outside that office, shouldn't we?

RAZ: Margie Lachman...

LACHMAN: Professor of psychology at Brandeis University.

RAZ: Gave a tour of the office.

LACHMAN: These are the same halls that he would've walked down.

RAZ: That once belonged to to...

LACHMAN: when he was here.

RAZ: Abraham Maslow.

LACHMAN: Hi. Were you here when Abraham Maslow was here?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I knew Abe Maslow quite well.

LACHMAN: OK, so he knew Abe Maslow. So there are a few people around...

RAZ: Maslow worked here until a year before his death in 1970.

LACHMAN: So I do know that the desk was located here.

RAZ: But it was about 20 years before that...

LACHMAN: And he looked out this window.

RAZ: In the 1950s, when his ideas really began to change the field of psychology.

LACHMAN: Before that, psychology focused on what's wrong with the person. They've looked that people who were neurotic, people who had psychological disorders. Psychology was really the study of problems and mental illness.

RAZ: In other words, before Maslow, psychologists were more interested in why people were the way they were rather than how they could change, even improve.


ABRAHAM MASLOW: I don't think there's anything pollyanna about saying, yes, improvement is possible. You have to work hard at it. Here's the way to do it.

RAZ: And so instead of looking at what was wrong with his patients...

LACHMAN: Maslow was really one of the first to think about what's right with the person.


MASLOW: There is a possibility of improvement. Now, it has to be probabilistic.

RAZ: This audio of Maslow was recorded during a retreat in the mid-1960s, where he lectured on self-improvement. Now, decades earlier, people looking for this kind of help might have been called patients who were sick. But to Maslow...

LACHMAN: They were called clients. There was much more of a face-to-face relationship between the therapist and the client that was a natural human relationship of trying to work together to understand problems or issues that might occur. That was really revolutionary at the time, believe it or not.

RAZ: And Maslow didn't just come up with this idea that perfectly functioning people could nonetheless strive to be better.


MASLOW: Persons can be improved.

RAZ: As you might remember from psych 101...


MASLOW: It's not guaranteed.

RAZ: He actually designed a framework to help understand how.


MASLOW: There's some people who are more difficult than others.

RAZ: That framework is known as Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It's an idea that, to this day, shapes modern psychology. And on the show today, we'll explore Maslow's five human needs in order of importance - the things he said humans need to survive and then to thrive.

LACHMAN: And so this notion of a hierarchy - you start at the bottom and you build up.

RAZ: Like a pyramid. And at the base, the most fundamental human needs...

LACHMAN: The basic survival needs.

RAZ: Shelter, food and as we'll hear later, sleep.

RUSSELL FOSTER: We have not taken sleep seriously since the 20th century.

RAZ: Second on the pyramid - security.

BRUCE SCHNEIER: Without security, you're not going to build a society.

RAZ: From there, Maslow believed you could move up to...

LACHMAN: Higher-order, growth-oriented needs that other people really hadn't talked about before.

RAZ: Love and belonging.

SEBASTIAN JUNGER: The reality for primates is that you can't even survive without belonging to a group.

RAZ: Then comes esteem.

CAROLINE CASEY: To be in a healthy relationship, to like yourself - it just takes work.

RAZ: And finally, something Maslow called self-actualization.

LACHMAN: Really focusing on growth and finding meaning in life and purpose in life.

MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI: That the world is so full of things you can do that you can try to do better. And if you can do that, it doesn't matter what you're doing.

RAZ: Maslow believed there was something fundamentally human about these needs and about our desire to be better and more fulfilled.

LACHMAN: Yeah, I mean, I think most of the work at the time had actually been done with animals. Animal work had been done looking at things like hunger and thirst and these basic needs. And he tried to apply this to humans and found that that wasn't all there was. He - it wasn't just people were trying to survive. They were trying to do something beyond survival. And they had this basic - seemed like a basic motivation to improve and to reach their greatest potential. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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