The research team - which included Vladas Griskevicius of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and Mark Schaller of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver - restructured the famous pyramid after observing how psychological processes radically change in response to evolutionarily fundamental motives, such as self-protection, mating or status concerns. The bottom four levels of the new pyramid are highly compatible with Maslow's, but big changes are at the top. Perhaps the most controversial modification is that self-actualization no longer appears on the pyramid at all. At the top of the new pyramid are three evolutionarily critical motives that Maslow overlooked - mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting.
The researchers state in the article that while self-actualization is interesting and important, it isn't an evolutionarily fundamental need. Instead, many of the activities that Maslow labeled as self-actualizing (artistic creativity, for example) reflect more biologically basic drives to gain status, which in turn serves the goal of attracting mates. "Among human aspirations that are most biologically fundamental are those that ultimately facilitate reproduction of our genes in our children's children," Kenrick explained. "For that reason, parenting is paramount."
The researchers are not saying that artists or poets are consciously thinking about increasing their reproductive success when they feel the inspiration to paint or write. "Reproductive goals are ultimate causes," Kenrick added, "like the desire of birds to migrate because it helps them survive and reproduce. But at a proximate (or immediate psychological) level, the bird migrates because its brain registers that the length of day is changing. In our minds, we humans create simply because it feels good to us; we're not aware of its ultimate function."
"You could argue that a peacock's display is as beautiful as anything any human artist has ever produced," Kenrick said. "Yet it has a clear biological function - to attract a mate. We suspect that self actualization is also simply an expression of the more evolutionarily fundamental need to reproduce." But, Kenrick adds, for humans reproduction is not just about sex and producing children. It's also about raising those children to the age at which they can reproduce as well. Consequently, parenting sits atop the revamped pyramid.
There are other distinctions as well. For Maslow, once a need was met, it disappeared as the individual moved on to the next level. In the reworked pyramid, needs overlap one another and coexist, instead of completely replacing each other. For example, certain environmental cues can make them come back. If you are walking down the street thinking about love, art or the meaning of life, you will revert quickly to the self-protection level if you see an ominous-looking gang of young men headed your way.
The new pyramid already has generated some controversy within the field. The published article was accompanied by four commentaries. While the commentaries agreed with the basic evolutionary premise of the new pyramid, they take issue with some of the specific details, including the removal of self-actualization and the prominence of parenting in the new pyramid. "The pyramid of needs is a wonderful idea of Maslow's," Kenrick said. "He just got some of it wrong. Now people are talking about it again, which will help us get it right."