Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Updated: 18 May 2016

One nomenclature Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996) have used for the YELLOW vMEME, the first of the 2nd Tier, is ‘Flexiflow’. This captures both the incredible flexibility in this level of thinking and the sense of peak performance Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1993) identifies athletes, musicians, etc, experience when they enter the state of ‘flow’.

In both his posthumous works (1971b/2002, p25; 1978/2005, p148), Clare W Graves unequivocally equated his seventh level G-T (YELLOW) to “Maslow’s self-actualising man”. Jane Loevinger (1976, p46) equated her Autonomous Stage of Ego Development with Self-Actualisation and Graves (1978/2005, p444) equated G-T with Autonomous…so it’s clear that Graves and Loevinger, both of them steeped in years of hard research, very much felt they were talking about the same way of thinking as Abraham Maslow (1943; 1954; 1956).

However, this equation is not without controversy; nor is the term ‘Self-Actualisation’ used here in quite the same way as it is most commonly in Psychology. So there is some need to clarify our understanding(s) of ‘Self-Actualisation’ before we can benefit fully from this equation with YELLOW.

Goldstein’s Self-Actualisation
The term ‘Self-Actualisation’ was originally introduced by the Organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein (1934) for the motive to realise all of one’s potentialities – driven by the actualising tendency, according to Carl Rogers (1951). In this respect, Self-Actualisation is effectively the same as Carl Gustav Jung’s (1921) concept of ‘Self-Realisation’. Beck’s (2002a) prime directive in so many ways is a reflection of the actualising tendency’s drive to address more complex needs.

In Goldstein’s view, it is the ‘master motive’ – indeed, the only real motive a person has, all others being merely manifestations of it. However, the concept was brought to greater prominence in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) as the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when all deficiency and growth needs are fulfilled and the ‘actualisation’ of the full personal potential takes place.

According to Goldstein, actualisation is “the tendency to actualise, as much as possible, [the organism’s] individual capacities” in the world. The tendency to self-actualisation is “the only drive by which the life of an organism is determined.” Goldstein defined Self-Actualisation as a driving life force that will ultimately lead to maximising one’s abilities and determine the path of one’s life.

Maslow’s Self-Actualisation
Maslow (1943) explicitly defines Self-Actualisation to be “the desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualised in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

Self-Actualisation involves the need for personal growth which is present throughout someone’s life. In Self-Actualisation a person comes to find a meaning in life that is important to them. Maslow (1954) explains that Self-Actualisation is “intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately of what is the organism itself…self-actualisation is growth-motivated rather than deficiency-motivated.” This explanation emphasises the fact that Self-Actualisation cannot normally be reached until other, lower order necessities of the Hierarchy of Needs are satisfied. While Goldstein defined Self-Actualisation as a driving force, Maslow preferred to describe personal growth that takes place once lower order needs have been met.

There is some degree of inherent degree of contradiction in Maslow’s approach to Self-Actualisation.. For Maslow, a person is always ‘becoming’ and never static – even though Self-Actualisation is the final level of complete psychological development according to the Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow (1956) explicitly defines Self-Actualisation as being characterised by certain specific behaviours and ways of thinking. He identified 14 characteristics of Self-Actualisation. In doing so, he effectively moved beyond the ‘be-all-that-you-be’ concept of Jung, Goldstein, Rogers (thus far) and even his own early writings and described a new way of thinking and being. Maslow’s 1956 description of Self-Actualisation is largely mirrored by Graves (1970) and virtually adopted wholesale by Loevinger in describing her Autonomous stage. Loevinger (p418-419) also points out that Maslow’s enhanced and extended view of Self-Actualisation effectively does away with the concept of Self-Actualisation as a single master motive. Self-Actualisation is now a state, rather than a process, with a clearly-defined meta-level of thinking.

Self-Actualised into YELLOW thinking
It probably made sense to Maslow in 1956 to assume that the meta-level he described was what a fully self-realised person might think like. At that time Maslow had no concept that there could be a level of thinking beyond what he had defined as Self-Actualisation. Nor did Graves, for that matter!

To minimise confusion between the very general be-all-you-can-be concept of Self-Actualisation – the one commonly-used in Psychology and applications such as coaching – and the much more specific meta way of thinking Graves and Loevinger matched to Maslow’s 1956 descriptors, Integrated SocioPsychology refers to ‘self-actualising into YELLOW thinking’.

12 of Maslow’s (1956) 14 descriptors form the template for the depiction of the YELLOW vMEME below. The other 2 can be considered more characteristic of the YELLOW/TURQUOISE transition. Additional comments from Graves (1970; 1971b/2002; 1978/2005), Beck & Cowan and Loevinger are added.

  1. Self-actualising people have both a more efficient perception of reality and more comfortable relations with it. This includes the detection of what is phoney and/or dishonest and the accurate perception of what really exists – rather than a distortion of perception by your own needs. In other words, existing schemas do not distort incoming memes and thus negates the effects of cognitive primacy. Graves (1978/2005) sees 1st Tier levels as not having an accurate grip on reality. Only with YELLOW thinking are you able to see people as they really are.
    Self-actualising people are more aware of their environment, both human and non-human. They are not afraid of the unknown and can tolerate the doubt, uncertainty and tentativeness accompanying the perception of the new and unfamiliar. The certainties of life held by the nodal vMEMES of the 1st Tier are revealed to be so much delusion. YELLOW can live with paradoxes and conflicting ‘truths’. Loevinger notes that a characteristic of Autonomous is “a high tolerance for ambiguity”, able to acknowledge and cope with inner conflict – eg: between needs and duties – finding a way to “integrate ideas that appear as incompatible alternatives” (p23).
  2. Self-actualising people accept themselves, others and nature. They are not ashamed or guilty about being human, with its shortcomings, imperfections, frailties and weaknesses. Nor are they critical of these aspects in other people. They respect and esteem themselves and others.
    Moreover, they tend to be honest, open and genuine; they will not put on a front just to impress. They are not, however, self-satisfied and smug. They tend to be concerned about discrepancies between what is and what should be in themselves, others, and society.
  3. Self-actualising people are spontaneous. They are not hampered by convention, but they do not flout it either. They are not conformists; but neither are they non-conformist for the sake of it. YELLOW has no need for status as such but accepts it is important to others.
    They are not externally motivated or even goal-directed. Rather, their motivation is the internal one of growth and development, the realisation of themselves and their potentialities. YELLOW is not goal-oriented – as ORANGE is – in the sense of being determined to achieve. Rather it pursues what interests it. Loevinger states that Autonomous is interested in development, with “self-fulfilment a frequent goal, partly supplanting achievement”.
  4. The self-actualising person enjoys solitude and privacy. They can also seem detached. It is possible for them to remain unruffled and undisturbed by what upsets others. (YELLOW will walk away from ‘lost causes’, how ever noble they might be.) They may even appear to be asocial. This characteristic is related to a sense of security and self-sufficiency.
  5. Self-actualising people have a continued freshness of appreciation. Repeatedly, though not continuously, they experience awe, pleasure and wonder in their everyday world. They enjoy the experience for its own sake, rather than for any particular purpose. This sense of just ‘being’ rather than ‘becoming’ is, for Maslow, a major delineator in quality of thinking – ie: between 1st and 2nd Tier thinking. This is a step towards the ‘peak experiences’ of TURQUOISE/Self-Transcendence which tend to start occurring in the YELLOW/TURQUOISE transition.
  6. When self-actualising, people are autonomous and are independent of culture and environment. Though dependent on others for the satisfaction of such basic needs as love, belongingness, safety and respect, they get their principal satisfactions from their own development and continued growth. The motif, in the life conditions GREEN has brought about, is to make the best for yourself – this vMEME is very much on the self-expressive side of the Spiral!
  7. Self-actualising people tend to have deep interpersonal relations with others. They are selective, however, and their circle of friends may be small, usually consisting of others capable of 2nd Tier thinking. In spite of their tendency to privacy, they often attract others to them as admirers or disciples.
  8. The self-actualising person does not discriminate on the basis of class, education, race or colour. They are humble in their recognition of what they know in comparison with what they don’t know; and they are ready and willing to learn from anyone. They respect everyone as potential contributors to their knowledge, merely because they are human beings. Graves (1970) states that, for this way of thinking, multiplicity in life is legitimate.
  9. Self-actualising people are highly creative. It is a creativity potentially inherent in everyone but usually suffocated by acculturation. It is a fresh, naive, direct way of looking at things. In problem-solving tasks, Graves (1971b/2002) found that G-T (YELLOW) thinkers are 4 times more effective than F-S (GREEN) thinkers and conceptually have more problem-solving capability than all the vMEMES of the 1st Tier put together.)
  10. When self-actualising, people are usually highly ethical. They clearly distinguish between means and ends and subordinate means to the ends. For example, YELLOW will be democratic when it is appropriate and authoritarian when it is necessary.)
  11. .The sense of humour of a self-actualising person is not of the ordinary (1st Tier) type. Their sense of humour is the spontaneous, thoughtful type, intrinsic to the situation. Their humour does not involve hostility, superiority or sarcasm. Loevinger calls this type of humour “humour intrinsic to the paradoxes of life”.
  12. These people have a deep feeling of empathy, sympathy and/or compassion for human beings in general. This feeling is, in a sense, unconditional in that it exists along with the recognition of the existence in others of negative qualities that provoke occasional anger, impatience and disgust. (Graves (1978/2005) wrote: “[He] will explode at what he does not like, but he will not be worked up or angry about it…He accepts and lives with the fact of difference and of relating to people who are different.”)

A characteristic of the 7th level which Maslow didn’t single out explicitly in his 1956 piece is that, to address the discrepancies between what is and what should be in itself, others and society – see Characteristic 2 – YELLOW has to understand the needs of all. To do that, it has to ‘go meta’ to itself. Thus, YELLOW can appear chameleon-like as it speaks to the values of whichever 1st Tier vMEMES it needs to engage. Beck calls this ‘surfing the Spiral’.

Maslow stated there were 3 pre-conditions to Self-Actualisation:-

  1. An absence of restraints
  2. No or little distraction from D-Needs
  3. A good knowledge of yourself

Although many of the ‘self-actualised’ figures Maslow studied were highly intelligent, he did not believe great intelligence was a prerequisite for Self-Actualisation. Neither did Graves.

Michael Daniels (1988) found that the absence of psychological disorders, relationship difficulties and drug dependence correlated to Self-Actualisation. Graves (1978/2005) claimed that his G-T level was free from both fear and compulsiveness. Maslow supports the former and Loevinger the latter. Hans J Eysenck (1967; Hans J Eysenck & Sybil B G Eysenck, 1976) equated fear with Neuroticism and compulsiveness with Psychoticism in his Dimensions of Temperament; thus, when someone self-actualises into YELLOW thinking, the implication is that accessing the 7th level in thinking carries you beyond those temperamental influences. As high Neuroticism contains a potential for neurosis and high Psychoticism a potential for psychosis, a further implication is that accessing 2nd Tier thinking is indeed conducive to good mental health – supporting Marie Johada’s (1958) contention that Self-Actualisation is a prime component of ideal mental health.

Yet a further implication of this is, given the large amount of research which has found a genetic vulnerability factor in a great many mental disorders, then if self-actualising into YELLOW, limits or even prevents mental illness linked to genetics, then vMEME emergence must involve epigenetic modification.

Carl Rogers: Full Function and Locus of Control
By 1961 Rogers was describing Self-Actualisation – or ‘Full Function’ – as ways of thinking and being that echoed much of Maslow in 1956. However, Rogers still related Self-Actualisation to the concept that every human being had the potential to achieve their goals, wishes and desires in life. When they did so, then Self-Actualisation took place. For Rogers, this actualising tendency is an inner biological need to grow and develop both physically and psychologically. (This is paralleled to some considerable extent in Beck’s concept of the prime directive.) Self-actualised people, according to Rogers, are ‘fully functioning persons’.

Such people are in touch with the here and now, their subjective experiences and feelings, and are continually growing and changing. Full Function is, for Rogers, something of an ideal – a process of always becoming and changing, rather than a final state. Effectively, for Rogers, Self-Actualisation is a process of being.

Fully functioning people are well-adjusted, well-balanced and interesting to know. Rogers identified 5 characteristics of the fully functioning person:-

  1. Open to experience – both positive and negative emotions are accepted. Negative feelings are not denied but worked through
  2. Existential living – in touch with different experiences as they occur in life; avoiding prejudging and preconceptions
  3. Trust feelings – feelings, instincts and gut reactions are paid attention to and trusted
  4. Creativity – creative thinking and risk-taking are features of a person’s life – the person does not play safe all the time
  5. Fulfilled life – the person is happy and satisfied with life and always looking for new challenges and experiences

By making his understanding of Self-Actualisation close to, but looser than Maslow’s 1956 definitions, the inherent contradiction of a process of ‘being’ versus a fully-realised final state in Rogers’ work is less jarring. However, it still seems a fudge.

Rogers expresses concern many people lose touch with their actualising tendency. He attributes this to social pressures – ie: life conditions – resulting in a distorted and limited self-concept.

The concept of locus of evaluation (locus of control) is used to explain the difference between being free to respond to your own inner actualising tendency or being restricted by the views and beliefs of others. People with an internal locus of control are controlled by their own personal values. People with an external locus of control are controlled by the desire to live up to the expectations of others. Their sense of self-worth of people with an external locus is governed by their perception of how well they are doing in living up to the expectations of others. They are likely to have had a significant amount of conditional positive regard in their life.

Linking this to Attribution Theory, people with an internal locus are much more likely to be dispositionalist while those with an external locus are more likely to be situationalist. The concept also relates to the meta-programmes of internally-referenced (internal locus) and externally-referenced (external locus).

One criticism of Rogers’ concept – as of Maslow – is that it is culturally biased – a product of Western culture which represents an individualistic and selfish approach to understanding human nature. In other cultures, such as Eastern collectivistic ones, more value may be put upon the achievement of a group of people than any one individual. However, if Self-Actualisation is reframed within Graves’ Spiral, then yes, Self-Actualisation does appear to reflect Western self-expressive orientation. However, the level below in Maslow’s Hierarchy, Aesthetic, if reframed as F-S GREEN, and Self-Transcendence, if reframed as H-U TURQUOISE, are clearly on the conformist/collective side of the Spiral.

Research on Self-Actualisation
Maslow conducted extensive biographical research and case studies of people he considered to be self-actualisers. However, his methodologies cannot be considered ‘scientific’. Moreover, his criteria for describing a ‘self-actualiser’ could be argued as highly subjective. He did not compare self-actualisers with self-actualisers. Nevertheless, his work has provided valuable insights the ‘being ways of thinking’. In his near 30 years of research, Graves did conduct investigations of a much more scientific nature and built on Maslow’s ideas, as did Jane Loevinger.

Everett Shostrum (1963, 1977) developed the Personal Orientation Questionnaire to create a standardised approach to identifying self-actualisers. The results of scoring the questionnaire reveal the extent (high or low) to which a person self-actualises in their life. Michael Sheffield et al (1995) used it to find that those low in Self-Actualisation tend to have poor interpersonal relationships. Mark Runco, Peter Ebersole & Wayne Mraz (1995) found that creative thinking is more associated with high Self-Actualisation.

L Thomas & P E Cooper (1980) found that self-actualisers are more likely to be open to experiences and accepting of those experiences. They are also more likely to recognise a ‘peak experience’ and to use such experiences to enhance personal growth. Karen Dion & Kenneth Dion (1988) related Self-Actualisation to participants’ overall satisfaction with their love lives. Those who scored high in Self-Actualisation were more inclined to be satisfied with either a current or past relationship and to be more intensely involved and more open than those with low scores. However, self-actualisers were more realistic in their expectations and seemed to show lower levels of need and caring for their lovers.

‘Be all you can be’, a final stage or a higher level of thinking?
In 1943 Maslow, like Jung, Goldstein and, later, Rogers held Self-Actualisation was the final state of psychological maturity for the human being.

However, there is a contradiction in the works of Maslow and, perhaps, to a lesser extent, Rogers in that they initially talk of Self-Actualisation as fulfilling all your potential – being all you can be – yet later describe a meta or abstracted way of thinking? While Maslow, without ever saying so explicitly, quietly leaves behind his earlier conception, Rogers in 1961 is still mixing up the 2 in quite a confusing way.

For all that Graves (1971b/2002; 1978/2005) matched his 7th level of thinking to Maslow’s later version of Self-Actualisation, according to Beck (2006) and Cowan (Chris Cowan & Natasha Todorovic, 2005), Graves also talked to them about people self-actualising on each level of the Spiral. At first this appears to be a paradox. However, the paradox is resolved by thinking of Self-Actualisation as having two different but related meanings:-

  • Being all that you can be – fulfilling your potential
  • A way of being/thinking when the D-needs have been met (Maslow) or the subsistence levels surpassed (Graves)

Since Graves (1978/2005) describes the psychology of the individual as becoming markedly different when the next vMEME emerges, Self-Actualisation in the sense of being all you can be takes place when that nodal vMEME meets the needs of its life conditions and, thus, creates conceptual space for the next vMEME to start to emerge.

Self-Actualisation, as a way of thinking and being – ie: G-T YELLOW – can only take place, according to both Maslow and Graves, when the lower (1st Tier) needs have been met.

While ‘Self-Actualisation’ tends to be used in Psychology text books as ‘be-all-you-can-be’, in Integrated SocioPsychology it is used more in the sense Maslow described it in 1956.

However, the idea that ‘self-actualising into YELLOW thinking’ is the ‘final state of psychological maturity’ is called into question by Graves meeting in 1959 the first participants in his studies to describe a way of thinking clearly more complex than the Self-Actualisation Maslow described in 1956.

Graves (1978/2005, p399-400) describes the effect of this discovery on his thinking: “The undeniable fact of its emergence in the course of the studies forced me to reconsider the long-standing conception of psychological maturity as a state which can be conceived to exist….
I had to open ‘actualisation’ as process and close down the idea that it is a theoretically-achievable state or condition. I had to include the data of this new system with the rest of mine beyond the Maslowian apex. It means that when Harvey, Hunt & Schroeder see the abstract man as mature, Maslow sees the self-actualised man as mature, Fromm see the productive orientation character as mature, Freud sees the genital character as mature, that they are subject – all of them – to man’s greatest illusion: the illusion of psychological maturity.
According to my data…maturity cannot be considered an achievable state, even in theory. Maturity, instead, must be conceived as possibly never-ending process, as a continuous emergence of newer and newer concepts of maturity, rather than as the theoretically achievable, most perfect state for human existence.”

So, from the Gravesian perspective, Self-Actualisation is really a never-ending process and the meta-level of thinking Maslow described in 1956 is Graves’ G-T system and Loevinger’s Autonomous stage of ego development

How much Graves and Maslow corresponded over this is unknown; but in 1971 Graves (1971b/2002, p52) claimed that the recently-deceased Maslow “came around to my point of view” that there was a higher level of thinking that what he had described as Self-Actualisation. Maslow dubbed this yet more complex way of thinking ‘Self-Transcendence’. Graves (1971a/1988, p13) even claimed that Maslow accepted “that the system is open-ended.”


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3 Responses

  1. Jon says

    Hi Keith,

    Another great article 🙂

    But, I don't really like the term at all( or Rogers etc when they talk of fully functioning person). For me it is much more of an unfolding. I agree with most of the characteristics but I might say that where it says they have no x ( various ) it is often that these feelings are much low key and far less motivating. For example enjoys privacy and solitude - I would say it softens the extremes so that extroverts this will be more true but for strong introverts it would probably go in the opposite direction with them becoming more engaged with others. In summary - they become more functional.

    The accurate perception of what exists. I would really disagree with this - it is just that the perception is quite a lot less but our brains still totally distort stuff - we have to abstract and distort to survive.

    I am not sure I would leap to epi genetics because of less mental health issues ( although I certainly wouldn't rule it out ). I would simply say that 2nd tier will be less stressed and cope with stress more effectively and for longer than otherwise and that therefore even where there is a tendency for mental health problems it will be triggered less often and be less severe than otherwise.



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    • Keith E Rice says

      Hi, Jon

      Thanks for this.

      I must say I have some doubts about the 'accurate perception' bit too. On a personal level I have some agreement with you - and I think those who oppose the rigid division between 1st and 2nd Tiers (Chris Cowan, Jerry Coursen)would almost certainly agree with you! But this is what Graves and Maslow respectively claimed, based on their research. It's a line that Don Beck has always stuck to. A modern research psychologist would probably ask how they perationalised 'accurate perception' - ie: how do you measure it.

      As to 'unfolding'...I think that's the conclusion Graves eventually came to: Self-Actualisation is an endless process without any final state. Like it or not, the term is in general psychological use - so we're stuck with it (for the time being, anyway). So I try to get around it by talking about 'self-actualising into YELLOW'.

      It seems pretty clear to me that epigenetic modification is part of the
      biological process of vMEME emergence in relation to the life conditions. If the prime directive/actualising tendency is an accurate take on emergence,then it's in our DNA but needs to be triggered by environmental factors. The respective genes that bring out each vMEME in succession are already there - but they need to be switched on.

      Whether there is a complete loss of fear (Graves and Maslow) and complete loss of compulsiveness (Graves and Loevinger) in 2nd Tier thinking are moot points. Certainly, one of the few people I know I am really convinced thought in TURQUOISE at times - Cathy Byrne (see: The Parks - was very controlled (lack of compulsivenss?) and showed no fear in a series of very intimidating scenarios. As I point out in Can vMEMES cause Clinical
      Depression...?, there really needs to be serious research into the possible relationship beween 2nd Tier thinking and improved mental health. I was discussing this yesterday evening with the Psychology night school class I run and one of the participants, a 'mental health first aider', was getting very excited about the possibilities.



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      • Jon says

        Hi Keith,

        I would say that there is a clear division between first and second tier but that it is more operational rather than using a different (hardware) mechanism. Along those lines, I think that the 2nd tier introduces sufficient complexity to reconcile the first tier views whereas first tier doesn't. I suppose you could say it allows for the holding of multiple perspectives at once which could be argued to be a different mechanism or simply holding more info at once. So, you could say that 2nd tier see things clearly - but of course if the person making the assessment is at the same 2nd tier level they might say that it is being seen completely without distortion. However, as we understand more about the way we process information (biology, neuroscience etc) it is clear that the mechanisms inherently distort and abstract - there is nothing that can be done about that.

        For me the term self-actualise seems to imply the bringing into reality of an an overall perfect design. I wouldn't see it as being like that at all, just the adaption to ever more complex life circumstances.

        I suspect that our brains evolved a long time ago into something capable of supporting all the levels seen so far - although I have heard that some people with various conditions cannot support higher levels which would indicate that they require specific brain features or capabilities which may be relatively recently evolved ? I don't know much about any of that so i am basically guessing. Or perhaps epigenetics is required to support some levels in the spiral?

        I wasn't trying to argue against epigenetics at all - merely that it might not be required to allow 2nd tier thinking to result in more resilience to developing mental health problems - even where there is a genetic tendency towards them.

        Yes, many people might show a lack of fear and other emotions in various difficult circumstances but that does not mean that the emotions are not present at all, merely that they are less severe, or can be disregarded or overridden to such an extent that they do not overflow into visible behaviour anywhere near so easily. A fundamental aspect for me in this regard is that in a similar way that 2nd tier allows people to understand and appreciate simpler value systems consciously, it has a very similar effect in terms of appreciating our own physical, and (even more so) emotional and intellectual state, reflecting on it and acting accordingly. In fact, for me our new group is , in the long run about this at



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