Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Self-Actualisation/YELLOW #2

Part 2
Research on Self-Actualisation
While Maslow conducted extensive biographical research and case studies of people he considered to be self-actualisers, his methodologies cannot be considered ‘scientific’. Moreover, his criteria for describing a ‘self-actualiser’ could be argued as highly subjective. He did not explicitly 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 JungGoldstein 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. Certainly by 1962 Maslow was having his doubts as to whether Self-Actualisation was a complete end state, writing (p125): “The goal of identity (self-actualization…) seems to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also a transitional goal, a rite of passage, a step along the path to the transcendence of identity.”  He attributed this transition to starting to have peak experiences (p117): “As he [that is, the person in the peak experiences] gets to be more purely and singly himself he is more able to fuse with the world, with what was formerly not-self….” By 1969 Maslow was openly using the term Self-Transcendence to describe motivation beyond Self-Actualisation – equivalent to Graves’ H-U (TURQUOISE).

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.



    • 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.



      • 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