Basic Needs: The Maslow-Erikson Mashup

There is some evidence that ontogeny parallels phylogeny as far as cognitive development is concerned. What this means is that the same stages or steps that a species has evolved through also recur when the embryo develops into a fully functioning adult. In other words, developmental stages and states follow the same sequence as evolutionary stages. This may be because the environment is structured in such a way that some stages can only make sense when preceding stages have been already encountered.

To illustrate, if pain was the first sensation that animals could first sense and feel; then probably it will be the first emotion that babies and infants can feel. Amusement if it comes later to pain in evolutionary history, then probably amusement only starts being felt by babies once they have already felt pain. Would that also make pain more primary or basic than amusement? I believe so.

Taking cue form that, it may be possible to go one stage further and claim that adult structure/ hierarchy of a  particular construct will follow the developmental stages or time-course. To continue with our example, if pain occurs earlier in babies than pleasure, then in adulthood, losses which are sensitive to pain will be more basic and drive our choices than gains which are sensitive to pleasure. We will first need to fulfill our need to avoid pain and then only be motivated by our desire for pleasure. The bad is stronger than the good.

To extend this analogy to personality, let us consider a developmental theory of personality- Erkison’s Psychsocial stage theory. As per it people go through various stages , right from infancy to old age, grappling with many developemental challenges and either coming out successful or failing to master the developmental challenge. At each stage one can discern some basic needs that when fulfilled lead to successful closure with regards to that stage.

To illustrate:

  1. Trust vs mistrust: at this stage if the need for security that the infant has is fulfilled, he ends up being trustful.
  2. Autonomy vs shame and doubt: at this stage its important to develop a sense of self worth and self esteem by being autonomous. If however his sense of self worth is questioned he ends up feeling shameful.
  3. Initiative vs guilt: at this stage its important to take care of need for play and creativity; if however the child’s playful actions  lead to harm or are condemned, then this may lead to guilt.
  4. Industry vs inferiority: at this stage its important for the child to ‘work’ and get respect/ approval of others thereof; failure to be productive leads to feelings of inferiority.
  5. Identity vs role confusion: at this stage its important to have a sense of coherence, especially about oneself and ones role; failure of which leads to role confusion.
  6. intimacy vs isolation: at this stage the need for loving and being loved has to be fulfilled, else you end up being isolated and lonely.
  7. Generativity vs stagnation: at this stage the need for self-actualization drives one to grow and reach one’s full potential in service to the world, failing which one remains stagnant.
  8. Ego integrity vs despair: at this stage, as you reflect on your life, you are driven by need for self-transcendence failing which you end up in despair.

Its easy to see how a hierarchy similar to Maslow’s can be derived from this. Leaving the physiological needs aside, at the bottom of hierarchy would be needs related to security, followed by needs for self-worth/esteem; then needs for play and creativity;  followed by needs for respect and achievement; followed by need for coherence; then need for love; then need for self-actualization and finally on top need for self-transcendence.

I think this is a proposition worth investigating and I am sure one will find a hierarchy of needs that is rooted in developmental stages and which themselves are rooted in evolutionary stages.


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