Most of us learn about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Wants. The mannequin posits that human ideas and actions are motivated to meet clusters of wants and needs. He named these clusters: Physiological, Security, Love/Belonging, Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization. Maslow adopted the thought of a hierarchy to mirror his perception that people deal with satisfying “decrease” stage wants earlier than looking for to meet “greater” ones.
What does the mannequin of The Elephant and The Rider should say about Maslow’s insights?
First, we all know The Elephant is that portion of our cognitive system that’s constantly processing bodily and environmental stimuli. That’s what makes up these 11 million bits/second of data that our mind continually displays. The Elephant does this to meet its main duty: enabling our Survival. It’s vigilantly looking out for something which may threaten us, whether or not that’s the odor of smoke, the sound of approaching sirens, or the sudden look of a “funny-looking” shade of sunshine. Assembly our Physiological necessities for residing, and assuring our Security are pivotal to The Elephant enabling our Survival.
We then transfer to Maslow’s third stage, Love/Belonging. It’s essential to keep in mind that The Elephant just isn’t managing want satisfaction by way of a guidelines. It’s not that we primarily deal with physiological and security elements after we are going via our day. It’s only when physiological wants are unfulfilled for a chronic interval, or emergencies threaten our security that we zero in on them. The Elephant experiences the world holistically and shifts its focus amongst areas that elevate considerations.
That signifies that even after we’re thirsty, for instance, The Elephant remains to be evaluating different elements of its world. Being a social creature, The Elephant is sharply attentive to the methods others behave after we’re with them; we pre-reflectively “know,” (or, extra precisely, “sense”)…virtually instinctively… when one other individual “doesn’t like me,” or “perks up once I stroll within the room.” This social perceptiveness is the mechanism via which The Elephant fulfills its must be with others with whom it experiences acceptance, belonging, status, love. Being astute at this sort of perceptiveness considerably improves The Elephant’s probabilities of each Survival and Copy.
Word that at any second The Elephant could enlist The Rider’s 40 bits of aware consideration to assist meet their mutual wants. As an example, if The Elephant’s monitoring of its hydration stage turns into vital, The Rider is “summoned” by way of a second of sharpened consciousness: “wow, hastily I’m actually thirsty!” The identical holds true for moments that The Elephant alerts The Rider to register as fearful: “hey, it’s getting scary in right here…”.
The Rider performs a number one position in deciding on social teams that may finest meet its wants for belonging and love. We hang around with folks we like and who’re prone to like us. These social settings are locations wherein we get to expertise the sort of constructive reactions to our conduct that result in us feeling good about ourselves. Self-Esteem is essentially a perform of our analysis of others’ reactions to the issues we are saying and do. Being positively seen by others and growing enhanced emotions of self-worth considerably enhance the probabilities of assembly The Elephant’s different fundamental perform: Copy.
It’s essential right here to keep in mind that twenty first century Survival and Copy lengthen effectively past bodily concerns. Social evolution has progressed to some extent the place “survival” is outlined as a lot in social phrases as in bodily ones. Likewise, the thought of “copy” just isn’t restricted to producing progeny, now having expanded to incorporate a brand new dimension: “affect.”
Right this moment, The Elephant and The Rider are as delicate to social elements affecting position and standing as they’re to ranges of hydration and excessive temperatures. In a gathering, for instance, The Elephant (“out of the nook of my eye…”) processes a colleague’s offhanded snort/smirk response to one thing it says as a possible risk. It alerts The Rider to focus extra consideration on that colleague and the room’s total temper, and to watch a possible shift within the group’s standing hierarchy, a possible risk to each its Survival and Copy.
Lastly, Maslow noticed Self-Actualization as:
“self-fulfillment, specifically the tendency for the person to turn out to be actualized in what he’s probably. This tendency is perhaps phrased as the need to turn out to be increasingly what one is, to turn out to be every little thing that one is able to turning into.”
This “tendency” is extraordinarily uncommon, in Maslow’s view. He stated: “self-actualization…hardly ever occurs…actually in lower than 1% of the grownup inhabitants.”
I consider self-actualization extra broadly as an expertise of success of 1’s potential. I take advantage of the phrase “expertise” right here as a result of self-actualization is simply that…consciousness of a second of full unity with an exercise that makes use of one’s pure items to their best extent. I consider it as episodic or transitory, akin to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi known as “move”: when “an individual’s physique or thoughts is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to perform one thing tough and worthwhile.”
In different phrases, self-actualization is much less a state of being than a (usually retrospective) recognition of getting been deeply engaged in an exercise to the bounds of 1’s skill. That match between a self-actualizing exercise and my private functionality is extremely individualized…even idiosyncratic. This helps us perceive considered one of Maslow’s feedback in regards to the number of conditions that give rise to moments of self-actualization: producing “a first-rate soup is extra artistic than a second-rate portray…” In fact, this sort of self-reflection is squarely in The Rider’s area.
We see that the primary two ranges of Maslow’s Hierarchy are proper up The Elephant’s alley. Its perceptual and world-processing mechanisms have developed to guarantee Survival via evaluating each physiological and security concerns. Social evolution later enabled The Elephant to learn (intuit?) the tenor of interpersonal relationships and nudge The Rider towards being with others who will positively reinforce its behaviors. After that, it’s the Rider’s recreation. Self-Esteem and Self-Actualization are outgrowths of our immersion within the guidelines and values of social programs and incorporation of these values into our conduct.
Collectively, The Elephant and The Rider monitor our present and aspirational ranges of success of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Wants. These wants encourage us to behave in methods that may hold them happy. The Elephant/Rider’s mixed dynamic presence yields the continual, looping, strategy of notion, judgment/decision-making, and motion that makes up the material of our every day lives.
Over the course of our evolutionary historical past, we’ve developed a repertoire of cognitive/emotional/behavioral shortcuts that assist The Elephant and The Rider meet the calls for of Survival and Copy. We name these shortcuts heuristics and biases. Extra about them subsequent time.
Tom Guarriello is a psychologist, marketing consultant, and founding college member of the Masters in Branding program at New York’s College of Visible Arts. He’s spent over a decade instructing psychology-based programs like The Which means of Branded Objects, in addition to main Honors and Thesis initiatives. He’s spearheaded two podcasts, BrandBox and RoboPsych, the accompanying podcast for his eponymous web site on the psychology of human-robot interplay. This essay was initially posted on Guarriello’s Substack, My Favourite Issues.
MidJourney pictures by writer.