To study the uplifting aspects of human existence, Maslow developed a two-pronged approach: (1) he studied unusually positive moments experienced by many people, and (2) he studied people who he considered to have constructive, effective personalities. Maslow called such people self-actualizers.

Who inspired Maslow?

Maslow got the idea of self-actualizers by observing some outstanding professors who taught him in graduate school. It seemed to him there was an eerie similarity between two of his teachers: Max Wertheimer (a psychologist) and Ruth Benedict (an anthropologist). They were very distinct personalities, but they had something in common that made them different from other people. In some way they were like two of a kind.

As Maslow saw it (no doubt through rosy glasses of a devoted student) both Ruth Benedict and Max Wertheimer were creative, productive, good-humored, sophisticated, seemingly happy, intellectually sharp, and yet approachable. They were awe-inspiring people, yet they were not conceited or self-centered. They were devoted to hard work and service to others. To Maslow, they epitomized mental health. They seemed to belong to a new category of humans, a psychological type Maslow had not seen discussed in the psychological literature.

Maslow set out to study this type of person. He said he simply looked for the "best people" he could find. Initially Maslow believed that self-actualizers were quite rare: "less than 1% of the adult population" (Maslow, 1962/1968, p.204). Maslow identified the following characteristics of "self-actualizing people."

What were characteristics of self-actualizing people, according to Maslow?

1. They are productive and creative

2. They are spontaneous, with a sharp wit and sense of humor.

3. They appreciate higher values such as truth, beauty, and justice, often combining them in various endeavors.

4. They are happy with life.

5. They are open to new ideas, curious, and fascinated by reality itself.

6. They are "invariably involved in a cause outside their own skin."

Maslow believed self-actualizers were living up to their full potential, bringing their best selves into being. They were not motivated by greed and self-interest; they seemed socially responsible, devoted to moving humanity in a good direction, no doubt aware of the problems in the world, yet fully engaged with life and happy to be alive.

Write to Dr. Dewey at

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.

Custom Search

Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey