Theory Z

Maslow called his final theory "Theory Z" (Maslow, 1971). It was published posthumously, and it is less widely known or discussed than his early ideas like the pyramid of needs. Yet Theory Z presented some major changes in Maslow's theoretical perspective. For example, in Theory Z, Maslow changed the meaning he assigned to such terms as self-actualizer.

How did Maslow change his description of the self-actualizer type, in Theory Z?

Originally, Maslow said less than 1% of the adult population was self-actualizing. No doubt this was a difficult message to deliver to rooms full of students and truth-seekers who probably considered themselves self-actualizers. Maslow decided toward the end of his life that mental health and happiness were not so rare as he once thought, and he greatly broadened the concept of self-actualizer. In Theory Z, the self-actualizer was described as good-hearted and energetic but not extremely creative. He or she was mentally healthy, playing a constructive role in society, but was not necessarily awe-inspiring, mystical, or prone to peak experiences like the original Maslow self-actualizer.

What was the "transcender" like?

In Theory Z, Maslow described a new type of person resembling the 1-in-100 form of self-actualizer. This type was called the transcender. Transcenders were people who consciously built the characteristics of peak experiences into everyday life. Transcenders were "less appalled by elitism" than self-actualizers. In other words, they were more willing to recognize special people like themselves. Indeed, Maslow said in Theory Z that transcenders "somehow recognize each other."

For the transcender, Maslow said, peak experiences become the high spots and validators of life. Transcenders "speak easily the language of being," finding it relatively easy to express thoughts and feelings about the nature of existence. They are "perpetually in awe of reality" and perceive sacredness in everyday things. In their daily work they are "conspicuously metamotivated," pursuing the B-needs such as truth and justice. Transcenders tend to beautify things, and they are more likely to have feelings of oneness with the environment. They are likely to be innovators, coming up with truly new ways of doing things instead of just following established paths.

With Theory Z, anybody who was a reasonably good person leading a constructive life could legitimately claim the title of self-actualizer. A new niche (the transcender) was created for the Abraham Lincolns and the Mahatma Gandhis—the highly unusual types who take our awareness to new levels.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey