Humanistic psychology, the perspective that humans are inherently good and strive to be better, is ubiquitously associated with Abraham Maslow and his famous pyramid of needs culminating in self-actualization. Introductory psychology students around the world learn about this foundational perspective of psychology usually in the first section of their course. It is often, however, regulated to the historical perspectives of psychology section of lectures (as in my own) and introductory texts, with little more thought paid to Maslow and his pyramid of needs after a couple brief slides.
Scott Barry Kaufman’s latest book, Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization, brings Maslow out of history and into the present state of psychology research. Kaufman presents a refreshingly modern take on humanistic psychology, situated in the contemporary research. I’ll be honest, until I read Transcend, I had firmly relegated Maslow to the history bin of psychology with little interest in pursuing the area further. Kaufman, however, convinced me that I was wrong, and that Maslow’s theory is a serious psychological perspective worth reading about.
Transcend successfully balances two broad arcs throughout its 300+ packed pages. The first – and my favorite – being a history of humanistic psychology. I have fallen in love with the history of science genre the last couple of years, and Kaufman demonstrates precisely why historical knowledge is so important. Did you know Maslow did not create the famous pyramid visualization? I certainly did not. And our introductory psychology textbooks never even hinted that a random management consultant actually created the famous visualization! (This is one of only many problems introductory psychology textbooks face regarding content accuracy.) A lack of science history can distort contemporary knowledge and, for me at least, I was none the wiser when it came to humanistic psychology. I appreciate the rich historical knowledge Transcend provided me.
The second arc of Transcend focuses on is the individual components of Maslow’s theory itself, as Kaufman moves from the foundations of security and safety to transcendence. What I appreciate most about his book is the breadth of research incorporated at every stage – a truly impressive feat. Transcend introduces the reader to myriad research areas within the discipline of psychology. I have little doubt that Transcend will contain a section that connects with any psychologist’s research area. My personal favorites were the beginning chapters comprising Part 1 of the book with their rich connections to evolutionary perspectives on human behavior.
If I ever return to university teaching, my introductory psychology slides will be worthy of a serious update, with Kaufman’s book receiving a spotlight feature on my recommended reading slide for students interested in humanistic psychology. If your knowledge of Maslow and humanistic psychology, like mine, is limited to what your introductory psychology course offered you Transcend is a must read to bring your knowledge of the area into the 21st century.