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The other self-actualization: What's the difference between Maslow and Rogers?
Most of us have heard of Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, but Maslow doesn't have a monopoly on self-actualization.
- Along with Maslow, Carl Rogers helped pioneer the field of humanistic psychology.
- Although most associate the term "self-actualization" with Maslow, it's a concept that's frequently found in humanistic psychological literature.
- What's the difference between Maslow's and Rogers' versions of self-actualization, and what can we learn from Rogers?
One could be forgiven for thinking that the term "self-actualization" was developed entirely by Abraham Maslow. Today, there are very few contexts where one can hear the term outside of Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs. But in fact, the twentieth century featured many humanistic psychologists who used the term to mean one thing or another. It was first coined by psychologist Kurt Goldstein, who used it to refer to something very similar to what Maslow would later focus on: the tendency for human beings to become all that they can, that "what a man can be, he must be."
But this isn't the only take on self-actualization. Carl Rogers, a peer of Maslow's, thought of humanistic psychology and self-actualization in an entirely distinct way.
Rogers' theory of personality and behavior
A sketch of Carl Rogers.
Jan Rieckhoff/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Along with Maslow, Rogers was one of the pioneers of humanistic psychology. Specifically, Rogers' greatest contribution was to the practice of psychotherapy, particularly in the development of what's known as "person-centered therapy," which is thought of today as one of the major approaches to therapy, along with cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and so on.
At the core of this therapeutic approach was Rogers' theory of personality and behavior. Just as Maslow had his hierarchy of needs, with self-actualization at the top, Rogers had his own model of human development, although self-actualization played a very different role in Rogers' system. Rogers actually had 19 separate propositional statements upon which he built his theory, but we'll just summarize the major components.
In Rogers' theory, reality for an individual (which he refers to as an organism) is the sum of subjective perceptions that the organism experiences. A developing organism will take some of these perceptions and separate them, labeling them as the self. As an example, you might perceive your body and a box of paperclips on your desk, but you would only consider your perception of your body to fall under the designation of "self." This happens with concepts and beliefs, too. Some of these things become part of the self, while others are perceived as belonging to the environment.
This idea of what counts as the self and what doesn't isn't fixed; it's fluid. Different concepts, perceptions, and experiences occur as a result of interacting with the environment, and the organism has to sort out how to relate their identity to these experiences.
Naturally, this isn't a smooth process. As a result of these interactions, most of us invent an "ideal" self, the person we think we should be, rather than the person we actually are. In Rogers' system, the broader the gap between the real self and the ideal self, the greater the sense of incongruence. All sorts of behaviors and experiences might occur that seem unacceptable to who we think we are. If this incongruence is severe enough, the organism might develop a psychopathology. If, on the other hand, the person we actually are and the person we think we should be are congruent with one another, we become more open to experiences and have to do less work defending ourselves from the outside world.
Where does self-actualization fit into all of this?
Where Maslow had self-actualization at the very top of a hierarchy of motivations, Rogers argued that self-actualization was the only motivation and that it was constantly driving the organism forward. "The organism has one basic tendency and striving — to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism," wrote Rogers. For Rogers, every behavior and motivation is directed in pursuit of actualization, of this constant negotiation between the self and the perceptual field that composes an individual's reality.
Immediately, we can see that Maslow's version of self-actualization is a lot more aspirational. In Rogers' system, self-actualization is sort of just the default way of life — the only way of life, in fact. And where Maslow's version is sort of an endpoint, Rogers saw self-actualization as a never-ending process. But Rogers does have his own version of an ideal way of living, which he called, appropriately enough, "the good life."
Living the good life
In order to live the good life, an organism must symbolically assimilate all experiences into a consistent relationship with the self. To be fair, that's not an exactly intuitive definition. Consider, for instance, a narcissist hearing criticism. The narcissist perceives themselves to be perfect, and criticism is a threat that cannot be assimilated into their concept of their perfect self. Somebody living the "good life," however, might take that criticism as potentially true — potentially false, too, but worth considering at the very least.
In this regard, somebody living the good life matches up neatly with Maslow's idea of the self-actualized individual. Like Maslow, Rogers also believed that individuals living the good life would exemplify certain characteristics that would make them distinct from the fragile, neurotic, rank-and-file folks that most of us are. According to Rogers, the fully functioning person living the good life would have these characteristics:
- An increasing openness to experience, as no experience would threaten the individual's self-concept;
- An increasingly existential and present lifestyle, since they wouldn't need to distort the present in a way that fits with their self-concept;
- Greater trust in their own values rather than those imposed upon them by, say, their parents or their society;
- Openness to a wide variety of choices, as they wouldn't be restricted by possible threats to their self-concept (such as a narcissist might be if they engaged in some activity that could make them appear foolish);
- More creativity, as they wouldn't feel the need to conform;
- More frequently constructive rather than destructive;
- And living a rich and full life.
Seems like a pretty good life, all in all. But Rogers also warned that not everybody is ready for the good life. He wrote,
"This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life."
On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy
- Maslow's other mistake, why self-actualization is harder than it ... ›
- Should you really pursue self-actualization? - Big Think ›
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."