Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Armchair Psychologizing: An Aardvark's Hierarchy of Needs

Mara Sedlins:

It's been a slow week for me due to the attack of cold #3 (or so) of the season (get your flu shots, everyone!). But as Sean mentioned, I've been working on the layout for the Cerebus Art Dragnet certificate. I've also kept the search going for more original art pages, following up on a few leads through comicartfans.com. And I've had time to reflect further on the story content of High Society.

I figure that given my educational background, an attempt at psychological analysis might prove most interesting to readers. However, I feel the need to start with a disclaimer that my expertise is *not* in clinical psychology (i.e., I can't "psychoanalyze" people - or characters). I can really only speak as an expert to topics relating to the (very specific) area of psychology that I did primary research in (namely, the cognitive process of grouping others into discrete social categories, e.g. based on "race," as opposed to falling along a continuum; the way that that process relates to stereotyping and prejudice; it's okay if you're just skimming this; and the methodological challenges of collecting and analyzing behavioral data that reflect the above). Anything else is really armchair philosophizing (er, psychologizing), as it would be for any other layperson.

That being said, psychological lingo and concepts probably come to my mind more easily than someone who didn't formally study psychology. So, settling into our armchairs, let's speculate about an Aardvark's Hierarchy of Needs.

Some of you who took Psych 101 may be familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a theory of human motivation originally developed in 1943 by humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow. He posited that human behavior can be explained by the drive to satisfy a series of needs, with priority given to the most basic physiological needs (e.g., hunger, safety), followed by social and self-esteem needs, and culminating in the need for self-actualization and transcendence.

Maslow referred to the most basic needs as "deficiency needs," because the longer you go without meeting one of them, the stronger that need will become (e.g., the longer you go without food, the hungrier you get). These lower-level needs must be at least reasonably met before someone can aspire to the higher order needs. Also, basic needs tend to be associated with instant gratification, whereas the fulfillment of needs higher in the pyramid leads to longer-lasting happiness.

Maslow believed that everyone has the potential to reach self-actualization and transcendence, but often life events and setbacks can knock people back down the pyramid to focus on more basic needs.

Maslow's theory has long been a standby in psychology textbooks. However, he has been criticized, primarily for his methodology (he used "biographical analysis" of people that he considered to be self-actualized, not the most rigorous or unbiased approach). In addition, his sample was severely limited - consisting for the most part of highly educated white males. Therefore, it's unclear to what degree his theory generalizes to women, people from a lower socioeconomic status, people with different cultural backgrounds, or ..... aardvarks.

I would say that this failure to explore the application of his motivational theory to aardvarks is probably the greatest flaw in Maslow's legacy. But let's work to remedy that, shall we?

Above, I present for your consideration a theory of aardvarkian motivation, modeled after Maslow's theory but including key adaptations to elucidate the finer distinctions between human and aardvark psychology. It was clear to me that the first change that would be necessary was to convert the hierarchical levels to greyscale (because, of course, aardvarks think in black and white).

In my brief biographical analysis of the aardvarkian subject, I've noted that his early pursuits were primarily motivated by physiological concerns: food, shelter, drink. In this aspect, at least, his motivational structure is not terribly different from that of humans. However, physical aggression seems to be another basic need of the aardvard- perhaps especially so when higher order needs have recently been thwarted.

It is as yet unclear to me whether the aardvarkian subject demonstrates a need for love and belonging. If so, it certainly seems to be further up the hierarchy than it is for humans. There were moments during the subject's interactions with Jaka (notably, a human) when his language contradicted the nonverbal behavior that could be observed. As a scientist, should one prioritize the words or the actions of an aardvark in formulating a theory of motivation?

The definition of an aardvark's highest possible motivational need also remains a bit of a mystery. There have been vague allusions to a "prophecy," the specific content of which is yet unknown (at least to the present observer). Since a good scientific theory must be validated by direct empirical observation, I will simply state that my present research on this important topic remains exploratory and further analysis is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn.

Well, science is a collaborative enterprise - so I'll click "Publish" (oh, if only academic publishing were that easy ...) and await the comments of those who've collected more data than I have.


Ethan Burns said...

I might put Bear's friendship up there in Emotional connections, or maybe in Esteem needs.

Tony Dunlop said...

Dr. Mara hasn't met Bear yet, he doesn't show up until Church and State.

Jeff Seiler said...

Mara, as a trained psychologist (Master's in Counseling Psychology), I think I can firmly state with full assurance of the validity *and* reliability of my words, the following testimonial:

Your essay on the aardvarkian hierarchy of needs is comprised of some of the very finest psychological gobbledy-gook it has ever been my pleasure to peruse.

Your psychology license has been both well-earned and well-utilized.

Jeff Seiler said...

But, should you really be spending precious scanning time making tall, pointy ha. . .er, greyscale pyrami. . .er, hierarchies?


ChrisW said...

I stopped reading this when I saw brandy was put on the lowest level of needs, and no mention was made of scotch. We Wad Sgodge!!!

Saj said...

Hey Mara!

I created a really eye-friendly explanation of Maslows hierarchy on my psychology revision website that I thought you may find more useful linking to perhaps? I've created a really good graphic too with it (which you are free to use, simply cite the article) and Its all written with your average joe in mind in a way that’s easy to grasp.

Check it out here and let me know your thoughts?