A COGNITIVE-SYSTEMIC RECONSTRUCTION OFMASLOW’S THEORY OF SELF-ACTUALIZATIONby Francis Heylighen1PESP, Free University of Brussels, Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels, BelgiumMaslow’s need hierarchy and model of the self-actualizing personalityare reviewed and criticized. The definition of self-actualizationis found to be confusing, and the gratification of all needs is concludedto be insufficient to explain self-actualization. Therefore thetheory is reconstructed on the basis of a second-order, cognitive-systemicframework.
A hierarchy of basic needs is derived from the urgencyof perturbations which an autonomous system must compensatein order to maintain its identity. It comprises the needs for homeostasis,safety, protection, feedback and exploration. Self-actualization isredefined as the perceived competence to satisfy these basic needs indue time. This competence has three components: material, cognitiveand subjective. Material and/or cognitive incompetence during childhoodcreate subjective incompetence, which in turn inhibits the furtherdevelopment of cognitive competence, and thus of self-actualization.KEY WORDS: humanistic psychology, self-actualization, competence, cognition, autonomous systems, humanmotivation, problem-solving.
TYPE OF ARTICLE: nonquantitative theoryDIMENSIONS AND UNITS: noneINTRODUCTION enced by behaviorism, which tends to reducehuman behavior to statistical correlationsbetween different kinds of stimuli,responses and personality traits. Instead ofmerely modelling normal behavior or ofcuring clear dysfunctions, a humanisticpsychologist tries to help people to developin a better way, thus making them morecompetent, more aware, more happy, in thehope of reaching some state of “optimal”mental health 12.ONE OF THE MAIN VALUES driving systemsresearch is to provide conceptsand methods for stimulatinglearning, growth and development,as well in individual persons as in society,thus enhancing well-being and the overallquality of life. The same positive aim characterizesso-called humanistic psychology9, which defines itself as a “third force”,in contrast with clinical psychology, influencedby Freudian psycho-analysis, whichstudies mental illness, i.e. the negative sideof human behavior, and traditional academic,experimental psychology, influ-Probably the best known proponent ofthis approach is Abraham Maslow. Whatdistinguishes his work from that of other”humanists”, such as Carl Rogers or ErichFromm 12, is that he proposes a model ofhow a happy, healthy, well-functioning39Behavioral Science, Volume 37, 199240 HEYLIGHENperson behaves, which is based on concreteobservations of real people, rather than onformulating ideal requirements.
MoreoverMaslow proposes a simple, and intuitivelyappealing theory of motivation 8, whichexplains where such a “self-actualizing”personality comes from. In parallel withsystems theory, Maslow reacts against toomuch reductionism in psychological modelling,and proposes an alternative holisticapproach of personality research 8.are here replaced by concepts such as selforganization,autonomy, cognition, selfawareness,conversation, etc., which areclearly related to humanistic conceptssurrounding the central idea of self-actualization.However, most “second-order”theories remain very abstract, lacking thesimplicity, concreteness and intuitive appealof Maslow’s descriptions.
What I wish to do in this paper is to reviewMaslow’s theory and the criticismsraised against it, and try to reconstruct itsmain concepts on the basis of a general”second-order” cognitive-systemic framework,in order to make them more general,more precise and more coherent.However, in academic psychologyMaslow has been criticized for his lack ofscientificity. In recent years, Maslow’sideas have been taken up by the so-called”transpersonal” psychologists 9, whostudy altered, “ego-transcending” states ofconsciousness, inspired by mystical traditions,Eastern philosophies andpsychedelic experiences. Although thetranspersonalists claim to carry out scientificinvestigations, it is in practice oftendifficult to draw a boundary between theirresearch and approaches characterized byirrationality and mysticismA REVIEW OF MASLOW’S THEORYMaslow’s theory of personality 8, 9 isbased on: 1) a theory of human motivation,characterized by a hierarchy of needs; 2) adescription of a particular type of maximallyhealthy personality, called “self-actualizing”,which is supposed to emergeThe general problem is that if holism as when all these needs are satisfied.
a reaction to reductionism is understood ina too simple-minded way, then any type ofscientific analysis, of precise, formal modellingbecomes meaningless. The main advantageof the systems approach as a scientificmethod is that it allows the integrationholistic and reductionistic principles,leading to models where both “the whole ismore than the sum of the parts” and “youmust understand the behavior of the partsin order to understand the emergence ofthe whole” applies. Hence the conceptualframework of systems science appears particularlywell-suited for reformulatingholistic theories, such as Maslow’s, in amore precise, more explicit, more scientificway.Theory of motivationAccording to Maslow human behavior ismotivated by a set of basic needs. Whichneeds are most active in driving behaviordepends on two principles: (1) a needwhich is satisfied is no longer active: thehigher the satisfaction, the less the activity(the exception to this rule is the need forself-actualization, see further); (2) needscan be ordered in a hierarchy, such thatfrom all the non-satisfied needs, the onewhich is lowest in the hierarchy will be themost active. A lower need is more “urgent”in the sense that it must be satisfied beforea higher need can take over control.The lowest level of needs may be calledphysiological needs.
These are needs of thebody as a physiological system which triesto maintain homeostasis. They consist ofthe need to breath air, hunger, thirst,avoidance of extreme heat and cold, etc.These needs are such that if they are notsatisfied the organism dies. If the threat ofThat the time is ripe for integrating humanisticand systemic approaches is alsoshown by the recent emergence of a “second”or “non-classical” systems science,exemplified by the work of “second-order”cyberneticists such as Maturana 10, Paskand de Zeeuw 1.
Mechanistic conceptsBehavioral Science, Volume 37, 1992A COGNITIVE-SYSTEMIC RECONSTRUCTION: MASLOW’S THEORY 41dying because of perturbation of the physiologicalequilibrium has vanished, the organismcan direct its attention to more indirectthreats, such as the danger of beingcaught by a predator, and try to avoidthem. This corresponds to the second needlevel: the need for safety. Once safety andphysiological needs are met, higher, moretypically “human” needs come to the foreground,in the first place the need for loveand belonging. This is the basic social oraffiliation motive, which drives people toseek contact with others and to build satisfyingrelations with them. Satisfaction ofbelongingness needs triggers the emergenceof the esteem need. In this stage ofneed gratification, persons also want to beesteemed, by the people they are in contactwith, as well as by themselves: they wantto know that they are capable of achievementand success.
velopment of remaining potentialities. Ifyou eat food, your desire for it becomesless and less, in accordance with principle(1). However, if you develop your capacities,you want to develop them more andmore.Definition of self-actualizationSelf-actualization is reached when allneeds are fulfilled, in particular the highestneed. Because of the positive feedback,self-actualization is not a fixed state, but aprocess of development which does notend. The word derives from the idea thateach individual has a lot of hidden potentialities:talents or competences he or shecould develop, but which have as yet notcome to the surface. Self-actualizationsignifies that these potentialities of the selfare made actual, are actualized in a continuingprocess of unfolding.
When all these needs are satisfied, weare left with the last one, the highest need,the need for self-actualization. This need isfundamentally different from the previousones, in the sense that all the previous onescan be conceived as drives towards the reductionof a deficiency. Such a deficiencymeans that there is a discrepancy betweenthe actual state of the individual, and somefixed optimal or equilibrium state, characterizedby adequate values of the basicvariables, as well physiological variablessuch as temperature, level of sugar in theblood, etc., as psychological ones such asfeeling of safety, of belongingness, of esteem.The control which deficiency needsexert over the individual’s behavior is implementedas a negative feedback loop,which diminishes deviations from the goalstate.According to Maslow, self-actualizationcorresponds to ultimate psychologicalhealth. Health is more than the absence ofdisease.
On the psychological level, diseasescorrespond to neuroses due to thefrustration of one of the basic needs. Forexample, a person whose safety need hasnot been adequately fulfilled may developparanoiac tendencies, and believe that everybodyand everything is threatening him.An interesting case is the situationwhere all the lower level needs have beensatisfied, but the highest need, self-actualization,has not.
In that case you have aperson who apparently has everything tobe happy: a comfortable and safe environment,a loving family, friendship and respectfrom peers, a sense of personalachievement… Yet the individual will notbe really happy, because he has no longer agoal to live for, he has achieved everythinghe wanted. This will result in feelings ofboredom and meaninglessness, whichmight even lead to suicide, unless the personbecomes aware that there is more tolife than reducing deficiencies, that is tosay unless he becomes aware of his needfor self-actualization.
Though one maycontinue to live in a more or less stableSelf-actualization, on the other hand,may be called a growth need, in the sensethat deviations from the previously reachedequilibrium state are not reduced, but enhanced,made to grow, in a deviation-amplifyingpositive feedback loop. The deviationsto be amplified are changes whichcan be interpreted as improvements insome way of the overall personality, as de-Behavioral Science, Volume 37, 199242 HEYLIGHENmanner, trying to satisfy the deficiencyneeds without developing acute problemsor neuroses, he will not be really healthyunless he succeeds in satisfying his self-actualizationneed, thus liberating his mostprofound capacities.the presence of positive signs of psychologicalhealth or well-being, the criteria forwhich were derived from previous observations.
To Maslow’s amazement thesehighly disparate personalities appeared tohave many non-trivial characteristics incommon, which together could be taken todefine a new personality type. We willnow review these basic character traits, notin the somewhat arbitrary seeming order inwhich Maslow lists them, but building upfrom the perception, to the behavior, and tothe social relations, concluding with whatmakes these personalities so unique.This definition of self-actualization derivesfrom Maslow’s motivation theory.However, Maslow has also undertaken anempirical observation of existing healthypersonalities, more or less independentlyof the theory. Though he has tried to explainhis empirical results by means of thetheory, the observations are more detailedthan what the theory can predict, and as wewill see further they sometimes even seemto contradict the theory. Though he usesthe same word, “self-actualizing”, to labelthe personality type coming out of his observations,and the one coming out of histheory, it is not obvious that it describes thesame phenomenon. Therefore it is importantto study his observations in detail, andto try to correlate them with theoretical explanations.
Perception and experiencePerhaps the most striking feature of selfactualizingpersons is their openness to experience(see also 21): they are eager toundergo new experiences, learn new ideasand skills, try out new things. This alsoapplies if the new observations do no fitinto their existing schemata or contradicttheir previous opinions. The result is thatin general they have what Maslow calls anaccurate perception of reality: in contrastto ordinary people they do not tend todeny, repress or deform perceptions in orderto make them fit their prejudices, atendency which is well-documented intraditional psychology. There is also nocontradiction between what they experienceor feel on a intuitive level, and whatthey think on a conscious, rational level. Ageneral reason for this openness may bethat self-actualizers are attracted towardsthe unknown, rather than afraid of it likemost people.
I find it quite dangerous to summarizethe observations, and I would propose toread the original text 8 (and not 9,which was revised after Maslow’s death,and where several remarksamong otherthings about lovewere deleted), ratherthan simply take over one of the many existingreviews such as the ones proposed in3, 11, 12, or in this paper. In my own experience,summaries by other authors donot carry the same intuitive feeling of “thisis it!” as the original, perhaps in part becausethey lack the many concrete examplesand illustrations of self-actualizingbehavior which Maslow proposes. Yet Iwill try to make a selection of the (at leastfor me) most important features.
Together with this openness to newstimuli, there is a tendency to experienceold, well-known stimuli in a new way,what Maslow calls freshness of appreciation.A self-actualizer may walk for thethousandth time through the same street,yet suddenly experience beauty and excitementas if he or she saw it for the firsttime. Such sense of beauty, wonder or revivificationis usually triggered by thesame type of objects or situations; dependingupon the individual, these may be: na-Maslow’s study was carried out by ananalysis of the biographies of historicaland public figures (such as Lincoln,Spinoza, Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc.)and by observation and interviewing of afew contemporaries, who were rigourouslyselected on the basis of absence of anysigns of neurotic behavior, together withBehavioral Science, Volume 37, 1992A COGNITIVE-SYSTEMIC RECONSTRUCTION: MASLOW’S THEORY 43ture, children, in certain cases sex or music.Sometimes these spontaneous feelingsof awe and wonder become so intense, thatthey may be called mystical or peak experiences.unbiased perception. They will not tend tocontinuously vacillate or hesitate betweenalternatives, asking the question “Am Imaking the right decision?”, because theyare confident about themselves, and theircapacity to solve problems.
However, insituations of uncertainty they will postponea decision rather than make a prematureone, without feeling unhappy because ofthe remaining ambiguity.Attitude towards problemsThe behavior of self-actualizers is generallycharacterized by spontaneity or naturalness.They do not tend to wear masks orplay roles, or feel inhibited or restricted intheir thoughts, feelings and actions.
Theyare not afraid that what they are doingmight be wrong or that other people mightthink so. This spontaneity is also expressedby their general creativity, which is not ofthe specialized, “Mozart” type, wheresomeone may create outstanding things inone restricted area (e.g. music), but behavein a quite inhibited and immature way inother areas.
Self-actualizing creativityconsists rather of a general playful attitudetowards problem-solving and self-expressionwhich assumes that the conventionalway to do it is not necessarily the best way.This applies as well in the intellectual domainsof art, science and philosophy, as ineveryday tasks such as decorating thehouse.In general they will focus on a problemor task outside themselves, rather than continuouslyquestion their own motives.
Thistask may become a general “mission” towhich they have devoted their life.Accomplishing this task is what they likemost, and they do not tend to separatework from fun or vacation.Following the old dictum, we mightsummarize their attitude towards problemsas follows: they have the patience to endurethe things that cannot be changed, thecourage to change the things that can bechanged, and the wisdom to distinguish theones from the others.Social interactionsTheir relations with other people, societyand culture are characterized first of all bytheir autonomy. They do not really needother people, and they make their decisionsfor themselves, without having to rely onthe opinions of others, or on the rules, conventionsand values imposed by society.
They like solitude and detachment, andhave a need for privacy and independence.Their world view is generally independentof the particular culture or society in whichthey live, and they pay little attention tothe social conventions, though they willsuperficially respect them if transgressingthe rules would bring about needless conflicts.This lack of inhibition or tension maybe understood by their general attitude ofacceptance towards nature, people andthemselves: they do not feel unhappy, anxious,ashamed or guilty because of apparentconstraints or shortcomings they cannotchange, such as the weather, physiologicalprocesses (e.g. urination, pregnancy,menstruation, etc.), or old age. They willonly feel bad about discrepancies betweenwhat is, and what might be or ought to be.
Their intrinsic stability allows them tomaintain a relative serenity in situations ofdeprivation, failure or disaster.When confronted with problems, selfactualizershave little difficulty in makingdecisions, because they know how to distinguishbetween what is good and what isbad, and between means and ends, that isto say they have a well-developed systemof personal values, which is aided by theirOn the other hand, self-actualizers havea general feeling of empathy and kinshiptowards humanity as a whole. They tend tobe friendly towards everybody they meet,especially towards children. They arewilling to listen to, and especially learnfrom, people of any class, race, age, reli-Behavioral Science, Volume 37, 199244 HEYLIGHENgion or ideology, without being inhibitedby prejudices (Maslow calls this a democraticcharacter structure).
behavior and values of the majority, wemay expect that self-actualizers, whichform a very small minority (Maslow is notclear about which percentage of the populationthey constitute, though we may estimateless than 1 in 1000), will not be reallyat home in or adapted to their culture.According to Maslow, “they sometimesfeel like spies or aliens in a foreign landand sometimes behave so”. Their detachmentand unconventionality will often beinterpreted as discourtesy, lack of respector affection, or even as hostility. Their unemotionaland clear-cut decision-makingin the treatment of others, e.g.
in cutting offunsatisfactory relations, may seem coldand ruthless. Their philosophical, unhostilesense of humor, makes them look rather seriousin the eyes of ordinary people. In certainsituations their problem concentrationmay be exacerbated into stubbornness, absent-mindedness and shortness of temper.They are capable of more intense andprofound interpersonal relations than otherpeople, though they are highly selectiveabout which people they relate to, preferringthat company which allows them to bespontaneous. The intimate friends andlovers of self-actualizers are in generalclose to self-actualization themselves.
Selfactualizingrelationships are characterizedby extreme sincerity, self-disclosure andintimacy, by the dropping of all defensemechanisms. Sexuality can be deeply enjoyed,yet it does not take an importantplace in the system of values of a self-actualizer.They are quite uninhibited aboutsex, willing to experiment with differentroles (which may go as far as resemblingsado-masochism), but they are in no wayobsessed by it, and will in general not lookfor sex without affection. Self-actualizinglove is characterized as well by respect forthe other’s autonomy as by ego-transcendingidentification of the partners’ needs, aswell by profound concern and care for theother’s well-being as by playfulness andlaughter.A more general difficulty “normalpeople” have with self-actualizers is simplyto understand them, since they behaveand think in a quite unusual manner. Inparticular it is difficult to situate themalong one of the many dimensions or polaritieswhich are used to describe ordinarypersonality types and behaviors, such as:selfish-altruistic, extravert-introvert, active-passive, intuitive-rational, sensualspiritual,serious-playful, etc. Self-actualizersare neither selfish (extravert, active,etc.
), nor altruistic (introvert, passive, etc.),nor somewhere in between: their behavioris somehow selfish and altruistic at thesame time, because what they like forthemselves is in general also good forothers.Imperfections and peculiaritiesThe above description may have created animpression of an almost saintly perfection,but it must be understood that self-actualizershave their weaknesses and difficultiestoo. From the principle of bounded rationalitywe may infer that self-actualizersmake errors as well as other persons,though in general they will be faster inadmitting and correcting them.
Moreoverreaching self-actualization is not a matterof all-or-none, but a never-ending, gradualprocess of improvement. In spite of thiscontinuity between more and less self-actualizinglevels of development, there areclear qualitative differences between selfactualizersand “normal” people.This is what Maslow calls transcendenceof dichotomies. They often do notmake a choice between two apparently oppositebehaviors, but find a way of solvingthe problem which synthesizes the advantagesof the two alternatives, without thedisadvantages.
This capacity for “dialecticalsynthesis” is perhaps the characteristicwhich most fundamentally distinguishesthem from average people, and whichThis may be exemplified by problemsand difficulties which are typical for selfactualizers.Since society is based on theBehavioral Science, Volume 37, 1992A COGNITIVE-SYSTEMIC RECONSTRUCTION: MASLOW’S THEORY 45makes it difficult to situate them in one ofthe conventional psychological classificationsof personality types.being as conceived by Japanese ZenBuddhism, “satori”, seems quite similar to”self-actualization”, especially in its emphasison the openness to experience, thenot deficiency-motivated behavior and thetranscendence of dualities, and this reinforcesmy tendency to believe in Maslow’sstatement about the culture independenceof self-actualizing behavior.CRITICISMS OF MASLOW’S THEORYTheoretical frameworkMaslow’s ideas have been criticized fortheir lack of an integrated conceptualstructure. His writings are heterogeneous(his major book 8 is based on a collectionof papers published in the 1940’s and1950’s), and consist often of apparentlyunstructured lists of remarks.
According toEwen 3, p. 368: “Maslow’s eclecticism… seems insufficiently thought out andincludes too many confusions and contradictions.His study of self-actualizers hasbeen criticized on methodological grounds,and his theoretical constructs have beencharacterized as overly vague, equivocaland untestable”.
Empirical validationThe problem with Maslow’s observationsis that they are difficult to reproduce(though there does exist a validated test formeasuring the degree of self-actualizationa person has reached 13). Maslow israther vague about how he selected hissubjects, and he acknowledges that hiswork could not conform to the conventionalcriteria of psychological experimentationbecause of the complexity of theproblem. Yet I would agree with his defensethat it is preferable to carry outmethodologically primitive research aboutfundamental problems, such as the conditionsof human well-being, rather than restrictoneself to technically sophisticatedobservations about minor issues.Though the need hierarchy seems relativelysimple and consistent, the concept ofself-actualization is not clearly defined.There is a difficulty with the concept of”actualization” itself, because it presupposesthat there is somehow a well-definedset of potential talents an individual is capableof developing, but a human system ismuch too complex to allow the discriminationbetween “potential” developments and”impossible” ones.
Moreover the definitionof self-actualization as fulfilment of all thebasic needs does not always correspondwith self-actualization as observed in existingpersons: Maslow himself acknowledgesthat sometimes self-actualizationseems to spring from the frustration of acertain need rather than from its gratification8.The hierarchical emergence of needsseems easier to test in an objective way,and some empirical research has effectivelybeen done, mostly in the area ofmanagement and work satisfaction, but theresults are mixed at best, sometimesseeming to support the theory, sometimescontradicting it 14, 15. In particular thespecific order in which needs (e.
g. loveand esteem) emerge, seems to be ambiguous.Mook 11 illustrates another problemby means of two case studies, one about anAfrican tribe which has lived in conditionsof misery and insecurity for generations,and one about the behavior of people inNazi death camps. In the first case,Maslow’s theory seems to be confirmed:the frustration of the safety and sometimeseven the physiological needs seems to haveerased any behavior aimed at the satisfactionof the higher needs: there is no sign ofAnother criticism 11 stresses the subjectivityand specifically American bias ofMaslow’s criteria for psychological health,and suggests that in different societies,such as Japan, an individualistic, autonomouspersonality like Maslow’s selfactualizer,would not be considered healthyor well-adapted. To Maslow’s defense, Ican remark that the state of ultimate well-Behavioral Science, Volume 37, 199246 HEYLIGHENlove, of affiliation, of esteem or achievementamong the people of the tribe. In thesecond case, however, in spite of the continuousthreat to safety and to life, peoplestill retain some form of dignity and altruism.
Maslow’s theory has led us to the conclusionthat in addition to need gratificationwe must introduce a temporal factor, specifyingwhen particular needs were gratified,and a cognitive factor. If we want to builda well-structured, transparent model, wewill have to integrate these factors into atheory of the development of intelligent,goal-directed action. Non-classical or secondorder cybernetics has recently led toan insight into the relations between autonomy(self-steering) and cognition 5, 7.Specific problemsThis last example points to where the basicproblem lies: though it seems intuitivelyevident that somebody who has been fightingfor survival during his whole life willhave difficulty to develop a higher sense oflove, understanding and creativity, needgratification alone does not seem sufficientto explain in which circumstances self-actualizationwill or will not emerge.
Otherfactors must be involved. The main differencebetween the African tribesmen andthe Jews in the concentration camps seemsto be that the first ones never experiencedneed gratification in their life, while thesecond ones probably have led a relativelysatisfying life before their persecution bythe Nazis. So one important factor seemsto be the period during which basic needswere or were not satisfied. Maslow partlyacknowledges this when he remarks thatself-actualizers can endure need frustrationmuch better than other people, becausethey have already received so much gratificationin the past.An autonomous system can be definedas a system which is able to actively maintainor reconstruct its basic organization(which defines its identity), by counteractingor compensating the perturbations, inducedby changes in the environment, orby internal processes (e.
g. entropy production).The appearance of autonomous systemscan be understood from evolutionthrough natural selection 5, 6. Typicalexamples are biological organisms, whoseorganization has been analysed as autopoietic(i.
e. self-producing) by Maturanaand Varela 10.Autonomy presupposes cognition sincein order to effectively compensate perturbations,the system must be able: a) to distinguishor recognize specific perturbations,b) to know which action will be adequateto compensate for the potentially destructiveeffects of that specific perturbation.The compensation process can beconceived as problem-solving, where theproblem is defined by the discrepancy betweenthe actual “perturbed” state of thesystem, and the desired or goal state wherethe perturbation has been compensated,restoring the stable organization of thesystem.
Solving the problem means findingan adequate sequence of actions whichbrings the perturbed state back to the desiredstate.I want to propose another fundamentalfactor: cognition. It is striking that many, ifnot most, of the characteristics of self-actualizerslisted by Maslow are cognitive:accurate perception, creative problemsolving,effective decision-making, highcapacity for learning, etc. Self-actualizersgive an impression of a superior, flexibleintelligence.
Though Maslow mentions theexistence of a cognitive motive 8, cognitionis absent in his need hierarchyexplaining the emergence of selfactualization.If perturbations are conceived as simpledeviations from an equilibrium, which canbe controlled by negative feedback, thesystem reduces to a cybernetic homeostat.This may provide an adequate model forMaslow’s physiological needs, but not forA SYSTEMIC FRAMEWORK FOR NEED THEORYAutonomous systemsAn analysis of the shortcomings ofBehavioral Science, Volume 37, 1992A COGNITIVE-SYSTEMIC RECONSTRUCTION: MASLOW’S THEORY 47the higher needs. However, the “goal” ofan autonomous system is not a fixed equilibrium,but a dynamic process which continuouslyreconstructs the system’s identity.This leads to the following extensions.be conceived as a long-term strategy forsurvival. This leads us to distinguish betweenshort-term and long-term processes.
Urgency of perturbations andneedsMaintenance and growth of identityA perturbation in this conception is not assumedto cause an immediate annihilationof the system if it is not compensated, butto “announce” or “direct the attention towards”a possible annihilation in some faror near future. The threat posed by a perturbationdepends on two factors:The identity or organization to be maintainedis a rather abstract, high-level propertyemerging from a continuously changingnetwork of interactions. Though initiallycorresponding to the “life” or survivalof the organism, it may develop intosomething even more abstract, such as aconcept of “self”, or as the survival of anidea with which the actor has identified.a) how probable is the future annihilation,given the present perturbation?b) how far in the future is the expected annihilation,i.e. how much time does thereThis allows us to explain the motivation remain for compensating the perturbation?of a martyr who gives his life for his religionor country. Though his biological organismhas died, in the eyes of the martyrhe has succeeded to ensure the survival ofhis higher-order identity.
The shift of theorganization to be maintained from biologicalorganism to abstract idea carried insidethe organism is normally a continuous process,so that we cannot say that at anypoint there was a lack or disappearance ofidentity. A conceivable exception would bea sudden conversion or brain-washing,where the actor is induced to shift hisidentity in a discontinuous way, but this isfrom the point of view of the actor an unexpectedprocess, which she did not “will”,and which hence does not need to be explainedby a theory of motivation.Since the system cannot cope with allperturbations at once, there will be a problemof resource allocation: the system mustorder the perturbations according to their”urgency”, starting with those where theprobability for destruction is highest, andthe time for compensation shortest.
Thisprovides a first model for Maslow’s hierarchyof needs.In generalthough not necessarily inspecific circumstancesdirect physiologicalperturbations such as hunger or thirstare more urgent than indirect threats, e.g.because of the presence of predators in theenvironment: in the first case the probabilityof destruction without compensation ismaximal, and the time horizon relativelyshort, depending upon the type of perturbation(hunger is less urgent than thirst, forexample). In the second case the probabilityis smaller than 1, and the time horizonis in general longer, though an attack by alion may of course be imminent.
This casecorresponds to the safety need.A good way to ensure the long-termsurvival of a particular type of organizationconsists in maximally reproducing this organization:the more copies of the initialorganization there are, the smaller thechance that all of them would be destroyed.Hence the biological need for reproduction(and thus sexuality) may alsobe understood as a special case of the generalneed for identity reconstruction. Moregenerally, the “growth” or “development”of a particular organization, in the sense ofmaking the organization larger, more numerous,more adaptive, stronger, etc., canIn order to explain the higher needs, wemust look at cases where the probabilitybecomes even lower, and the time horizoneven larger.
These are situations where wecannot not really speak about a “perturbation”,but rather about a “potential perturbation”.For example, as I am sitting behindmy desk now, I do not experience anyBehavioral Science, Volume 37, 199248 HEYLIGHENactual threat to my health, yet I know thatstatistically there is a non-negligible probabilitythat I would die from a heart attacksometime in the years to come. If I want tocompensate for this potential perturbation,there is no obvious equilibrium to be restoredor danger to be fled. The only thingI can do is trying to understand as well aspossible all the possible factors increasingthe probability of a heart attack, and to finda protective environment and life-stylewhere these factors are minimally present.you have some expectancies, but no certainties,you would like to get some reaction,which either confirms your expectancies(this is of course the best case), or disconfirmsthem. However, you would feelquite unsatisfied if you did not get any reaction,feedback, or reinforcement at all,positive or negative. It is because of thefeedback you get, that you can strengthenyour confidence or improve your knowledgeabout which results can be expectedin which circumstances.
This feedbackmotive may explain Maslow’s esteemneed, because receiving acknowledgmentfrom others, and experiencing personalachievement is clearly a basic form offeedback or reinforcement. It also explainspart of the love motive, because interpersonalrelations do not only provide protection,they also provide interaction and conversation,i.e.
a continuing process of mutualfeedback.There are two aspects here: the need forexternal care or protection, and the needfor individual knowledge. I might find thefirst one by having a loving family whichcares for me if I am ill, and a good doctorand hospital, which can discover the symptomsof a threatening heart attack and protectme against it by adapted medicine. Theneed for protection is a prolongation of theneed for safety. It explains part ofMaslow’s “love and belonging” need, becausewe will find external help and protectionin the first place by our belongingto a group and by our interpersonal relationships.Getting knowledge by feedback is stillquite limited, however, because it presupposesthat there is already a sensitivity orrecognition for certain variables betweenwhich an association could exist.
It is notsufficient if you want to learn completelynew variables and associations. What youneed to do then is exploration, i.e. tryingout things without any a priori expectationswhich can be confirmed or disconfirmed.This defines a next motive, the curiosity orexploration need, which may explain partof Maslow’s self-actualization need.
Thedifference between self-actualization as adrive to maximally develop one’s competences,and simple exploration, is that thefirst one integrates everything which hasbeen achieved before by satisfaction of thelower needs: the confidence about the situationof the actor developed from the satisfactionof the safety and protectionneeds, and the confidence the actor hasabout his own competence for problemsolvingand capacity for learning achievedby the satisfaction of the feedback need.This is the highest level of needs, becauseexploration has the least direct effect onshort-term perturbations, but has the mostIf the external protection is goodenough, there is no need for personalknowledge: if I do not know how to avoida heart disease, the doctor will know it forme. However, the doctor’s knowledge willbe restricted to general, statistical propertiesof heart diseases, and cannot includeall the individual peculiarities of my ownlife-style and sensitivity to diseases. This isa general principle: no existing knowledgewill be perfectly adapted to all the specificsituations an autonomous system will encounter.The only way to compensate forthat is to equip the autonomous actor witha capacity for individual learning.A basic paradigm for learning is thestrengthening or weakening of associationsby positive or negative reinforcement, asexemplified by operant conditioning. Thislearning mechanism explains the emergenceof a motive or need for reinforcementor feedback: if you are trying to solvea problem or doing something about whichBehavioral Science, Volume 37, 1992A COGNITIVE-SYSTEMIC RECONSTRUCTION: MASLOW’S THEORY 49potentiality for securing and developingthe identity in the long term.
anorexia, the subject does not experienceany need to eat food (i.e. hunger), thoughphysiologically the intake of food may beurgently required for survival.We may summarize the analysis untilnow as follows: all different needs can beunderstood from the basic need of maintenanceand reconstruction of the organization,defining the identity, of an autonomoussystem. They can be ordered accordingto their degree of “urgency” whichcorresponds to the probability of, and expectedshortness of time before, destruction,associated with a specific perturbation.Though this ordering of needs is continuous,it is possible to distinguish approximatelyseparate classes of needs:homeostasis, safety, protection, feedback,and exploration.
Maslow’s basic needs arejust special cases of these more generalneed classes. We must not forget that theurgency ordering is not absolute, since itconsists of (at least) two dimensions, probabilityand duration, and since the estimationof the value of these dimensions is ingeneral context-dependent, and not veryreliable. The strict ordering of the needsproposed by Maslow must hence be consideredas merely a rough approximation.In particular the relative urgency of differentneeds is subjective, and this may accountfor empirical findings in whichMaslow’s postulated order for emergenceof the needs seems violated. For example,someone may think that getting esteem ismore urgent than building up a love relationship.We have defined urgency interms of probability and expected duration,but it is clear that no model is capable ofexactly calculating these variables for realisticallycomplex situations. The approximateperception of urgency will depend onthe cognitive system with which the subjectinterprets the world. The only guaranteefor some sort of objectivity is that if thedifference between perceived and actualurgency is too large, the autonomous systemwill be eliminated by natural selection.This means that in practice the postulated”objective” ordering of needs according tourgency will only be valid in a rough approximation,with many exceptions.What seems essential for SA, however,is not the (subjective or objective) actualgratification of needs, but the fact that thesubject feels competent to find gratification.For example, it is not because a selfactualizerfeels thirsty (frustration of hisphysiological need), or is alone (frustrationof his belongingness need), that suddenlyhe is not longer a self-actualizer. Such aneed frustration will not change the personalitystructure, world view or self-imageof the subject, as long as the subjectknows that he is able to get gratification indue time (i.e. in a short term for urgent,lower needs, in a longer term for higherneeds). The subject is aware that he cansolve the problem easily, e.g. by drinking aglass of water in case of thirst (in ten minutes),by going to see a friend in case ofsolitude or lack of feedback (next week),or by getting enroled for a university programin case of frustration of the need forlearning (next year).SELF-ACTUALIZATION AND COGNITIVEDEVELOPMENTSelf-actualizationas perceived competenceNow that we have reconstructed Maslow’sneed hierarchy, we can look again at hisexplanation for self-actualization (SA).According to him SA is the result of thegratification of all the lower needs, makingthe energy available for the continuousgratification of the highest need, the needfor SA.However, we must remark that the gratificationof a need i.e. the compensation ofa (potential) perturbation is not objectivelygiven, but depends on how the subjectperceives his needs and his externalsituation. The subjectivity of this perceptionis obvious for higher needs, such asesteem, but it can be illustrated for lowerneeds as well. For example in the case ofBehavioral Science, Volume 37, 199250 HEYLIGHENHaving redefined the origin of SA asthe perceived competence to satisfy basicneeds in due time, we must proceed toanalyse the components of this competence.First, in order to be competent, youmust obviously dispose of the needed resourcesfor solving the problem: you cannotsatisfy your thirst, if you are in a desertwithout water; you cannot go and see afriend if you are marooned on an uninhabitedisland; you cannot enrol in a universitycourse if you are in jail. This may be calledmaterial competence. Second, it is not sufficientthat the needed resources are there,you must also be able to recognize them,find them and apply them effectively.Except in trivial cases, problem-solvingdemands cognitive competence, i.e. knowledge,intelligence and creativity. Finally,the third component of perceived competenceis the subjective awareness of competence.It is not sufficient that the resourcesare there, and that you are capableto find them: if you are convinced that youcannot solve the problem, you will not bemotivated to do the necessary search forthe resources, even if they are very easy tofind. This component may be called subjectivecompetence.personal problems, while he is not.Cognitive competence anddistinction systemsWe will not analyse material competence,since this falls outside the scope of personalitytheory, but proceed directly with cognitivecompetence. We must remark firstthat cognitive competence is not someform of “expertise”, i.e. specialized knowledgewhich can be applied to a particularclass of problems. It is not even “intelligence”,in the sense of what is measuredby IQ-tests. Though a certain type of expertise,or a high IQ, may obviously helpto reach competence, they are not sufficient.Like Maslow notes 8, many peoplewith a high IQ limit their activities tounimaginative “puzzle-solving”. This correspondsto the solving of well-definedproblems, e.g. mathematical or chess problems.Satisfying one’s basic needs is not awell-defined problem, however: it is not apriori clear what the needs or goals are, orwhich means can be used. Attaining gratificationon all need levels requires not onlyintelligence, but also a profound selfknowledgeand the ability to formulateone’s own goals, and to question valuesand basic assumptions. This is somethingwhich clearly cannot be measured by traditionalIQ-tests. Therefore we will have toanalyse more deeply how problems whichare not a priori well-structured, can besolved.We have here assumed that perceivedcompetence is a special case of actual competence,but of course we can also imaginesituations where a subject believes to becompetent, yet is unable to solve the problems.However, we may suppose that suchsituations are not very stable: if the actualneed of the subject is not satisfied, whenthe subject expects it to be, the subject willnormally review his expectations. Ofcourse the reliability of this natural selfcorrectingmechanism will depend on theurgency of the frustrated need: in case oflong-term, non-urgent needs the incompetentsubject could maintain for a long periodthat he is competent; in case of urgentneeds, self-delusion would rapidly lead tofatal errors. In general, though, it seemsimprobable that someone would continueto actually believe (and not simply publiclystate) that he is competent to solve all hisA problem is defined by a goal or end,and by possible means to reach this end.Solving it requires: a) the ability to distinguishsatisfactory from non-satisfactorysituations (value or ends distinctions); b)the ability to distinguish relevant objectsand properties (means distinctions); c) theknowledge about how the different states,defined by the objects and properties, arecausally connected. Distinctions and connectionstogether define a distinction system4, 5, 6, which is a basic model of acognitive structure allowing problem-solving.A problem is well-structured if all theBehavioral Science, Volume 37, 1992A COGNITIVE-SYSTEMIC RECONSTRUCTION: MASLOW’S THEORY 51fundamental means and ends distinctionsare explicit, precise and invariant. An illstructuredproblem, on the other hand, ischaracterized by lacking, ambiguous orvariable distinctions.and uncertain.Cognitive competence in the gratificationof basic needs can hence be conceivedas requiring a stable foundation, consistingof invariant distinctions representing loworderneeds, pertaining to the short-termmaintenance of the self, and an open-endedflexible superstructure, consisting of variable,easily adaptable distinctions, pertainingto long-term potentialities for development.This type of cognitive organizationcan be easily recognized in Maslow’s descriptionof SA behavior.In general, the more urgent the need,the better it is to have a well-structuredproblem, because this reduces the searchneeded to find a satisfying solution. Thisexplains why homeostatic needs correspondto biologically inherited, fixed distinctionsbetween satisfactory and nonsatisfactorysituations (e.g. thirst as distinguishingbetween sufficient and insufficientconcentration of water in the tissues).If each time something is going wrong inyour physiology, you would have to think:”What do I lack? Am I hungry, or am Ithirsty or am I sleepy?”, you would not bevery well-equipped for survival. In thesame way, when confronted with a predatorit is better not to begin doubting aboutwhether the animal is a jaguar, or a leopard,or perhaps a panther: it suffices tomake the clear-cut observation: “This animalis dangerous!”Self-actualizers are characterized by: asimple, accepting attitude towards theirphysiological needs, a great self-confidence,autonomy and stability in the faceof frustration and danger, yet a profoundflexibility and creativity in learning anddiscovering new ideas. This is particularlyclear in their problem-solving attitude:their stable system of values allows themto make decisions without hesitation if thisis necessary, yet they will withhold judgmentand explore alternative distinctions,if there is still insufficient certainty tomake an informed decision, and if a decisionis not urgently needed. The flexiblesuperstructure provides the platform for allthe typical traits of self-actualizers: creativity,openness, spontaneity, unconventionalityand especially transcendence ofdichotomies. Indeed, what Maslow calls a”dichotomy” is just a rigid distinction,which is not necessarily adapted to the specificcontext. In contrast to other people,self-actualizers are not bound to the oncelearned distinctions, but are able to changethem in a way which takes into account theunique characteristics of the specific situation.On the other hand, for the higher-orderneeds, it is not so urgent to make clear distinctions.Moreover, it is more difficult tomake early distinctions since these needscorrespond by definition to situationswhich belong to a still far away and uncertainfuture. In such problems it is wise toquestion whether some conceived futuresituation would or would not be satisfactory,since its effects will in general extendover a much longer period than the effectsof drinking or escaping a predator. For example,if you consider marrying, it is normalto ask: “Am I really in love with her?”The “least urgent” needs correspond tocompletely ill-defined problems: if yourgoal is learning or exploration, then thereis no criterion which tells you when youhave achieved your goal, i.e. when you canstop learning. Moreover, if you want to exploreunknown domains, then by definitionthere is not much knowledge availablewhich can help you to choose the most effectiveway to do it. Everything is vagueDevelopmental requirementsfor self-actualizationLet us now try to understand which are therequirements for developing perceivedcompetence, i.e. SA. We will assume thatin our present Western society there aresufficient resources for most people, so wewill not consider the obvious case of mate-Behavioral Science, Volume 37, 199252 HEYLIGHENrial competence. Another requirement is asufficiently high level of genetically inheritedintelligence (and perhaps also othertraits which may be influenced by inheritance,such as curiosity or emotional stability):we do not expect children born withmental defects to achieve high competence.We may expect that the higher the”inherited” component of someone’s IQ,the easier he or she may reach self-actualization.However, this is far from sufficient,and relative deficiencies in geneticallydetermined IQ can be compensatedby good education and other externallystimulated forms of cognitive development.lems (e.g. Van Gogh or Newton). For thethird component, we must go back to theorigin of subjective competence.Suppose that one of the basic needs(physiological, safety, protection, feedback…)has been frustrated during prolongedperiods in early childhood, i.e. at astage of development where there is notyet a sufficiently stable cognitive system ofdistinctions, then the child will develop afeeling of insecurity and incompetencewith respect to this particular need orneeds. Even if the need is satisfied later on,the child (and later the adult) will alwayssuspect that it may be suddenly frustratedonce again, and that it will not be able tocompensate the perturbation. In otherwords, the child will experience a continuousthreat to the need, even if there is noobjective, actual threat. This will in generallead to a lack of self-confidence, and todifferent types of fears.This determines a second componentnecessary for SA: most of the distinctionswe make are learned from other people. Soif our parents, teachers, and cultural environmentpropose adequate distinction systems(i.e. adapted to the external realityand to our basic needs), it will be easier forus to build up a competent system of personalvalues and concepts. For example, astrictly puritanical education may fail toconvey a distinction between natural sexualdesire and sexual pathology, and thismay lead to a personality which is incompetentto satisfy its sexual needs. This educationaland cultural component must especiallystimulate the individual learning ofnew distinctions, i.e. it should entice us toexplore things for ourselves, and not to acceptideas on the basis of pure authority.Thus a liberal, open-minded educationshould be more effective in reaching selfactualization,than one based on the unquestionedtransmission of traditional conceptsand rules, however positive thosetraditions may be.This may be understood because thedistinction system, representing the possibleways to formulate and solve the problemcorresponding to the need frustration,has not received sufficient reinforcement:the child was not able to solve the problembecause of external deficiencies, or cognitiveincompetence. Hence the child will(consciously or unconsciously) doubtabout the adequacy of the learned distinctionsystem, so that the distinction systemwill not be stabilized.Because of the lack of internal stabilityof the system of personal concepts of values,the person will now look for externalstability and reinforcement, clinging towhat looks like a stable support. Mostlythis will be found in society at large, or inone of its subcultures, in the form of conventions,fashions, traditions, ideologies,religions, etc. The problem with collectivedistinction systems like these is that theyare directed at a kind of “largest commondenominator”, and hence not very flexible:like in the example of the doctor, they cannottake into account all the idiosyncrasiescharacterizing a particular person in a particularsituation.These two components, genetic and educational,are not sufficient, however.Everybody knows people who are highlyintelligent, well-educated, and with a broadcultural background, yet who are unhappyand neurotic. The “mad scientist” or “crazyartist” have become a cliche, and historyprovides many examples of creative geniuseswho had deep psychological prob-Behavioral Science, Volume 37, 1992A COGNITIVE-SYSTEMIC RECONSTRUCTION: MASLOW’S THEORY 53The result will be a person who is uncertainabout basic aspects of his or herpersonality: sense of physical well-being,of security, of protection, of self-confidence,yet who tends to be rigid about lessbasic, less intimately personal conceptsand rules, such as social conventions,metaphysical ideas and everyday knowledge.In other words, the opposite of a selfactualizingperson, who is basically confidentabout issues pertaining to the maintenanceof his or her identity, and thus freeto doubt about more abstract, more distantconcepts and rules (and even to doubtabout certain of the more basic aspects, ifthe rest of the system is stable enough tosupport this questioning).sons, it does not require that one be lovedand respected by everybody. The remaininguncertainty about basic needs togetherwith the inability to make new distinctions,will lead the non-self-actualizer to wantmore and more of the same, without evergetting satisfied.Let us now consider the opposite developmentpattern: gratification of needs duringchildhood in due time. Under “in duetime” we must understand: not too late, i.e.before the frustration has had destructiveeffects on the sense of safety and self-confidence,but not too early either, i.e. notimmediately after the child has expressedits need. Otherwise, the child will becomespoilt: its tendency to solve problems andlearn by itself will not be reinforced, and itwill get lazy. How long “due time” is, willdepend on the specific need: short for urgentneeds, longer for higher needs. If theearly gratification is accompanied by sufficientinherent intelligence and by the presentationof adequate distinctions systemsby parents and educators, we may assumethat the person will succeed in building upa well-adapted hierarchy of distinction systems,with stable foundations and a flexiblesuperstructure, leading to an overall perceptionof competence. If such a person isin adulthood confronted with a situation ofextreme deprivation and threat to the basicneeds, for example in a Nazi concentrationcamp, this will have little effect on his orher perceived competence. Indeed the flexibilityof the higher-order distinctions willallow the person to formulate the problemsituation in such a way that the externalcauses of the problem become clear, so thatthere is no reason to doubt about one’s owncompetence or system of values.If in a later stage of life the basic needsare nevertheless satisfied, after initial frustration,it will be quite difficult to reorganizethe hierarchy of distinction systems inorder to reach a more self-actualizing system.The perception of incompetence andhence insecurity will tend to maintain,even though all actual danger has disappeared,because subjective incompetencetends to create actual incompetence. Evenif after many years the person has sufficientlygained confidence about his basicvalues and competences, there will still bethe problem of the rigidity of higher-orderdistinctions which restricts the openness toexperience and thus thwarts further development.In such cases it may be necessaryto break open the rigid perception of reality,by radical interventions, such as profoundpsychotherapy, mystical experiences,hallucinogenic drugs, etc.If this does not happen, the typical situationwill be that the person continues tolook for more and more gratification of thelower needs, even though the level of gratificationhe or she has reached may be morethan sufficient. For example, though thesafety and protection needs require a certainlevel of material well-being, let us saysufficient to buy or rent a house, they donot require a level sufficient to buy a castle.Though the feedback need may be satisfiedby the love and esteem of a few per-In conclusion, although we have startedby separating material, cognitive and subjectivecompetences, we see that they interactin a quite intricate way: if during theperiod of basic cognitive development, thechild experiences either material or cognitiveincompetence, or both, this will createsubjective incompetence, and this will inturn hinder the further development ofBehavioral Science, Volume 37, 199254 HEYLIGHENcognitive competence because of the resultingcognitive rigidity and lack of motivation.In other words, subjective incompetenceacts as a self-fulfilling prophesy:once you start to believe that you are incompetent,you effectively become incompetent.Conversely, if you believe you arecompetent (and if this belief is not brutallyfalsified by the facts), you tend to be lessinhibited by possible threats to your selfimage,and hence you have more energyand are more motivated for further developingyour competence by learning andexploration. Hence we see that both selfactualizationand non-self-actualization arereinforced by positive feedback loops.tion of self-actualization, and the insufficiencyof simple need gratification to accountfor its emergence. Apart from gratification,we have proposed to include temporaland cognitive factors.This has led us to study cognitive developmentfrom the point of view of an autonomoussystem trying to maintain itsidentity in a complex and changing environment.This allowed us to reformulateMaslow’s need hierarchy, in terms of the”urgency” of (potential) perturbations experiencedby the system, such that urgentperturbations correspond to situationswhere the destruction of the system hashigh probability and short time horizon,whereas non-urgent “perturbations” correspondto long-term phenomena, with aweak probability of destruction, but with ahigh potentiality for “growth”. The urgencyordering of perturbations led to acorresponding ordering of the needs toavoid such perturbations, generalizingMaslow’s hierarchy: the need for homeostasis,the need for safety, the need forprotection, the need for feedback and theneed for exploration.It looks as though a child at birth standsbefore a bifurcation, with two “attractors”:perceived competence and perceived incompetence.Positions in between the attractorsare unstable: any not directly resolvedfrustration of a basic need, due toexternal scarcity of the needed resources(insufficient food, unsafe environment,lack of love and reinforcement by the parents,etc.), or to cognitive incompetence tosolve the problem (insufficient intelligence,inadequate models proposed by education,complexity of the problem), duringdevelopment may be sufficient to pushthe child into the attractor of incompetence.We should hence not be surprisedthat self-actualizers form such a small minority.Yet I believe that this picture in itssimplicity is a little too pessimistic, andthat one may develop a feeling of competencefor many needs, even though not forall, and that if this domain of perceivedcompetence is large enough from the start,it may continue to grow during the wholechildhood and adulthood.Unsatisfied needs or perturbations correspondto problems which must be solved.This led us to redefine self-actualization asthe perceived competence to solve thesebasic problems in due time, where the requiredtime depends on the (subjective) urgencyof the need. Perceived competencehas three components: material, cognitiveand subjective. Cognitive competence requiresadequate distinction systems: lowerorderneeds demand well-structured, closedcognitive systems, with invariant, precisedistinctions; higher-order needs requireopen-ended systems with variable distinctions.Self-actualization is hence characterizedby the successful implementation ofthe following principle: stable low-orderdistinctions form the basis for flexiblehigh-order distinctions. This allows us toexplain most of Maslow’s observations ofself-actualizing behavior.DISCUSSIONSummaryA review of Maslow’s theory and the criticismsraised against it has led us to pinpointthe following shortcomings: the conceptuallyand empirically confusing defini-However, if a distinction system is notsufficient to solve a problem and thus toBehavioral Science, Volume 37, 1992A COGNITIVE-SYSTEMIC RECONSTRUCTION: MASLOW’S THEORY 55satisfy a need, the corresponding distinctionswill not be reinforced and hence willremain unstable. The inability to reduce alow order deficiency during the period inwhich basic distinctions are developed,will lead to subjective incompetence, andto a hierarchy of distinctions systemswhich is not well balancedin the sensethat higher order distinctions are morerigid than lower order onesand thus toperceived incompetence. Perceived incompetencetends to be self-enforcing since itdiminishes the motivation to solve problems,to learn from experience, and henceto increase competence.where individuals are taught to developtheir own distinctions, partly by openingup or de-automatizing 2 their existingrigi