Implicit in Maslow's concept of self-actualization is the assumption that people acquire greater levels of psychological health as they become older. Children and young adults struggling to acquire an education, a job, and a mate are not likely to have achieved the B-values and the other criteria for reaching self-actualization. Does empirical research support this assumption?
Jack Bauer and Dan McAdams (2004a) assumed the existence of two kinds of approaches to growth and development—extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic development is primarily cognitive and revolves around one s ability to think complexly about ones life goals, whereas intrinsic development is primarily emotional and revolves around one s ability to feel better about one s life. More specifically, extrinsic growth focuses on fame, money, physical appearance, status, and power. By contrast, intrinsic goals focus on satisfaction, happiness, personal growth, and healthy interpersonal relationships. Cognitive-extrinsic growth and emotional-intrinsic growth seem to be unrelated to one another; that is, one can be cognitively complex about ones life and not be happy or satisfied.
In their research on growth goals, Bauer and McAdams predicted a qualified positive relationship between age and personality development and psychological well-being—one that would be mediated by intrinsic growth goals. In other words, only people with intrinsic growth goals would see that getting older results in greater ego development and well-being. The corollary to this prediction is that for those with extrinsic growth goals, getting older would not lead to greater personality development and psychological health.
Participants in Bauer and McAdams' study included both college students and volunteers from the community. The former had a mean age of about 20 years, whereas the latter had a mean age of about 52 years, and both groups were about 70% female. Life goals were coded from responses to a task that asked participants to write a paragraph each about then two most important life goals. The goals themselves were not coded but rather the reasons for the goals. Specifically, goals were coded on whether they were intrinsic, extrinsic, or exploratory. Intrinsic goals were those that included making a contribution to society, enhancing interpersonal relationships, improving feelings of happiness, and fostering advancement toward personal growth. Extrinsic goals included wanting to gain money, status, approval, or some other nonintrinsic goals. Exploratory goals included those designed to understand and to seek conceptual challenges. In addition, the researchers administered an assessment of ego-development and a measure of psychological well-being. As predicted intrinsic and exploratory goals were positively correlated with maturity and personality development. People who are driven by happiness and need for conceptual understanding tend to be higher in ego-development and well-being. But there were also more specific associations: People high hi exploratory growth goals were especially high in ego-development, and those high in intrinsic growth goals were especially high in well-being.
With regard to age and personality growth, results generally showed that older people were hideed higher in ego-development and well-being than younger people, and that this relationship was strongest for those with intrinsic growth goals. In other words, older adults had higher life satisfaction than younger adults. This was hi part explained by older adults' behig more likely to have intrinsic goals and concerns.
Bauer and McAdams concluded that growth goals, particularly when studied in narrative form, open a window for researchers and therapists to understand whether people's intentions are likely to lead in personally desirable directions— namely toward a more complex understanding of their lives and toward a heightened sense of well being.(p. 125)
This conclusion is consistent with Maslow's (1968) argument that people generally take either a safety or a growth orientation hi their everyday lives and that a growth orientation more readily facilitates psychological health and well-being.
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