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iPhone Versus Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

After buying an iPhone, I have begun to wonder where consumer purchases fit into Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a system of human needs in his paper, A Theory of Human Motivation. At the base level, Maslow suggested that humans have physiological needs -- to maintain homeostasis, breathe, and so on. Once those needs are met, the (sane) human seeks safety, then love and belonging, then esteem, then at the top level: self-actualization -- this is where creativity, morality, and general awesomeness reside.

Maslow's hierarchy makes a lot of sense to me -- it's certainly true that when a base need (for example, "It's awful darn cold in this room") isn't being met, satisfying that need becomes the primary motivator in my life, pushing aside the exciting work of self-actualization. But where I think it gets interesting is examining the effects of advertising and consumer culture on your personal hierarchy of needs. Apple managed to convince me that I Needed an iPhone a few weeks back, to the point that I put all my other needs on hold and stood in a line for several hours (in the hot sun and the rain), just to plunk down $600 and take home a phone. (Granted, a really neat phone that I enjoy, but still, not something that was a need before Apple told me it was.)

It seems to me that effective advertising creates an alternate, commercialized version of Maslow's pyramid -- where instead of attending to the real needs of yourself as a human being (everything from homeostasis to self-actualization), you buy into the desire to attain some new gizmo, eat a certain kind of food, in general meeting your needs by buying more stuff (and particular stuff -- this or that brand of cereal, for instance). In this alternate world, your needs are suggested to you by advertising, often at a specific time and place -- new Harry Potter book coming soon! -- and your experience of fulfilling those needs involves buying stuff and shifting priorities in your life in order to enable purchases.

Somewhere at the top of this commercial need pyramid (for me, anyway) is the iPhone, a device that effectively promised to simplify my life by reducing the number of gadgets I carried (all of which were previous commercial items I decided to buy). Before the iPhone, I already had a phone, an iPod, a laptop, and good internet access -- after it, I still have those things, but I also have an iPhone. Hmm. I was clearly in the target market because I'd already bought all the other gizmos, so now my need was to buy uber- or meta-gizmos to simplify. Ouch.

This experience of buying into a commercial need diverts the buyer into an experience where "must buy iPhone" is the primary need of the moment. The most amazing (and perhaps horrifying) part is, buying the iPhone actually felt like a form of self-actualization. It felt similar to being creative, and I was validated by all the other nerds buying theirs. I've heard stories of those who shopped at Apple Stores where lines of employees would high-five new iPhone buyers on their way out of the store. What's up with that?

I also wonder -- is it all that bad if buying something makes you feel good? It's certainly scary, but is it a valid option for being happy? To some extent, if paying $600 for an iPhone bought me $600 worth of happiness, that's actually pretty neat. I think where this gets hard to hold onto is when you compare my $600 of happiness to putting $600 in the bank (probably making me happier someday in the future), or giving it to someone who really needs it (to maintain homeostasis, for example), or what have you. But I suppose everything is relative -- if I stuck with that line of reasoning I'd probably live in a yurt. And who knows, maybe I'd be happier for it.

So what sits atop your hierarchy of needs? Is it some commercial need masquerading as self-actualization? Is it something personal, creative, or...other?

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Yale's Insanely Popular Happiness Course Is Now Open to Everyone Online
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Yale University's happiest course is giving people yet another reason to smile. After breaking registration records, "Psychology and the Good Life" has been repurposed into a free online course anyone can take, Quartz reports.

Psychology professor Laurie Santos debuted the class in the 2018 spring semester, and it's officially the most popular course in the university's 317-year history. About 1200 students, or a quarter of Yale's undergraduate student body, are currently enrolled. Now that a free version of the course has launched on Coursera, the curriculum is about to reach even more learners.

The online "Science of Well-Being" class is led by Santos from her home. Throughout the course, students will learn about happiness from a psychological perspective, including misconceptions about happiness and activities that have been proven to boost life satisfaction. "The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice," the course description reads.

Each section comes with readings, video lessons, and a quiz, as well as the chance to connect and brainstorm with classmates. After passing the assignments, students come away from the six-week course with a certificate and hopefully a broader understanding of the factors that contribute to a happy life. You can visit the course page over at Coursera to enroll.

[h/t Quartz]

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Overcome Your Fear of Embarrassment by Imagining People Reacting to Your Fart
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Everyone gets embarrassed occasionally, but not everyone reacts in the same way. Some people have a deep-rooted fear of embarrassment, and seek to avoid it as much as possible. You can't go your whole life without ever embarrassing yourself, though, unless you remove yourself from human company entirely. So if you are prone to feeling embarrassed and self-conscious, you have to learn to deal with it effectively. A new study spotted by Big Think suggests that a relatively easy trick can help minimize embarrassment. You just have to get outside of yourself.

The research, conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and UCLA and published in Motivation and Emotion, looked at the problem through a business-school lens—in other words, for people who are really worried about public embarrassment, that fear might affect what they buy. They might hesitate to buy something because they don't want to ask questions about it or don't want to be seen buying it, or they might buy even more of it to avoid embarrassment in the future (say, if it's Beano).

The research was aimed at people who are high in what psychologists call "public self-consciousness." These individuals are ultra-aware of how they appear to others, and are often very concerned with how people see them, so they try to avoid potential embarrassment as much as possible. They “tend to perceive themselves to be in the social ‘spotlight' and focus too much on the situation,” the study's authors write.

In three different tests, the researchers introduced embarrassing situations to UCLA students. First, they had students read a Beano ad involving a yoga student who lets out an accidental fart ("guaranteed to linger forever," as the copywriter put it), then answer questions about how much they identified with the farter in the situation and how they felt. They found that participants who were high in public self-consciousness tended to imagine themselves as the farter in the situation while reading the ad, rather than seeing themselves as an observer, and felt more embarrassed reading it than other participants.

In a subsequent test, the researchers asked students to read an ad about a study in which volunteers would be asked personal questions about sensitive issues like genital herpes. They then answered questions about how likely they would be to volunteer, how they would expect to feel during that type of interview, and how they expected the study administrators would react to them during that interview. They found that self-conscious people were more likely to say they would volunteer if they were asked first about how the people administrating the study would likely react to volunteers, forcing them to consider the outsider's perspective before they were asked if they would take part.

In the third test, the researchers recruited students to again consider embarrassing farts. Two ads for gas-prevention products each showed the same image of four people sitting on a couch together, with one guy sitting alone on one end and three women sitting on the other end. One ad read, "Rip. Accidentally passing gas in front of a crush is one of the most embarrassing experiences. Guaranteed to linger forever." Another added an extra twist: "Others will know what it's like. Put yourself in their shoes … would you giggle? Would you be horrified? Would you stare?"

Participants who read the first ad were more likely to say they would buy the gas-preventing product to keep them from experiencing the embarrassment of a public fart. If they read the second ad, they reported less interest in buying it.

In any social situation, it's probably a good idea to imagine that you are not the center of everyone's attention. For people who are prone to self-consciousness, that kind of thought pattern can be even more helpful than for most. While it's easy to default to thinking of yourself as the star of the movie of your life, it might be better to imagine what it's like to be part of the audience—one that's really, really rooting for you, farts and all.

[h/t Big Think]

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