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An interesting phenomenon related to Maslow's work is that in spite of a lack of empirical evidence to support his hierarchy, it enjoys wide acceptance (Wahba & Bridgewell, 1976; Soper, Milford & Rosenthal, 1995).
The few major studies that have been completed on the hierarchy seem to support the proposals of William James (1892/1962) and Mathes (1981) that there are three levels of human needs. James hypothesized the levels of material (physiological, safety), social (belongingness, esteem), and spiritual. Mathes proposed the three levels were physiological, belonginess, and self-actualization; he considered security and self-esteem as unwarranted. Alderfer (1972) developed a comparable hierarchy with his ERG (existence, relatedness, and growth) theory. His approach modified Maslow's theory based on the work of Gordon Allport (1960, 1961) who incorporated concepts from systems theory into his work on personality. http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/regsys/maslow.html
Limitations of Maslow's Hierarchy
While Maslow's hierarchy makes sense from an intuitive standpoint, there is little evidence to support its hierarchical aspect. In fact, there is evidence that contradicts the order of needs specified by the model. For example, some cultures appear to place social needs before any others. Maslow's hierarchy also has difficulty explaining cases such as the "starving artist" in which a person neglects lower needs in pursuit of higher ones. Finally, there is little evidence to suggest that people are motivated to satisfy only one need level at a time, except in situations where there is a conflict between needs. Even though Maslow's hierarchy lacks scientific support, it is quite well-known and is the first theory of motivation to which many people they are exposed. To address some of the issues of Maslow's theory, Clayton Alderfer developed the ERG theory, a needs-based model that is more consistent with empirical findings. http://www.netmba.com/mgmt/ob/motivation/maslow/