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What are the fundamental forces that drive human behavior? A group of evolutionary thinkers offer an answer by revising one of psychology’s most familiar images.

Abraham Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs is one of the iconic images of psychology. The simple diagram, first introduced in the 1940s, spells out the underlying motivations that drive our day-to-day behavior and points the way to a more meaningful life. It is elegant, approachable and uplifting.

But is it also out of date?

That’s the argument of a team of evolutionary psychologists led by Douglas Kenrick of Arizona State University. In the latest issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, they propose a revised pyramid, one informed by recent research defining our deep biological drives.

Their new formulation is intellectually stimulating, but emotionally deflating. “Self-actualization,” the noble-sounding top layer of Maslow’s hierarchy, in their model has not only been dethroned, it has been relegated to footnote status. It has been replaced at the top with a more mundane motivation Maslow didn’t even mention: “Parenting.”

The new pyramid is based on the premise that our strongest and most fundamental impulse, which shapes our day-to-day desires on an unconscious level, is to survive long enough to pass our genes to the next generation. According to this school of thought, backed by considerable — though not irrefutable — evidence, all our achievements are linked in one way or another to the urge to reproduce.

In other words, aside from our powerful brains, we’re pretty much like every other living creature.

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