Apr 2, 2010

Lab Report - Hope and Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Jing Ke
Mar, 2010
Course Title: Research Method

Lab Report - An exploration on the biggest hopes in contemporary Canadian undergraduate student: related to Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory


From the psychological perspective, hope has been broadly characterized as the “will” and the “ways” to achieve goals (Snyder, 2002). It is a reflection of positive needs and motivations in human psychology. Maslow (1943) proposed a hierarchy of needs theory to depict five layers of human needs, this theory suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to the higher needs. By means of this, to study people’s hopes and relate them to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good way to investigate their psychological status and wellbeing.

Undergraduate student is a unique group in social demographics. On the one hand, they are young adult stepping into the society and start to frame their individual personalities and worldviews. On the other hand, they don’t possess economic independence and still bond closely to their families. Psychologists suggest that to care about these students’ hopes and motivations may help them to reach their education-related goals and become more hopeful in life (Snyder et al., 2003). The aim of this study is to find out the status of “hopefulness” in a group of undergraduate Canadian students and analyze how their hopes can be related to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory.

Based on preceding analysis, two research questions are developed for this study:
1. What are the biggest hopes of the sampled Canadian undergraduate student?
2. What are the possible incentives of these hopes and how do they relate to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory?

In this study, a group of undergraduate students from University of Ottawa served as the sample, and data is generated from the sample by presenting them the question “What are your biggest hopes?” Each of the students created a collage plus a text description to express their answers. In this study, only the text data will be used since the collages contain almost the same information. Content analysis research method will be adopted.

Review of Literature

Hope is a desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010). Snyder and colleagues (Snyder et al., 1991) have introduced a new cognitive, motivational model called Hope Theory. According this theory, hope reflects individuals’ perceptions regarding their capacities to: (1) clearly conceptualize goals, (2) develop the specific strategies to reach those goals (pathways thinking), and (3) initiate and sustain the motivation for using those strategies (agency thinking). This theory also suggests that a goal can be anything that an individual desires to experience, create, get, do, or become. It may either be a significant, lifelong pursuit or be mundane and brief (Snyder et al. 2003).

High-hope and low-hope individuals are distinguished according to their perceived probabilities of attainment. Snyder et al. (1991, 1996) argued that high-hope individuals tend to prefer “stretch goals” that are slightly more difficult than previously attained goals and develop alternative strategies to achieve goals, especially when the goals are important and when obstacles appear. Up to this point, high-hope people are more likely to achieve success and have greater perceived purpose in life (Snyder et al., 2003).

As mentioned, hope is a reflection of people’s desires and expectations, which can be related to Maslow’s interpretation of human needs. Maslow (1943) outlined a hierarchy of needs theory which divides human needs into five levels:

1. Physiological Needs
These include the most basic needs that are vital to survival, such as the need for water, air, food and sleep. Maslow believed that these needs are the most basic and instinctive needs in the hierarchy because all needs become secondary until these physiological needs are met.

2. Security Needs
These include needs for safety and security. Security needs are important for survival, but they are not as demanding as the physiological needs. Examples of security needs include a desire for steady employment, health insurance, safe neighborhoods and shelter from the environment.

3. Social Needs
These include needs for belonging, love and affection. Maslow considered these needs to be less basic than physiological and security needs. Relationships such as friendships, romantic attachments and families help fulfill this need for companionship and acceptance, as does involvement in social, community or religious groups.

4. Esteem Needs
After the first three needs have been satisfied, esteem needs becomes increasingly important. These include the need for things that reflect on self-esteem, personal worth, social recognition and accomplishment.

5. Self-actualizing Needs
This is the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Self-actualizing people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others and interested fulfilling their potential.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is most often displayed as a pyramid. The lowest levels of the pyramid are made up of the most basic needs, while the more complex needs are located at the top of the pyramid. Once the lower-level needs have been met, people can move on to the next level of higher needs (Koltko-Rivera, 2006).

Although no literature has been found to support my viewpoint, I maintain that to study people’s hopes and relate them to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is an interesting way to interpret people’s needs and willingness. In this study specifically, by analyzing the biggest hopes of sampled students, we can code them into matched levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, demonstrate what kind of need they are, and this will further bring out more meaningful findings.

Research Method

Content analysis is a research technique for the systematic classification and description of communication content according to certain usually predetermined categories (Wright, 1986). It may involve quantitative or qualitative analysis, or both.

Quantitative content analysis is the systematic and replicable examination of symbols of communication, which have been assigned numeric values according to valid measurement rules and the analysis of relationships involving those values using statistical methods, to describe the communication, draw inferences about its meaning, or infer from the communication to its context of production and consumption (Riffe et al, 2005). Meanwhile, qualitative content analysis employs approaches like discourse analysis, rhetorical analysis, ethnographic analysis, and conversation analysis, etc. (Atheide, 1996)

This study adopts both quantitative (refers to the statistical analysis of collected data) and qualitative (refers to the interpretation of texts and statistics) content analysis. Detailed data collection and data analysis procedures are as follows:

Sampling and Data Collection
The sample capacity of this study is relatively small, the texts generated by a group of undergraduate student from UofO served as data source. After an early filter of the texts, a 673-word 2-page MSW document gathered from seven participants is used as the transcription for coding procedure and further analysis.

Data Analysis
Coding procedure involves scrutinizing the content of transcription, highlighting the key words and sentences that answer the question “What are your biggest hopes?” and finally centralizing the meanings into single words and phrases (codes). As a result, ten codes are generated in this procedure. Besides that, the times each code being mentioned are also calculated. In sequence these codes are: success, love, family, health, happiness, owns a house, travels the world, all dreams come true, end poverty, and end climate change.

In the next step, findings from the coding procedure are therefore coded into the five levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which served as “categories” in this study. These categories are: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Similar to the former step, the number of codes belongs to each category as well as its percentage is calculated. The statistics generated in these steps makes the findings of this study more observable and persuasive. Moreover, further interpretation and discussion will focus on both codes, categories, as well as the statistics.


Quantitative Findings
The quantitative findings of this study are summarized in Table 1 and Table 2. Table 1 indicates the codes emerged by content analysis while Table 2 reveals the statistical analysis of codes and categories. The data derived in Table 2 is based on the results in Table 1.

Table 1 Findings of coding procedure

Table 2 Further analysis related to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Qualitative Findings
Based on preceding quantitative findings, some qualitative analyses can be carried out. One very first and fundamental finding is, as the codes reflect, all “biggest hopes” generated from the students are conventional and positive, which indicates that the psychological statuses of the sample are in a generally good condition. The students also acquire the capacity to “clearly conceptualize goals” (Snyder et al., 1991), which is the first step to hope attainment according to Hope Theory.

As to the second finding, according to Table 1, the biggest hope for the majority of participating undergraduate student is to obtain success in their ongoing study and future career, rather than the acquirement of love, family, health, happiness, etc. which are considered to be second-to-none important in traditional values. This may probably be explained by the worship of success stories, the severe peer competition, and the prevailing commercialism and utilitarianism in contemporary society. It is obvious that such tendencies have inevitably influenced the values and worldviews of youth today, making them more materialistic and pragmatic than before.

The second finding can be reinforced by data in Table 2. As we can see, the levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which represent the students’ hopes are, in sequence, Esteem (41.38%) - Safety (37.93%) - Love/Belonging (20.69%). Combined with Maslow’s (1943) discourse, the sampled students take things that related to self-esteem, personal worth, social recognition and accomplishment as a priority. They also pay much attention to guarantees on safety and security, such as steady employment and shelter from the environment. Compared with these needs, the need for love and belonging has been put to a lower position. Though obviously, the need of love and belonging is still intense for young adult today, the priority has been replaced by the zest for success.

Conclusively, the principal qualitative findings of the study can be summarized as: Firstly, in general, the sampled students are in good and positive psychological status. Secondly, their life goals and human needs are more materialistic and pragmatic than expected.

Interpretation and Discussion

The study on students’ biggest hopes in combination with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory provides us an alternative access to understand contemporary Canadian undergraduate students’ psychological statuses and needs. As we can see from the findings, what the students currently desire most in their lives are directly shaped and influenced by the macro environment of the society. They tend to give more credit to personal achievement and material guarantees than love and belongings. Such findings indicate that, on one hand, today’s undergraduate students are aware of the highly competitive pressure in society and wish themselves to be independent and respectful individuals in future. On the other hand, it is possible that they are still not mature enough to realize the importance of love, family and friend in their lives thus take them for granted. Further studies are needed to find out the real incentives and rationalization of such phenomenon.

However, despite its significance, the study itself is far from perfect. A main weakness is the limitation of sample capacity, which directly threatens the validity of findings. The texts used for data analysis are 673 words and generated from only seven students, which is obviously not sufficient enough for a valid statistical analysis. Another restriction is the lack of chronological comparative data. As I proposed, the second finding indicates that the students today are becoming more materialistic and pragmatic than before, however, this argumentation is derived partially from the data collected, partially from my intuition, observation and life experiences. If more data is available to accomplish a chronological comparison, the findings would be more powerful.

To sum up, the study on contemporary Canadian undergraduate students’ biggest hopes combined with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is meaningful and significant. However, what needs to be improved in future studies is to develop more systematic data collection and well-organized data analysis procedures for a mature research design.


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