Japanese centenarians and Maslow

I’ve just finished watching a documentary about centenarian japanese people in relation to how the brain works. These people are amazing, they keep their brain and their body very active and they can do things that a healthy 60-70 year old person can find difficult sometimes. Why has it anything to deal with Maslow? Be patient and follow me for a second, please.


The interesting thing is that they have been invited to do certain activities while connected to a machine that can scan exactly blood flows in the brain. They were requested of doing some complex tasks like trying to memorize pictures or much simpler ones, like watching television.

The results show that brain sectors 9 & 10 are much more flooded during complex activities, therefore preventing or at least reducing brain atrophy caused by aging. Those sectors, located roughly behind the forehead, are supposed to be responsible for managing higher order functions of the brain, heavily involved in things like learning a new language, playing an instrument and stuff like that.

So what about Maslow? Let me get to the point: Maslow is very well known for its famous pyramid of needs, but there are actually a lot of other interesting things related to his work.

Some time ago Francesco Cirillo showed me a Maslow’s book with an interesting diagram that he has mentioned in one of his presentations: it is some sort of gaussian curve with complexity on the X axis and satisfaction on the Y axis. The idea is that if the task that you have been assigned is too simple, then your satisfaction and your motivation will be very low. For opposite reasons, when a task is too complex your satisfaction will be very low too. Therefore, the greatest satisfaction and hence the greatest motivation lie in the middle. Given the assumption that high efficiency can be reached only with the right motivation, this means that complex problems can be solved at the highest human efficiency by reducing them to simpler problems first. This is actually one of the reasons why in XP we split big fat unmanageable user stories in smaller user stories of the right complexity.

It’s worth noting that those centenarians always show the same pattern when challenged with problems too simple or too complex: poor blood flow in brain sectors 9 & 10.

I wonder whether there’s a connection somewhere…

PS: I’d like to see the Maslow’s diagram again, if anybody has a pointer to an image available online.

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