Levels of Human Psychological Development in Integral Spiral Dynamics

Levels of Human Psychological Development in Integral Spiral Dynamics


From Consciousness models in action: comparisons


Many models of Human Development

  • Graves’s Spiral Dynamics (SD) model
  • May’s model of development of consciousness
  • Gebser’s Structures of human consciousness
  • Piaget’s model of cognitive development
  • Myss’s model of spiritual development
  • Kohlberg’s model of moral development
  • Perry’s model of intellectual and ethical development
  • Loevinger’s model of ego-state development
  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
  • Kegan’s model of psychological development
  • Wilber’s AQAL model
  • Tolle’s model of spiritual development
  • Atmananda’s model of spiritual development
  • Hurtak’s model of spiritual development
  • McTaggart’s scientific model
  • Pribam’s scientific model
  • Hawkins’s scientific model

From Consciousness models in action: comparisons

In this paper, the construct of ”levels of consciousness”as used in psychology and consciousness theory, is closely linked to those of worldviews, perceptual frameworks, organising systems, value orientations, “intelligences” or “memes”, in terms of which people understand and respond to their worlds. It reflects levels of awareness, or the inclusiveness,extensiveness, the depth and breadth by which incoming information is interpreted. These levels of consciousness largely determine intellectual, emotional and behavioural aspects of human functioning.

The various theoretical models on the evolution of consciousness reflect common themes, principles and structures. These models have emerged from different study fields including philosophy, physics, sociology, psychology, economics and theology, and address consciousness, cognitive, moral, educational, physiological and spiritual development.

All the models that are mentioned in this paper are not discussed in detail, and the focus is primarily on the contributions of Graves, Wilber, May and Myss. Gebser’s and Piaget’s work is merely addressed in support of Wilber’s AQAL model. The views of educationalists Perry and Kohlberg are briefly discussed under the heading of intellectual, moral and ethical development (section 2.4). Psychological perspectives such as Loevinger’s model of ego-states; Maslow’s need hierarchy; and Kegan’s equilibrium stages are mentioned but not discussed in any detail. These models are, however, included in the final integrated framework as proposed in this paper (section 3). Additional views from the spiritual and physical domains are referred to in support of the general themes that characterise speculations on consciousness. The role of consciousness theory in complementing current leadership models and practices is explored in terms of an integral perspective of leadership.

From Consciousness models in action: comparisons

Graves’s Spiral Dynamics (SD) Model

The Spiral Dynamics model of Graves, also referred to as the Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory (ECLET),provides a profound and elegant system in terms of which human development can be understood (Wilber, 2001). Wilber also points out that subsequent research has validated and refined the ECLET or SD model.

According to Graves,humans respond to life conditions by developing certain adaptive views and capacities which he refers to as “levels of human existence”. These adaptive responses can be grouped into value systems which permeate the culture of groups, organisations and individuals. Each stage allows for the possible further development of “higher” stages or levels. The levels are not to be seen as fixed, but represent flowing waves, continuously overlapping with, and interweaving, each other.

A detailed explanation of the SD model can be found in Beck and Cowan’s “Spiral Dynamics Theory” (1996) and Cowan &Todorovic’s (2008) work.

The SD model, as adopted and applied by other authors, has undergone a number of conceptual changes. Beck and Cowan (1996), for example, extended the “value systems” language of Graves with the notion of “value memes”. The term meme was originally introduced by Dawkins to refer to a unit of cultural information. According to Wilber (2001), a “meme” can be seen as a stage of development that is expressed in behaviour. For purposes of clarity,Wilber recommended the use of the word “value system” as proposed by Graves.

The level of consciousness associated with each of these value systems, provides a perceptual framework, type of “intelligence” and worldview by which experiences are interpreted and responded to. A sense of flow results from the match between the person’s orientation and the contextual requirements.

The SD model is hierarchically organised and consecutive levels both incorporate and transcend preceding orientations. It is a soft hierarchy and growth may involve a person or group temporarily moving down on the hierarchy in response to a particular trauma or challenge, before transcending previously inadequate worldviews. Upward movement only takes place according to the hierarchical structure of the spiral and levels are therefore not skipped. This view on growth ties in with Wilber’s idea of “holons”. Holons depict the manner in which systems are organised and where evolution involves the emergence of more complex systems, each of which includes and transcends previous levels.

The initially proposed and rather cumbersome labelling technique of the Spiral Dynamics model, postulated the organisation of a double spiral in terms (a) the problem of existence: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and (b) coping mechanisms: N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U to provide an: AN, BO, CP, DQ, ER, FS, GT, HU categorisation. It has since been replaced by using simple colour codes. Eight such colours are currently identified (with possible additions in future): Beige, Purple, Red, Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow and Turquoise. These colours represent ways of thinking that have far-reaching effects on an individual’s life and group adaptation.

The various value orientations, as represented by different colours, each has a particular credo referring to either an expressive, internally controlled “I” (the “warm” colours), or a self-sacrificing, externally anchored “we” side (the “cooler” colours). The eight “holons” as specified by the SD model represent a spiral structure.

The eight valuing systems can be divided into first and second tier consciousness. The first tier consciousness encompasses the first six colours (Beige, Purple, Red, Blue, Orange and Green). The first tier valuing systemstend to be emotionally driven. Perspectives based on the lower level value systems in this first tier also do not necessarily accommodate for the existence of other valuing systems – although Green less so that the colours preceding it.

Second tier consciousness is reflected by the Yellow and Turquoise valuing systems and encompasses the first tier. Unlike first tier thinking, second tier awareness appreciates the necessity of the various other valuing systems. As Gardner (Wilber, 2001) observed, the whole course of human development can be viewed as a continuing decline in egocentrism.

The various value orientations of the SD model can briefly be described, as follows:

– The theme is that of “survival”
– The focus is on basic-instinctive reactions;subsistence needs; physical survival; physiological needs; capitalisation on instincts and habits
– It involves a reactive response to the environment
– There is little self-awareness
– Responses tend to be impulsive
– It is survivalist
– This value system can be found amongst the very young and old; as well as amongst ill, starving or traumatised people

– The theme here is “safety”
– This value system is associated withgroup dependence; tradition; an avoidance of change; an “us-and-them” orientation; a tendency to maintain family / in-group bonds; at times dogmatic beliefs / ideologies; the need for safety and protection; and a general fearfulness
– This orientation values group belonging and group boundaries; authority; respect; protection; obedience; familiarity, certainty and routine; what is sacred as well as observes rituals and customs
– Those who embrace a purple orientation often are ethnocentric, traditionalist and their relationships are largely role-based
– This worldview is associated with an external locus of control
– Learning is largely passive and there is a tendency to seeks guidance
– People espousing this value system tend to be self-sacrificial toward their in-group and antagonistic toward out-groups
– This value system can be found amongst paternalistic culture; where elders are valued; the superstitious; those who are highly patriotic; within dogmatic religions; in enmeshed families; where there is a belief in luck, blood oaths, ancient grudges, trance dancing, family rituals, gangs, corporate “tribes”; and it is inherent to old “school ties”, soapies and fanatical sports team support cultures.

– The theme here is “power”
– This orientation can be described as: highly energetic, impulsive, dominant, active, achievement driven; critical; demanding; competitive; egocentric; defensive; dominant and power driven
– There are tendencies to be expressive; not to be inhibited by guilt; to strive for respect and recognition; to seek excitement and sensual pleasure; and to fear shame; loss of face; and loss of autonomy
– Those who have adopted this orientation may come across as proud, assertive, energetic and/or imaginative
– There may be a tendencies to blame and take revenge; there is a scarcity mentality and expectation of threat
– The value system is associated with an emphasis on performance and results; a tough image and a “carrot-and-stick” leadership approach
– Those espousing this value orientation are results focused, energetic and normally obtain their goals
– Emotionally, it is associated with seeking impulse gratification; fear of failure; and avoidance of insult and pain
– Inherent to this worldview are beliefs such as “survival of the fittest”; “others are not to be trusted”; and “results can be achieved through hard work”
– It is important to impress, influence and conquer others, even though the means may be somewhat aggressive, exhausting, fanatical, exploitative or dogmatic
– Learning primarily takes place via reinforcement and conditioning
– It can be found in bravado; rebellious youths; frontier mentalities; fanatical groups; macho cultures; entrepreneurs and activities which require effort and control

– The theme here is “truth”
– It can be described in terms of: purposefulness; structure; seeking the truth; showing depth; reliability; being pedantic; a loyalist orientation; the tendency to conform and to avoid change; appreciation of quality and a sound work ethic
– Those adhering to this value system believe in order and are obedient to authority; they practice self-discipline and tend to differentiate between what they regard as right and wrong
– They seek security and are cautious
– They value integrity and ethical behaviour; observe laws and regulations and believe that hardship and self-discipline build character and moral fibre
– In addition there is a focus on controlling impulsivity; seeking stability and adhering to a code of conduct; being honourable; and being punctual and reliable
– It may also find expression in bureaucratic or hierarchical structures; totalitarian or dogmatic organisations; inflexible ideologies; and moralistic inclinations
– It involves learning from authority and decisions are based on ethics, facts and authority opinions
– It also follows tradition, convention and policy; values certainty, structure and order; is motivated by duty; is loyal; is responsible; is careful; and promotes fairness and traditions
– According to this value system, sacrifices need to be made for the greater good of all
– Stress is caused by ambiguity and uncertainty; chaos is feared; and change is avoided
– This value orientation finds expression via patriotism; codes of chivalry and honour; boy andgirl scouts; traditional schools, certain family practices and churches

– The theme here is “value creation”
– This orientation can be described as strategic; somewhat materialistic; opportunistic; individualistic; achievement oriented; flexible; resilient and politically astute
– It is associated with an abundance mindset; the exercise of freedom of choice; and self-interest
– Individuals who have adopted this value system enjoy playing the game; having autonomy; manipulating outcomes; are optimistic, practical, take risks andare self-reliant and resilient
– They tend to look for opportunity;strategise; take initiative; are competitive; are normally interested in technology; and feel deserving of success, prosperity and abundance
– It supports entrepreneurial activities; goal setting and achievement; tough negotiations; and business strategy formulation
– At times it may deteriorate into narcissistic, inconsiderate and materialistic tendencies and become exploitative and short sighted
– Learning takes place via experimentation, mentors, guides or experts
– Motivation is rooted in the achievement of material rewards and the possibility of opportunity
– It values competition, ambition, affluence, image and continuous improvement
– Stress is caused by setbacks; goals not being realised; and obstacles
– This orientation provides the flexibility and skill to reframe setbacks, though
– It encompasses a logical, efficient, flexible and competitive style
– This orientation finds expression in colonialism; the fashion industry; prosperity ministries; the emerging middle classes; the advertising industry; mining cartels; go-getter cultures; venture capitalists activities; a large proportion of generation Y and the corporate culture in general

– The theme here is “communitarian” and “relating”
– It can be described as sensitive; humanistic; theoretical; emotional; compassionate; relativistic; and is often characterised by inner peace whilst exploring the caring dimensions of community
– There is a strong interest in other points of view / theories
– This value system promotes equal opportunities to all; kind interpersonal relations; and a charitable orientation towards the oppressed
– Decision-making takes place via reconciliation and consensus
– There is a genuine concern for others and personal goals involve spiritual awareness; interpersonal harmony and human development
– Learning is based on exploring feelings; sharing experiences and ideas; as well as interaction with others
– Decisions are based on being just and reasonable toward everyone involved, but decision making is complicated by many conflicting considerations which may require compromise and collaboration
– Stress is created by rage, discord, extinctions, contamination, group separation and lack of consideration
– The associated leadership style involves a democratic approach; it is consultative
– Management strategies include being humanistic; demonstrating emotions; care for the group; an emphasis on consensus and a listening orientation
– This value system finds expression in “Doctors without Borders”; sensitivity training; animal rights groups; Rogerian counselling; philanthropic and humanistic intentions; and theoretical and academic endeavours

– The theme here is “systemic”
– It can be described as an integrative approach; seeking of learning experiences; living responsibly, and the emphasis is on flexibility, functionality, simplicity and spontaneity
– Here knowledge, understanding, competence and intuition supersedes rank, position status symbols and power
– There is an appreciation of dynamic factors and natural flows; variety; context; holistic perspectives; and the value of simplicity and functionality
– The associated psychological disposition is that of individualistic; independent-mindedness; self-actualisation; and freedom of choice
– Learning is sought in varied experience, observation, knowledge, and involves an intuitive process
– Factors such as structure and order are to some extent irrelevant
– Stress is caused by stagnant, rigid, dull, rule-based contexts that are not stimulating or challenging
– Emotionally this orientation is associated with a significant degree of integration which may at times be interpreted as distanciation
– This value system finds expression in principles of systems thinking; learning organisations; chaos theory; and eco-industrial parks

– The themes here are “holistic” and “transcendent”
– This orientation can be described as existential-philosophical; living in the “now”; depth of awareness; a spiritually inclination; and it is focused on the meaningfulness of human endeavours
– It is associated with a concern about the proliferation of life; experiencing the wholeness of existence through mind and spirit; accessing the collective mindset; connection and transcendence
– The world is regarded as a single, dynamic organism with its own collective mindwhere everything is connected
– There is an emphasis on holistic, intuitive thinking and cooperative actions
– It finds expression in ideas such as Gandhi’s pluralistic harmony, Tolle’s work on consciousness; and the theories of David Bohm

The hierarchical ordering of the various value systems is “soft”, or dynamic, and should not be interpreted strictly in terms as “higher is better”. The suitability and desirability of each of the value systems depend on contextual factors. The ranking and ordering of these value systems should therefore not be taken too literally or seen as a fixed, linear, step-by-step progressions. This is emphasised by Wilber (2001) who indicated that development is not a linear ladder but a fluid and flowing affair, with spirals, swirls, streams, and waves – and what appears to be an almost infinite number of modalities.

Particular value systems or worldviews, representing levels of consciousness, are generally associated with the manifestations of certain clusters of cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural tendencies (referred to by Wilber as “lines” of development). The expanded awareness of each consecutive level of consciousness, allows for greater connection to self, others and the world. Progressively inclusive worldviews accommodate increasingly complex cognitive processing, for example.


Please see my related posts:

The Great Chain of Being

Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Multilevel Approach to Research in Organizations

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber


Key Sources of Research:

Never Ending Upward Quest:  An Interview with Don Beck on Spiral Dynamics

WIE 2002



Summary of the Spiral Dynamics Model by Ken Wilber






Sidebar C: Orange and Green: Levels or Cousins?






Consciousness models in action: comparisons

(As published in the Integral Leadership Review (ILR) June 2012)





Spiral Dynamics Integral and the Theory of Living Human Systems: Part 1

– Michael Robbins





– Michael Robbins






Models, Metrics, and Measurement in Developmental Psychology

Zachary Stein and Katie Heikkinen






A General Introduction to Integral Theory and Comprehensive Mapmaking


By Sean M. Saiter




Clare W. Graves and the Turn of Our Times

Nicholas Reitter






Spiral Dynamics Integral

Christopher Cooke and Ben Levi







Introduction to Spiral Dynamics


Ian McDonald



A Brief History of Spiral Dynamics


albion m. butters





What Is Spiral Dynamics Integral?

By Don Beck






Integral Dynamics, A new integration of Wilber’s Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics


Author: Mayank Chaturvedi

You can contact me using this email mchatur at the rate of AOL.COM. My professional profile is on Linkedin.com.

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