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Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation, later extended. He formulated a hierarchy of human needs, and his theory contends that as the basic needs are met humans desire higher needs.


Pyramid of needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of five levels: the four lower levels are grouped together as deficiency needs, the top level is referred to as being needs. While deficiency needs can be met, being needs are a continuing driving force. The basic idea of this hierarchy is that higher needs come into focus only after all needs lower in the pyramid are generally/mostly met. Growth forces result in upward movement on the hierarchy, whereas regressive forces push prepotent needs down in the hierarchy.

Deficiency needs

The deficiency needs (also termed D-needs by Maslow) are:

Physiological needs

The body aims to achieve homeostasis, an equilibrium of different factors (water content of the blood, salt content, sugar content, protein content, fat content, calcium content, oxygen content, constant hydrogen-ion level/acid-base level, constant blood temperature). This is obtained with food, drinks, sleep, fresh air, a proper temperature, etc. If all of a human's needs are unmet then the physiological need takes the highest priority: Given desire for love and hunger for food, a human is more likely to pursue and find a solution for the latter first. As a result of the prepotency of physiological needs, all of the other desires and capacities are pushed onto the back burner.

Safety needs

When the physiological needs are met then the human turns towards safety needs. Safety attains the highest priority over all other desires. A functioning society tends to provide this to its members. Recent examples of failure include Somalia and Afghanistan. Sometimes the desire for safety outweighs the desire to easily satisfy physiological needs; for example, during Kosovo War many residents of Kosovo chose to inhabit a secure area instead of an insecure area, even though the latter had more definite access to food. Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks fear of insecurity has been a powerful factor in popular opinion, and therefore government policy.

Love/Belonging needs

Once safety and physiological needs are generally met, a third layer of human needs starts to show up. You feel the need for friends, a sweetheart, children; affectionate relationships in general, even a sense of community. Humans have a desire to belong to groups: clubs, work groups, religious groups, family, gangs, etc. We need to feel loved (sexual/nonsexual) by others, to be accepted by others. We also need to be needed. Looked at negatively, you become increasingly susceptible to loneliness and social anxieties.

Esteem needs

This includes both self esteem and the esteem of other.

Being needs

While the basic needs are "deficiency needs", and can be met and put to rest (i.e. they stop being motivators in one's life), self-actualization and transcendence are "being" (also termed "B-needs") or "growth needs", i.e. they are continuing motivations or driving forces.


Self-actualization (a term originated by Kurt Goldstein) is the instinctoid need of a human to make the most of their unique abilities. Maslow described it as:

A musician must make music, the artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualisation. (Motivation and Personality, 1954)

Maslow writes of self-actualizing people that:

  • They embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them.
  • They are spontaneous with ideas and actions.
  • They are creative.
  • They are interested in solving problems; often the problems of others. Solving these problems is often a key focus of life.
  • They feel a closeness to other people and appreciate life in general.
  • They have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority.
  • They judge others with out prejudice, in a sense objectively.


Although Maslow tentatively placed transcendence at the top of his hierarchy, it has been removed by most modern psychologists because they feel it has more to do with religious beliefs.


While Maslow's theory was seen as an improvement of previous theories of personality and motivation, concepts such as self-actualization are somewhat vague. This makes it problematic to operationalize and test Maslow's theory. There is no proof that every person has the ability to become self-actualized. Further, in an extensive review of research using Maslow's theory, Wabha and Bridwell (1976) found little evidence for the ordering of needs that Maslow selected or whether in fact a strict hierarchy exists at all (n.b. Maslow himself documents and explores various sorts of reversals and subtleties to his theory.) Some people feel that the theory and its concepts have been overused: E.g. - References to the theory occurs in many undegraduate organizational behavior textbooks without any explication of the subtleties to the theory or any acknowledgement of possible flaws in the theory. The word self-actualization is therefore sometimes unfairly perceived as psycho-babble.

Regarding self-actualization: It is suggested that not everyone ultimately seeks self-actualization, as a strict (possibly naive?) reading of Maslow's hierarchy of needs seems to imply:

These individuals would not be noted in the history books, however, if they hadn't used their native writing, therapeutic or altruistic gifts in a way different from most.


  • Maslow, Abraham H, Motivation and Personality, 2nd. ed., New York, Harper & Row, 1970 ISBN 0060419873
  • A. H. Maslow. A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396. (1943)
  • M. A. Wahba & L. G. Bridwell. Maslow reconsidered: A review of research on the need hierarchy theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 15, 212-240. (1976).

See also

External links

Last updated: 06-02-2005 03:59:29
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