Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

| June 23, 2014

In 1943 the hierarchy of needs was posited by Abraham Maslow to explain human behaviour based on needs. The theory is that basic needs like food, or even simply breathing, must be filled before we attend to more subtle needs like love and belonging and ultimately self-actualization. Since Maslow proposed the hierarchy over seventy years ago it has become commonly accepted among academics and psychologists, in fact, so much so that most well-educated people have at least heard of it. Maslow saw beyond the sometimes depressing theories of his predecessors — like Freud and Skinner — and sought to study the more positive aspects of human potential seeing people as tending to move towards affection for one another and self-growth. Humans don’t want to be violent or engage in wars; we don’t want to steal, to commit crimes, or to harm others. Those negative acts are just a means to an end: getting our needs met.

maslow hierarchy of needsDeficiency Needs and the Need for Self-Actualization

In Maslow’s view the four lower needs (physiological, security, belonging and esteem) must be fulfilled before the fifth need — self-actualization — can be attended to. While we are trying to satisfy the first four needs we are progressing towards self-actualization. Therefore appeasing our deficiency needs is good and being frustrated in the satisfaction of those needs will cause sickness and conflict.

The Five Needs

Physiological – fundamental bodily needs as shown above: food, breath, sleep, excretion, sex, homeostasis. When these needs aren’t met we are strongly motivated to satisfy them and tend to drop other concerns, even risk our safety. For example, consider how important it would be for you to drink some water if you hadn’t done so for forty-eight hours.

Security/Safety – whether or not we feel secure is largely a psychological matter. Most people need the safety of a place they can call home free of the threat of violence. For some this sense of safety can come from a spiritual or religious belief so that the need for a safe outer home becomes less important.
Example – if you are living in a country in the midst of war keeping yourself and family safe, warm, and fed is of the greatest importance.

Belonging – the need to belong is often greater than the need for social standing (esteem). The need for belonging can be met in any group setting. For instance, many find the camaraderie of work satisfies this need, but if work is dysfunctional there are plenty of other outlets such as sports team, clubs, even hanging out at the bar with a familiar company. More and more people are finding their sense of belonging in online communication and less in face-to-face communication.

Esteem – feeling good about ourselves. This can come about based own our own judgment of ourselves or by receiving positive feedback from others. There is some cross-over with belonging in that part of the benefit of belonging is the esteem which we receive from being part of the gang, club, team, etc.

Self-actualization – Maslow describes this need as being “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.1” Once we are healthy, safe, accepted, loved and highly regarded by those who matter to us we are free to achieve great things, to become our best and reach our highest potential.

It should be noted that in practice this theory is not black and white. For instance, it is common to see sub-populations living in poverty with some difficulties regarding physiological and security needs and yet – due to close societal ties and a sense of belonging and community – be happier than those who appear to be in a better station in life.

Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be helpful in understanding the motivations and experiences of yourself and others and so give rise to more understanding and harmony in groups and personal relationships.


Maslow – Motivation and Personality

Category: Psychology Quotes