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Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

One of the big questions in life is what motivates human behavior. Although there are various schools of psychology, one of the most pervasive theories is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which focuses on what makes people happy and the things that they do in order to achieve that which makes them happy.

Maslow theorized that people have an innate desire for self-actualization. In other words, they are born with a desire to be all they can be, and pursue that desire with vigor. In order to reach their ultimate goals, however, they have to meet their own basic needs, such as food, safety, love and self-esteem.

These basic needs, according to Maslow’s theory, are split into five tiers. These tiers are often displayed as a pyramid, and at the base of this pyramid are the most basic of all, namely Physiological. Examples of physiological needs are breathing, food, water, sex and sleep.

As you progress from the base to the top of the pyramid, the needs become increasingly psychological and social. Needs such as love, friendship and intimacy begin to take precedence the higher up you go, along with personal esteem and feelings of accomplishment.


The whole theory emphasizes the process of growing and developing in order to self-actualize and achieve one’s individual potential.

Needs are also categorized in accordance with whether they are deficiency needs or growth needs. Deficiency needs arise from an individual being deprived of something, and must be satisfied in order to avoid unpleasant feelings or consequences.

In contrast, growth needs stem from a desire to grow as opposed to stemming from deprivation. Although the needs are often portrayed as a rigid hierarchy, Maslow noted that the order in which needs are met does not necessarily follow this standard progression. An example of this is some individuals place more emphasis on the need for self-esteem than, say, the need for love.

Physiological needs
Other than the basic requirements for survival, such as nutrition or temperature regulation, physiological needs also include necessities such as shelter and clothing. Sexual reproduction is also considered a physiological need, as it is a necessity for propagating the human species.
Security and Safety Needs
The desire for control and order in life means that people seek safety and security. Examples of safety and security needs are financial security, health and wellness and accident prevention. These needs are met by finding employment, saving money, or having health insurance. A more abstract example is moving into a safer neighborhood.
Social Needs
Love, acceptance and belonging are social needs. The need for emotional relationships drives human behavior at this level. Examples of things that satisfy these needs are friendships, romantic attachments, family bonds, social and community groups. These things help individuals to avoid loneliness, depression and anxiety. Being loved and accepted is important, so it is important for individuals to form strong bonds with others.
Esteem Needs
Further on from needing to be loved and accepted, people also seek validation from others in the form of being appreciated and respected. It is important for people to accomplish things and then be recognized for their accomplishment. Examples of ways in which people garner appreciation and respect are professional activities, academic accomplishments, athletic participation and personal hobbies. Those who satisfy their esteem needs tend to be confident, whereas those who do not tend to feel inferior.
Self-Actualization Needs

Self-actualization is summed up by a single phrase: “What a man can be, he must be”. In other words, individuals must feel like they are using all of their abilities and achieving their full potential in order for them to be fulfilled. Self-actualizing people are highly self-aware, concerned with their personal growth, and interested in fulfilling their potential.

Criticisms of the theory

Various bodies of research have shown support for Maslow’s theories, however most of the research conducted in this regard has not been able to substantiate the idea of a needs hierarchy. Furthermore, Maslow’s definition of self-actualization is difficult to test scientifically.

With the above being said, Maslow’s theory is significant because it represents a turning point in psychology, because his humanistic approach focused on the development of healthy individuals. This is in contrast with the traditional psychological focuses of abnormal development and behavior.



Images (including cover) by Deposit Photos

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