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Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 2

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is human psychology theory that gives a detailed explanation about human motivation. According to Abraham Maslow, all the actions of human beings are meant to help them fulfill certain basic desires or wants. This theory is very practical and basically brings out the realities of human existence.

Human beings have many desires that are normally categorized depending on their levels of important. According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, advanced needs can only be fulfilled after taking care of basic ones. Abraham Maslow used a pyramid to categorize human commitments at different levels and that is why the theory is commonly referred to as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The basic needs of a human being are normally displayed at the lower part of the pyramid while more advanced ones are displayed at the top of the pyramid. The pyramid is divided into five major parts with each part representing a specific type of category. Human beings have physical, psychological and social needs that have be met for them to live a fulfilled life.
The need to fulfill individual potential comes after physical and social ones have been met. 

This article will highlight the five levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and how the theory is important to the life of a human being.


Basic Level

The first level in Maslow's Theory represents physiological needs that human beings depend on to survive. Physiological ones are in other terms referred to as basic or primary needs. Physiological ideas are displayed at the base of the pyramid to demonstrate the fact they are more important than the other types.

Food, Water, Shelter

The basics of a human being include food, shelter and clothing. It is very difficult for human beings to achieve social and psychological essentials before meeting physiological ones. The biggest motivation of human beings is to fulfill their physiological needs before thinking of the others.

In Maslow’s early writings he also addressed the basic desire of sex.  He was referring to the want of the human to procreate in order for the species to survive.  Most people took this that Maslow was indicating the person needs to have sex in order to survive.  This met a great resistance from some religious and political organizations and Maslow decided to take that point out in further discussion.  He did not want this controversy to distract from what he believed to be the map to becoming a better person. 


The second level in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs represents security needs. The safety of human beings is very important but it is not a primary critiria. Every person wants to feel secure and will always try to ensure they live and work in a secure place. There is a desire to stay in a safe and healthy environment that is free from diseases and other natural disasters.

Job security is another security item but this varies from one person to another.  The security of being able to come home at night to a place you feel safe.  

Security Needs
People that live in a war zone or in urban areas with a lot of crime, sometimes cannot get passed this level until they make some inner security decisions.  

To Belong and be Loved

Social needs that include love and relationships occupy the third level in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Social come after physiological and security obligations in terms of priority.

Love and Belonging

Every person wants acceptance and companionship regardless of their age and status in the society. The desire for love and belongingness affects the motivation behavior of a human being. Human beings form friendships and join social groups as a way of fulfilling their social needs. The commitment to love and be loved is the basis of all kinds of relationships.


The fourth level represents esteem needs that include achievement, independence, self-esteem and self-worth. The need for dominance and recognition also falls under esteem needs. Human being like recognition and that is the reason why they will always struggle to do something that can earn them some praise.

Self-Esteem Needs

Social recognition boosts the self esteem of a person and promotes their personal worth. The opinions of other people are always a major factor in the fulfillment of esteem needs. The fifth level in Maslow's hierarchy of needs represents self-actualizing needs which are to do with personal growth.  It differs from this level in that to this point the focus has mostly been on the individual and now the shift is going toward others from that individual.  


The need for self actualization comes after all the other needs have been fulfilled. Self-actualizing needs occupy the top most part of the pyramid which means that they come last on the list of priorities. Human beings are motivated to fulfill their personal potential as a way of achieving personal growth.

There is no person that does not desire to grow at a personal level. Very few people reach the self-actualization stage because many spend their lives struggling to fulfill the other four types of needs. It is not possible in practical terms to fulfill self-actualizing needs before fulfilling physiological, security, social and esteem needs.

Self-actualizers have unique characteristics that make them different from the rest of the people. To begin with, self-actualizers think and act spontaneously. Self-actualizers are always interested in solving problems and are known for their unusual sense of humor. 

Self-actualizers have strong ethical standards and always embrace democracy. The need for privacy and desire for peak experiences are other common characteristics of a self-actualizer. A person who is at this level appreciates basic life experiences and is always concerned about other people's welfare.

Self-actualizers are objective and creative when it comes to solving problems. According to Maslow, self-actualizers must be courageous enough to try new things. Honesty, hard work and responsibility are the guiding principles of any person who wants to fulfill their self-actualizing needs.

Criticism and Defense

Despite the huge support that the theory has continued to receive over the years, there are some researchers who do not agree with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The first criticism of the theory is that there is no evidence to show that the needs were actually ranked. Other critics argue that there is no scientific way of testing Maslow's self-actualization definition.

The other major criticism of the theory is to do with the sample used by Maslow to conduct research on self-actualization. Critics claim that the sample was very limited and therefore led to inaccurate research findings. The use of a biographical analysis method on a biased sample to determine the characteristics of self-actualizers has been criticized because of method's subjective nature.

Critics claim that Maslow's theory is based on personal opinions that provide room for bias. The validity of data collected by Maslow in his research is therefore reduced because the majority of the findings are based on his personal opinions. Critics claim that it is very difficult to generalize the theory on all human beings because of the biased sample.

The person may vacillate between the levels.  No one usually remains at one certain level all through their lifetime.  If a person is found to be “stuck” in a certain level they could seek out therapy to help move to the next level.  The lower level must be satisfied before the next level can be obtained.  A person may be in a group where they are loved and feel a sense of belonging and then lose their job.  The need of security must be met before the person can achieve the true feeling of belonging.  This is another criticism of Maslow’s needs.  Critics say that a person can feel loved and not have a job.  Maslow’s response would most likely be, they still had security feelings they would get another job, receive welfare, or help from family and friends and that will allow them to feel loved or a sense of belonging again.  

Using Maslow’s theory, any person could benefit from therapy.  We tend to think only those with mental health problems should seek out therapy.  The therapy would not neccesarily be to correct problems but to allow the person to move forward to self-actualization and bringing goals to reality.  

The sample that was used by Maslow consisted of highly educated and successful individuals such as Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln. Despite the criticisms, Abraham Maslow will always be remembered for his contributions in the human psychology field.

While I do not think Maslow’s Needs Theory is perfect is it something to consider when looking at goals, development, and strategies to become a better person.  The self-actualizing that Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bill Gates, who I think is becoming more and more self –actualized, is a great idea to strive for.    

Mother Teresa
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bill Gates


Oct 3, 2013 10:29am
Hi Jerry!

Excellent on explaining Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Yes, decades ago I loved "Toward A Psychology of Being". It's fairly airtight in terms of it's validity. I had MAJOR league problems with B.F Skinner's "Beyond Freedom And Dignity", which was assigned in a class.

Skinner kept saying: "There is a plan". At age 24, I kept writing comments in the paperback, such as: "Where is the plan. What is it?". Skinner never said. Obviously though, and sometimes sadly, stimulus-response is very alive and well - all these decades later.

Often it is the opposite of self actualization, which shows the greatness of Maslow, Carl Rogers and many others. They fight a lonely battle at times. There are so many things I loved in psychology, especially when I was young.

My favorite two writers are master psychologists who simply operated as writers! (Hey, maybe I'll write a story about one of them; brand new idea, as I'm writing this!)

Jerry, please drop by and read about "Sukiyaki" - the song that 50 years later - is still the only Billboard #1, with Japanese language. I know you'll like it.

Jeff H.

Oct 11, 2013 7:23am
Hey Dr. Jerry, it has been awhile since we have talked last. Having survived nursing school together, my wife and I are quite familiar with Mr. Abraham Maslow. As part of our indoctrination into nursing culture, we were bombarded, near endlessly, with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. We actually thought it would be a great idea to develop our blog around his Hierarchy of Needs:


If you ever get a chance, I did start moving that long article I had initially published here--the one where I featured you--over to our blog:

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