Maslows hierarchy of needs

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Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology that Abraham Maslow proposed in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation, which he subsequently extended. His theory contends that as humans meet 'basic needs', they seek to satisfy successively 'higher needs' that occupy a set hierarchy. Maslow studied exemplary people such as Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglas rather than mentally ill or neurotic people, writing that "the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy" (Motivation and Personality, 1987).

Diagram of Maslow's hierarchy 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, while the top level is termed being needs. While our deficiency needs must be met, our being needs are continually shaping our behaviour. The basic concept is that the higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus once all the needs that are lower down in the pyramid are mainly or entirely satisfied. Growth forces create upward movement in the hierarchy, whereas regressive forces push prepotent needs further down the hierarchy.

Deficiency needs

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

Physiological needs

The first need for the body is to achieve homeostasis. This is obtained through the consumption of food, water and air. When some needs are unmet, a human's physiological needs take the highest priority. As a result of the prepotency of physiological needs, an individual will deprioritize all other desires and capacities. Physiological needs can control thoughts and behaviors, and can cause people to feel sickness, pain, and discomfort.

Safety needs

When the physiological needs are met, the need for safety will emerge. Safety or security ranks above all other desires; a properly-functioning society tends to provide security to its members. Sometimes the desire for safety outweighs the requirement to satisfy physiological needs; for example, during the Kosovo War many residents of Kosovo chose to occupy a secure area rather than an insecure area, even though the latter provided better access to food.

Love/Belonging needs

After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs is social. This involves emotionally-based relationships in general, which includes friendship, relationship, or having a family, or both.Humans want to be accepted,inwords, humans want to belong to groups, whether it be clubs, work groups, religious groups, family, gangs, etc. They need to feel loved (sexually and non-sexually) by others, and to be accepted by them. People also have a constant desire to feel needed. In the absence of these elements, people become increasingly susceptible to loneliness and social anxieties.

Esteem needs

There are two versions of esteem needs - the need for the respect of and recognition by others, and the need for self-respect.

Being needs

Though the deficiency needs may be seen as "basic", and can be met and neutralized (i.e. they stop being motivators in one's life), self-actualization and transcendence are "being" or "growth needs" (also termed "B-needs"), i.e. they are enduring motivations or drivers of behaviour.


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

Self Actualization is the intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately, of what the organism is. (Psychological Review, 1949)
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 the following of self-actualizing people:

  • They embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them.
  • They are spontaneous in their ideas and actions.
  • They are creative.
  • They are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others. Solving these problems is often a key focus in their lives.
  • They feel a closeness to other people, and generally appreciate life.
  • They have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority.
  • They judge others without prejudice, in a way that can be termed objective.


At the top of the triangle, self-trancendence is also sometimes refered to as spiritual needs.

Viktor Frankl expresses the relationship between self-actualization and self-transcendence clearly in Man's Search for Meaning. He wrote:

The true meaning of life is to be found in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system....Human experience is essentially self-transcendence rather than self-actualization. Self-actualization is not a possible aim at all, for the simple reason that the more a man would strive for it, the more he would miss it.... In other words, self-actualization cannot be attained if it is made an end in itself, but only as a side effect of self-transcendence. (p.175)

Maslow believes that we should study and cultivate peak experiences as a way of providing a route to achieve personal growth, integration, and fulfillment. Peak experiences are unifying, noetic, and ego-transcending, bringing a sense of purpose to the individual and a sense of integration. Individuals most likely to have peak experiences are self-actualized, mature, healthy, and self-fulfilled. All individuals are capable of peak experiences. Those who do not have them somehow depress or deny them.

Maslow originally found the occurrence of peak experiences in individuals who were self-actualized, but later found that peak experiences happened to non-actualizers as well but not as often.

"I have recently found it more and more useful to differentiate between two kinds (or better, degrees) of self-actualizing people, those who were clearly healthy, but with little or no experiences of transcendence, and those in whom transcendent experiencing was important and even central … It is unfortunate that I can no longer be theoretically neat at this level. I find not only self-actualizing persons who transcend, but also nonhealthy people, non-self-actualizers who have important transcendent experiences. It seems to me that I have found some degree of transcendence in many people other than self-actualizing ones as I have defined this term …" - Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York, 1971.

Ken Wilber, theorist and integral psychologist who was highly influenced by Maslow, later clarrified a peak experience as being a state that could occur at any stage of development and that "the way in which those states or realms are experienced and interpreted depends to some degree on the stage of development of the person having the peak experience." Wilber was in agreement with Maslow about the positive values of peak experiences saying, "In order for higher development to occur, those temporary states must become permanent traits." Wilber was a leader in Transpersonal psychology, a distinct school of psychology that was interested in studying human experiences which apparently transcend the traditional boundaries of the ego

In 1969, Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof and Anthony Sutich were the initiators behind the publication of the first issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology


While Maslow's theory was regarded as an improvement over previous theories of personality and motivation, it has its detractors. For example, in their extensive review of research that is dependent on Maslow's theory, Wabha and Bridwell (1976) found little evidence for the ranking of needs that Maslow described, or even for the existence of a definite hierarchy at all.

The concept of self-actualization is considered vague and psycho-babble by some behaviourist psychologists. The concept is based on an aristotelian notion of human nature that assumes we have an optimum role or purpose. Self actualization is a difficult construct for researchers to operationalize, and this in turn makes it difficult to test Maslow's theory. Even if self-actualization is a useful concept, there is no proof that every individual has this capacity or even the goal to achieve it.

Other counterpositions suggest that not everyone ultimately seeks the self-actualization that a strict (and possibly naive) reading of Maslow's hierarchy of needs appears to imply:

One could counter this argument by citing these as examples of ways people self-actualize. Hence, the ambiguity of the term.

Transcendence has been discounted by secular psychologists because they feel it belongs to the domain of religious belief. But Maslow himself beleived that science and religion were both too narrowly conceived, too dichotomized, and too separated from each other. Non-peakers, as he would call them, characteristically think in logical, rational terms and look down on extreme spirituality as "insanity" (p22) because it entails a loss of control and deviation from what is socially acceptable. They may even try to avoid such experiences because they are not materially productive-they "earn no money, bake no bread, and chop no wood" (p23). Other non-peakers have the problem of immaturity in spiritual matters, and hence tend to view holy rituals and events in their most crude, external form, not appreciating them for the underlying spiritual implications. Maslow despised such people because they form a sort of idolatry that hinders religions (p24). This creates a divide in every religion and social institution. (Maslow. "The 'Core-Religious' or 'Transcendent,' Experience.)


  • 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)
  • A. H. Maslow. Eupsychian Management. (1965). Note that the Andy Kay featured in this book is the Andy Kay of Kaypro. Hardcover ISBN 0870940562, Paperback ISBN 025600353X -
  • 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

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