Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Maslow's hierarchy of needs

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Maslow's hierarchy of needs:
Prioritising your needs and reaching towards self-actualisation
This page is part of the Motivation and emotion textbook. See also: Guidelines.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

There can be moments in your life where it feels like everything is piling on top of you one by one. Then there are moments where it may not be everything that is piling on top of you, but there is just one thing, one obstacle that you may feel you just can't get over or deal with. At moments like these organising your time and prioritsing your needs, so that the essential ones are met first, is important. The question still remains, how do you know which one is more important? This isn't always easy to determine, so needs are so similar that there is a fine line as to which one should be dealt with first. To start off with, not everyone is the same, John Citizen's needs are not the same as Jane Smith's. Our individual needs and the order as to which one is more important than the other will depend on you. However, hopefully this chapter will give you a little help as to which order has been established in the past and guide you in the right direction as to how to prioritise your own needs and subsequently get you that little bit closer to self-actualisation.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs was established in the early 40s by Abraham Harold Maslow (1908-1970). The theory behind his hierarchy was based on his article "A Theory of Human Motivation" (1943), which was reviewed in the 50th issue of the Psychological Review in America. He aimed to develop a theory that positive valid theory of motivation the satisfied the following demands:

  1. In theory, the organism as a whole must be considered as the foundation. Although, it is also important to note that isolated, specific, partial or segmental reactions should not be ignored but should also be considered, along with the organism as a whole.
  2. Drives that are physiologically related or localised, should be considered to be atypical instead of typical. Therefore the drive theory is rejected.
  3. There should be an emphasis on ultimate or basic goals. Unconscious or basic goals are fundamental to motivation and therefore could be applied more universally or cross-culturally rather than superficial goals.
  4. Behaviour can consist of more than one motivation. The motivated behaviour is a means by which basic needs can can be appropriately expressed or satisfied.
  5. To understand that in practical situations, all organismic states are motivated and motivating. The situation surrounding the reaction should be taken into consideration, but the motivation should not be based on the situation alone.
  6. An organisms needs can be arranged in a hierarchy of prepotency. Hence Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
  7. Classification of motivation should be classified to deal with the issue of levels of specificity and/or generalisation. The classifications should be based on the goals rather than the drives or motivated behaviour itself.
  8. The theory should be human-centered and not animal-centered. The reason for this is that if the theory is animal-centered than there is an exclusion of the purpose and goal, as animals can't write or verbalise it. Therefore it is unnecessary to use animals when it would be better and more beneficial to the study to use humans.
  9. And most importantly, Motivation theory and Behaviour theory are not the same. Motivation is a class of behaviour, where it is possible that multiple motivations can produce or influence a single behaviour.

Through his research into functionalist tradition, holism (which is the idea that there is an intimate interconnection across the various parts of a whole, in our case humans, that cannot exist independently from each other), and dynamicism (eg, Freudism or psychoanalytical approach), Maslow established a new design known as "general-dynamic" theory (1943). His theory consisted of varying levels of five needs, also known as the Basic Needs, which included (from the bottom of the pyramid to the top):

  1. "Physiological" needs
  2. Safety Needs
  3. Love/Belonging Needs
  4. Esteem Needs
  5. Need for Self-Actualisation

Maslow (1943) states that the gratification and deprivation of each step of hierarchy serves to be an important source of motivation. He also mentions that for the average individual, the needs tend to be more often unconscious and the unconscious one are more likely to be the more significant and important ones.

The following sections of the chapter will go into more detail for each group of needs, followed by a section on the satisfaction of the needs and a summary. The summary section, consists of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in a "nut shell", a short quiz (juts to test you knowledge), and a multimedia clip.

"Physiological" Needs[edit | edit source]

When it comes to "physiological" needs what are typically the first things that come to mind? The ability to breathe? The capability to eat and drink? Crystal has spent most of her life living on a day to day basis, never really knowing where her next meal will be coming from or if she will get another meal. Her mouth is constantly, especially during the hotter months, and her stomach grumbles excessively and none stop. Even though she may not know if she will get at least one meal, she is still about to sustain her body with the water it provides. Crystal's "physiological" needs to sustain her body is at such a low percentage that the desire to satisfy the need provides the required motivation to act on the deprivation. In the above figure of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it can be seen that at the bottom of the pyramid in the largest section are the "physiological" needs. Maslow (1943) believed that of all the basic needs, the "physiological" needs are the greatest in power and influence when it comes to an individual's motivation. He recognised that there are two aspects to this fundamental need: Homeostasis and Appetites.

Homeostasis is the body's automatic responses to sustaining a constant, normal state within the blood stream. Cannon (1932) includes that the body maintains its form of homeostasis by internally monitoring the following aspects:

  • Water content
  • Sugar content
  • Salt content
  • Protein content
  • Fat content
  • Calcium content
  • Oxygen content
  • Constant hydrogen-ion level
  • Constant temperature of the blood

The body's appetite comes from the lack of nutrients within the body. This is more commonly a chemical imbalance. To neutralise this imbalance the body then produces a specific appetite, that will take care of the lack of nutrients (Young, 1936).

To distinguish physiological needs from other needs, it is important to note that they are commonly isolable and localisable somatically (Maslow, 1943). Therefore the most common physiological needs are breathe, hunger, thirst, sex, sleep, and excretion. When it comes to studies of physiological needs, they have been primarily conducted on animals, particularly rats, because it is suggested that they have few motivations other than their physiological ones (Maslow, 1943).

Safety Needs[edit | edit source]

Jacqui is in her mid to late 20s, and has spent her adult life to-date in a physically abusive relationship. She doesn't work and is solely dependent on her partner. If she needs money to buy groceries, her partner is more than happy to give her the money she needs, but she does not have her own and he will not give her any more then the exact amount. They are constantly being evacuated from their apartment, because rent is not being paid on a regular basis. Jacqui and her partner don't stay in an apartment for longer than six months at a time. She is worried day in and day out as to whether they will have somewhere to live the next month. She knows that she is in a disgraceful situation with her partner but she has no job and no financial security to leave him. What is she to do? Why is this insecurity taking over her thoughts and behaviour?

Just like the "physiological" needs, the safety needs are almost as exclusive. Explanations of the lack of safety can be difficult to describe in adults as they have learnt to inhibit any expression of fear or being threatened. Infants and children on the other hand have not learnt the ability to inhibit these expressions (Maslow, 1943). Maslow (1943) uses the example of illnesses in general. He explains that when a child is sick it may not just be the physiological aspect of the body, but could have a deeper meaning. In addition to the physical sickness, they can also exhibit a lack in their sense of feeling safe and secure, hence the need to be comforted by their parents or guardian. It this uncertainty of not knowing what is actually happening that threatens their need for safety and motivates them to seek comfort and knowledge from their parents. When children are raised in unthreatening and a loving family this enables them to effectively learn how to react to situations that adults would perceive to be dangerous (Maslow, 1943).

When it comes to an individual's safety needs, Maslow (1943) stated that a healthy, normal fortunate adult is more likely to be satisfied if the following is present:

  • Preference for a job with a tenure and protection
  • Desire for savings account
  • Insurance of various kinds
  • Familiar things, things that are recongnisable and known
  • Religion or world-philosophy or in more general terms science and philosophy

There are a number of extremes that can affect an individuals sense of safety. Then there are some people who have no control over their sense of safety, because psychologically it is out of their control. For example, some neurotic or near-neurotic individuals have a childish view of the world (Maslow, 1943). This does not apply to all cases of neuroticism, just some. The neuroticism causes in the individual the inability to inhibit their reactions like all other adults. Not being able to inhibit their reactions means that, like a child, when they are in threatening and dangerous situations, their reactions become excessively expressed and not hidden. Safety needs can also be deprived within individuals who are not of great socio-economic standing (Maslow, 1943).

In the book by Maslow and Mittelmann (1941), they talk about obssessive-compulsive individuals, whom have a constant desire to maintain order and stability in their world. Hence their repetitive routines. Goldstein (1939) brings up the issue of some cases of brain injury. These individuals try to avoid anything that they perceive as unfamiliar and strange.

Therefore, by acquiring knowledge and systemising your world, it is possible that you can partially achieve satisfaction within your safety needs. Having a job that gives you the benefits you need to maintain your lifestyle, being able to have savings and insurance so you a least likely to have concerns about you financial situation if you were to get sick, and living amongst familiar surroundings and people, should decrease the prepotency of this need. With the decrease of importance of this need you life, will bring the emergence of higher needs: Psychological and Social needs, such as Love/Belonging Needs, Esteem Needs and Need for Self-Actualisation.

Psychological and social needs[edit | edit source]

The psychological and social needs, unlike the other two basic needs require some form of interaction between society and your self or the emergence greater abilities from within you. These needs include:

  • Love/Belonging Needs
  • Esteem Needs
  • Need for Self-Actualisation

Love/belonging needs[edit | edit source]

Love/Belonging needs as described by Maslow (1943) are reflected by the "hunger for the affectionate relations with people". Maslow discusses how maladjusted individuals and individuals with severe psychopathology tend to prevent themselves from accomplishing this need (1943). He mentions that it is particularly common in today's society, however that was almost 60 years ago. In a more current study conducted by Hagerty (1999) he rates "belongingness" and love to the risk of a "broken family" in today's society. This includes both the risk of divorce and the risk of a child in the family dying. Hagerty (1999) found that over a period of 35 years, from 1960 to 1994, the number of intact marriages per 1000 population declined across 88 different countries. He also notes that over a period of 35 years the rate of improvement for the 88 countries is slowing reaching an asymptote structure.

As it can be seen from the above description, Love is not the same as sex. Sex is seen to be part of the more basic needs and therefore a physiological and not a social need, where as love is accomplished psychologically and socially. Love/Belongingness needs include the following:

  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Sexual intimacy

The "physiological" needs and the safety needs theoretically should be met first prior to this current need. However, Prager (1995, p. 289) states that some people work for hardly any rewards and are over stressed, yet they turn to close relations with loved ones for support and rewarding experiences. This raises the question as to the actual affect of economic pressure on the need for intimacy and as to whether the order of the hierarchy can actually be interchangeable and various steps reversed.

The most important thing to be learnt from this section is that if you wish to feel satisfaction in love/belonging needs than you need to be willing to not just receive the love from others but also be willing to give it.

Esteem needs[edit | edit source]

Esteem needs reflect the desire to achieve a stable, firmly based, high evaluation of ourselves, self-respect, or self-esteem and esteem of others (Maslow, 1943). Just like the physiological needs this one can also be divided further into:

  1. The desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for confidence, for independence and freedom
  2. Desire for reputation or prestige, recognition, attention, importance or appreciation

Once satisfaction is acquired in the esteem needs, theoretically an individual should feel worth, self-confidence, strength, capability and the sense of being useful and necessary in the world. Whereas dissatisfaction theoretically brings inferiority, weakness, and helplessness. This results in basic discouragement, or compensatory or neurotic trends (Kardiner, 1941).

Essentially, if satisfaction is to be accomplished then one needs to acknowledge their real capacity, achievement and respect for others.

Need for self-actualisation[edit | edit source]

In his article, Maslow described the need for self-actualisation to be a "desire to do what you are fitted for" (1943). As it can be seen in the above pyramid this need is at the tip of the hierarchy and the clarity of its emergence is dependent on the satisfaction of the four more basic needs. Like everything in life, there are of course exceptions to the rule and these will be discussed in the next section.

If you recall from the section on Safety Needs, one way the need can be achieved is by acquiring knowledge and systemising the universe. The Need for Self-Actualisation also requires the acquirement of knowledge and systemising the universe, however its done through expression rather than achievement. In other words, acquiring knowledge and systemising the universe via the search for "meaning" (Maslow, 1943). There are a number of ways to attain fulfillment through one or more of these areas:

  • Morality
  • Creativity
  • Spontaneity
  • Problem solving
  • Being unprejudiced
  • Acceptance of facts

How to establish satisfaction[edit | edit source]

There are a couple of things that should be noted. In order to accomplish satisfaction of your basic needs there are certain preconditions that need to occur, otherwise they could threaten an aspect of the basic needs and your progression to the satisfaction of higher needs. These preconditions as mentioned in Maslow's article (1943) are as follows:

  • Freedom to speak
  • Freedom to do what one wishes without harm to others
  • Freedom to express oneself
  • Freedom to investigate and seek for information
  • Freedom to defend oneself
  • Justice
  • Fairness
  • Honesty
  • Orderliness within a group

Your actions can be seen as psychologically important as long as it contributes directly to satisfying the basic needs (Maslow, 1943; Maslow, 1970). The less directed or weaker the contribution, the less important it is to the point of view of psychological process. This can also be applied to your defense mechanisms. The more strong the defenses are the more they have to contribute to the need.

As mentioned in the previous section there are exceptions to the rule, such as:

  1. Your self-esteem can be more important than love. In which case these two needs are reversed.
  2. Your drive to creativeness can be more important than "lower" needs. This often seen in artists of all sorts.
  3. Your less prepotent needs can be lost, particularly if the greater prepotent needs (physiological and safety) are continuously being threatened.
  4. Levy (1937) state that "psychopathetic personality" have a permanent loss of the love/belongingness needs.
  5. Just as the lesser prepotent needs can be lost, if the greater prepotent needs have been satisfied for a long period of time then they can become under evaluated.
  6. Needs and desires are not the only determinants of behaviour.
  7. Individuals who have strong ideals, high social standards, high values etc. can sacrifice the needs of greater importance for the things they believe in. For example, refugees who refuse to eat for what they believe in, or protesters who will sacrifice their well belling for their cause.

When it comes to the satisfaction of each level it is important to note that each need does not have to be 100% satisfied before the next need can be tended too (Maslow, 1943; Maslow, 1970, p. 59). Maslow states that it is more commonly seen that each need will only be partially satisfied and new needs emerge gradually as the previous need gets closer and closer to its satisfaction threshold, which is not 100%. For example, physiological needs may be 5% satisfied where as at the same time the need for safety maybe 0%. As the physiological need satisfaction increases, therefore to 25% than the need for safety might increase to 5%. Physiological satisfaction may increase more to 50% and the need for safety would increase too. (These are arbitrary numbers)

Summary[edit | edit source]

In order to prioritise your needs to best suit you it is important to evaluate what needs are more important to you. Maslow's hierarchy is only a guide line as it won't fit everyone. He even states himself that his theory is not ultimate or universal for all cultures, but it could be applied generally to other cultures (Maslow, 1943). Maslow's hierarchy begins at the base of his pyramid with "physiological" needs, such as breathe, hunger, thrist and sex. This being the most animalistic of the needs and fundamental. He also signifies the importance of safety and security, as this is the second need he mentions. The following psychological and social needs, Maslow mentions, can be reversible depending on the individual, depending on you. Love/Belongingness needs reflects the individual's desire to have a family (or be part of a family), to have friends (or to be a friend), etc. Esteem needs reflects the desire to be stable, to have a firmly based, high evaluation of yourself, to have self-respect and respect for others. The need for self-actualisation is the desire to do what you do best and enjoy doing.

Needs are never 100% fulfilled but can have a satisfaction threshold level. By that stage the importance of the next need would have already gradually increased and therefore can be tended to. The satisfaction of a need is dependent on you.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 What is at the bottom of the Maslow's hierarchy of needs?

Need for Self-Actualisation
"Physiological" Needs
Safety Needs
Love/Belonging Needs

2 John has a great paying job, which allows him to pay the bills, the mortgage, feed his family and have a savings account. He has a loving wife and a healthy five year old daughter, who has just started kindergarten. He was raised in a diverse family. His mother was born in India and his father was born in Spain, they met in Australia and developed a network of friends from all around the world. He has always shown respect to people older him and as he got older he began to show respect to those younger them him too. The only thing that is missing in his life is that he hasn't had time to do the things he enjoys. He learnt to play the guitar in high school, however once he got a career and a family he just has not been able to get back to playing it. Which need is most likely not being attended to?

Love/Belonging need
Esteem need
Esteem need and/or need for self-actualisation
Need for self-actualisation

3 If a person has achieved satisfaction in their need for esteem then they can be expected to feel....

All of the above

4 True or False: As one need gradually increases in satisfaction, the importance of another need gradually increases.


5 True or False: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is based on his article "A theory of human motivation" (1943)


References[edit | edit source]

Cannon, W. B. (1932) Wisdom of the Body. New York: Norton

Kardiner, A. (1941) The Traumatic Neuroses of War. New York: Hoeber

Maslow, A. H. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation. In R. J. Lowry (1973) Dominance, Self-Esteem, Self-Actualization: Germinal Papers of A.H. Maslow (pp. 153-173). Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc.

Maslow, A. H. (1970) Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper & Row

Maslow, A. H., & Mittelmann, B. (1941) Principles of Abnormal Psychology. New York: Harper & Bros

Prager, K. J. (1995) The Psychology of Intimacy. New York, NY: Guildford Press

Young, P. T. (1936) Motivation of behaviour. New York: John Wiley & Sons

Hagerty, M. R. (1999) Testing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: National Quality-of-Life Across Time. Social Indicators Research, 46(3), 249-271 DOI: 10.1023/A:1006921107298

Books by Maslow[edit | edit source]

  1. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature NY: Viking, 1971.
  2. Religions, Values and Peak-Experiences NY: Penguin Books, 1964.

External links[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]