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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In 1943 Abraham Maslow proposed his famous hierarchy of needs in the book called “A Theory of Human Motivation”. Later he developed the idea in the work called “Motivation and Personality” in 1954 (King 4). Since that time, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs became one of the cornerstones in psychology and contributed to such spheres as management, marketing, organizational theory, business, education and even politics. This idea was developed by many followers who added more levels to the hierarchy of needs or reorganized the levels. However, the original model is still the most widely recognized one in the scientific world, and it has greatly influenced further studies of human needs and motivation. The purpose of this paper is to consider the concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to analyze each level of the pyramid of needs and to discuss the benefits and limitations of this model.

Maslow’s theory

Maslow described a need as the “physiological or psychological deficiency a person feels the compulsion to satisfy” (Maltby, Macaskill and Day 130) and supposed that needs create various tensions affecting human attitude and behaviors in different life situations. Maslow has identified five levels of needs: physiological, safety level, love or belonging level (also referred to as social level), esteem and the level of self-actualization (Maltby, Macaskill and Day 131).

Maslow based his theory on two key principles: the principle of deficit and the principle of progression (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman 449). The principle of deficit states that a need which is already satisfied does not serve as behavior motivator for human beings. As a result, people tend to satisfy the needs for which a certain deficit of satisfaction exists. The principle of progression suggests that the five levels of needs are structured as hierarchy and there are relations of “prepotency” between them (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman 449).

According to Maslow’s theory, people tend to satisfy the needs located lower in hierarchy first of all, and needs for higher levels are only activated when the needs at lower levels are already satisfied. Thus, a human being progresses step by step along the pyramid of needs from the lowest levels to the highest. Maslow stated that at the self-actualization level the principles of progression and deficit were not applicable, and the person reaching self-actualization level gets a stronger need for satisfying this need in the course of time. Further, Maslow referred to the grounding four levels as the D-needs (deficiency needs) and the self-actualization needs (and higher needs in more complicated models) were called B-needs (being needs) (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman 451). The levels of Maslow’s pyramid of needs are shown on Fig.1 and their detailed description is given in the next section.

Hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s classification of needs relates to their importance with regard to ensuring survival of the individual, with physiological needs being at the fundament of the pyramid, and self-actualization needs being at the top of it.

Physiological needs

Basic human needs included in the first level – physiological needs – are the need for breathing, hunger, thirst, need for sleeping, sexual needs and elimination of bodily waste (Kondalkar 249). These needs are ultimately deficit needs (D-needs), and if an individual cannot satisfy one of these needs, other levels of hierarchy will not be reached. People are not being motivated only by their physiological needs, but these needs cannot be omitted, and represent the very basic drivers of motivation. It should be noted that in modern society the majority of people have the possibilities to satisfy their physiological needs.

Safety needs

These needs are required for the physical and emotional security of a human being, and include the need for self-protection, security, safe living environment, the motivator to live in law-abiding communities and the need for order (sense of order) (Kondalkar 250). These needs can also be classified as D-needs (deficit needs). Such issues as health insurance, security of working environment, safe working conditions and existence of pension plans also relate to the second level – safety needs. Safety needs, according to Maslow, are the reason why people tend to create law-abiding societies and are one of key drivers during elections (Kondalkar 251). At the same time, fears related to safety needs can hinder the person’s development and thus it is necessary to satisfy the needs at this level in order to deal with other levels of motivation.

Love and belonging needs

Human beings are social beings, and the third level of motivational hierarchy is related to every individual’s need to be accepted and loved by others. Personal relationships such as family and friends emerge because human beings have social needs of love and belonging. Here it is possible to distinguish between D-needs and B-needs (Maltby, Macaskill and Day 135). In the early age, people experience D-needs, or the selfish and possessive need to be loved by someone expressed as a deficit need. When people grow older, their love and belonging needs turn into B-needs, when a human beings loves others in a unconditional, non-possessive way.

Esteem needs

The needs for esteem include such aspects as confidence, achievements, respect of others and by others and self-esteem. These needs are also considered to be B-needs, since individuals replacing their esteem needs with the vision of authority (e.g. corruption or power abuse) still feel unsatisfied. In this category, Maslow has identified two types of needs: the need to an individual to see oneself as a competent and achieving person, and the need to get deserved respect and admiration from other persons (Maltby, Macaskill and Day 138).

Self-actualization needs

At the level of self-actualization, according to Maslow, the search of own sense and happiness in life starts; this is the level where the individual tends to achieve full personal potential. The process of self-actualization is supposed to be individual for every human being, because it strongly depends on the interests and talents of a person. Self-actualized individuals are rare, and most people strive to reach the level of self-actualization. For individuals who are successful at self-actualization metaneeds such as justice, moral, ethics and truth emerge. These metaneeds include the creative component of an individual, and Maslow stated that self-actualizers differed significantly from other people. Self-actualizers have B-needs and B-cognition (Kondalkar 256), and tend to accept the world as it is, compared to the judgmental approach of individuals motivated by the lower levels of the pyramid of needs. A truly self-actualized person shows high levels for the majority (or for all) characteristics: acceptance of others, self and nature, seeking of beauty, unity, justice and order, effective problem-solving abilities, self-directedness, appreciation, rich emotional response to life events, inspiring relationships with others, creativity and high moral.


Maslow has developed an effective scheme for understanding basic human motivation. His followers created new levels of the pyramid, mostly describing further levels of self-actualization. However, this theory has a lot of opponents and there are a lot of criticisms regarding Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. First of all, there is little empirical evidence proving this theory. This might happen due to certain simplification done for the purpose of clarity and organization of the model (Maltby, Macaskill and Day 144). The concepts in the model are not defined precisely, and thus it is difficult to test the validity of the model. Maslow did not explain his reasoning for the choice of 5 levels and the content of these levels (Maltby, Macaskill and Day 144). Certain researchers state that part of self-actualization related to reproduction and raising children should be included into two first levels of the hierarchy of needs. Nevertheless, Maslow’s theory is effectively used for the analysis of human motivations and has numerous applications in management, marketing and business, and has laid the background for further motivation and behavioral studies.

Works Cited

King, Paul W. Climbing Maslow’s Pyramid. Troubador Publishing Ltd, 2009.
Kondalkar, V.G. Organization Effectiveness and Change Management. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd., 2010.
Maltby, John, Ann Macaskill and Liz Day. Personality, Individual Differences and Intelligence. Pearson Education, 2010.
Schermerhorn, John R. Management. John Wiley and Sons, 2010.
Zastrow, Charles and Kirst-Ashman, Karen K. Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment. Cengage Learning, 2009.