Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review.  Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans’ innate curiosity. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, some of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans. Maslow used the terms “physiological”, “safety”, “belongingness” and “love”, “esteem”, “self-actualization” and “self-transcendence” to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through.

What is Motivation?

• Willingness to exert high levels of effort toward organizational goals
• Conditioned by the effort’s ability to satisfy some individual need

Maslow’s  propositions about human Behaviour

  • Man is a wanting being.
  • A satisfied need is not a motivator of behaviour, only unsatisfied needs motivate.
  • Man’s needs are arranged in a series of levels – a hierarchy of importance. As soon as needs on a lower level are met those on the next, higher level will demand satisfaction. Maslow believed the underlying needs for all human motivation to be on five general levels from lowest to highest, shown below. Within those levels, there could be many specific needs, from lowest to highest.


Physiological – the need for food, drink, shelter and relief from pain.

Safety and security – once the physical needs of the moment are satisfied, man concerns himself with protection from physical dangers with economic security, preference for the familiar and the desire for an orderly, predictable world.

Social – become important motivators of his behaviour.

Esteem or egoistic – a need both for self-esteem and the esteem of others, which involves self-confidence, achievement, competence, knowledge, autonomy, reputation, status and respect.

Self – fulfilment or self-actualization – is the highest level in the hierarchy; these are the individual’s needs for realizing his or her own potential, for continued self-development and creativity in its broadest sense.

Assumptions of Maslow’s hierarchy

  • Individuals have multiple needs
  • Needs are ordered into levels, creating a ‘hierarchy’
  • A need, once satisfied, is no longer a need

To be of use, Maslow’s basic theory needs qualification to include the individual as a determining factor in motivation and behaviour. These include:

  • Levels in the hierarchy are not rigidly fixed; boundaries between them are indistinct and overlap.
  • There are individual exceptions to the general ranking of the hierarchy. Some people never progress beyond the first or second level (for example, many inhabitants of the third world), others are so obsessed with the higher needs that lower ones may go largely unnoticed.
  • Variables apart from individual needs may motivate e.g. social standards and a sense of duty.
  • An act is seldom motivated by a single need; any act is more likely to be caused by several needs.
  • The same need will not give rise to the same response in all individuals.
  • Substitute goals may take the place of a need that is blocked.

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