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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a charted set of human requirements that are important for an individual to achieve complete development and self-actualization. The hierarchy of needs is a theory of psychologist Abraham Maslow.

The hierarchy is diagramed as a pyramid starting at the bottom with basic needs that must be satisfied for an individual to be able to progress to addressing more secondary needs. It’s understood that a person who has to struggle to survive doesn’t think as much about or attain self-actualization as a person whose survival is relatively assured.

The hierarchy of needs shows the general progression of pursuits for people once survival and comfort are assured into the spiritual, the creative and or intellectual. The levels of the hierarchy, starting from the base of the pyramid are:

  1. Physiological needs - These are biological requirements for human survival. Examples include air, food, water, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex and sleep.
  2. Safety needs – Examples include protection from elements, security, order, law and stability.
  3. Love and belongingness needs – These are the first of social needs, involving the desire for interpersonal relationships and being part of a group. Examples of these needs include friendship, intimacy, trust, acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love.
  4. Esteem needs - Classified into two categories:
    1. Self-esteem, stemming from dignity, achievement, mastery and independence.
    2. The desire for reputation or respect from others, including status and prestige.
  5. Self-actualization needs – Examples include realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment and seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

Maslow broke down the first four levels of his hierarchy into deficit needs that generally must be satisfied before moving on to being or growth needs of the self-actualization level of the hierarchy. A notable difference in growth needs is that achievement increases motivation where achievement of deficit needs causes a decrease in motivation.

In 1983, Maslow was noted as clarifying that person may not require 100% satisfaction of all previous levels to move on to higher needs. He also pointed out that a life journey might well involve a non-linear progression through the hierarchy. People’s previously filled needs may require addressing again, owing to setbacks in their lives. Major life events such as a move, break up or divorce, for example, may leave individuals with previously filled needs to address.

This was last updated in April 2019

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