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What is the Hierarchy of Needs?

Daniel Liden
Updated Jan 30, 2024
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The hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory that is involved with human motivation. It was proposed by Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, in 1943. Maslow's research into motivation was based on intelligent, psychologically-stable individuals; he made it a point to choose the most intelligent, most successful, healthiest people possible to be the subjects of his research. The hierarchy of needs itself represents the needs that people experience in order of importance; it is often depicted as a pyramid with the most essential needs at the base.

The bottom four levels of the pyramidal representation of the hierarchy are referred to as "deficiency needs," as an individual suffers physically or psychologically if they are not met. Physiological needs make up the first level at the bottom and include the basic needs that sustain life and lead to procreation. Physiological needs include breathing, eating, and sleeping. In a healthy individual, according to Maslow, all other needs should be subordinated to the basic physiological needs.

The second level of the hierarchy of needs includes safety and security needs. The desire for health, steady employment, protection from the others and from environment, and financial stability are all considered safety and security needs. Social needs make up the third level of the hierarchy; friendship, acceptance, family, and sexual intimacy are all considered social needs. Social needs are generally subordinated to safety and security needs, which are subordinated to physiological needs.

Personal worth and esteem is the fourth level of the hierarchy of needs. People wish to feel important and valued, and generally suffer if they do not. Self-esteem and self-respect are extremely important aspects of this level; without them, a healthy individual can not progress beyond the deficiency needs to the fifth and final level of the hierarch.

The fifth level of the hierarchy is referred to as self-actualization, and involves personal development, growth, and purpose. When someone has fulfilled all of his other needs, he is free to pursue his maximum potential and work to develop himself to the highest degree possible without worrying about such things as food, insurance, fitting in, and feeling important. Only when the deficiency needs have been met can one continuously work towards self-actualization.

Late in his life, Maslow explained a final level of the hierarchy of needs that is often not included in modern representations of the hierarchy. He referred to this level as self-transcendence. Self-transcendence is a state of spiritual insight and enlightenment that is often considered too unscientific to be included with his serious psychological work.

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Daniel Liden
By Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to his work. With a diverse academic background, he crafts compelling content on complex subjects, showcasing his ability to effectively communicate intricate ideas. He is skilled at understanding and connecting with target audiences, making him a valuable contributor.
Discussion Comments
By anon248105 — On Feb 16, 2012

I think the most important level is what scientists have decided to be silent about. When Maslow discovered spiritual insight and enlightenment, he must have thought this is a level that everyone needs in life at whatever stage of personal development.

Since man is a tripartite being composed of body soul and spirit, therefore the spirit man also needs to get to a stage of fulfillment.

Few men have however managed to attain self actualisation and be spiritually fulfilled at the same time. Notable examples being the great king David, Solomon, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

By discographer — On May 14, 2011

The hierarchy of needs has something to do with governance too. Today, we all expect the government to help us in fulfilling those core basic needs so that we can move onto the next level. I don't mean this in a socialist sense. I mean that the government is responsible for creating education and job opportunities for people, so that they can eat and have a house to sleep in. The government is also responsible for our security with law enforcement and defense services.

It cannot provide all of the needs mentioned here though. It cannot give us love, esteem or transcendence necessarily. But it can still create the most favorable environment and many possibilities for us to reach these stages.

Don't you think so?

By turquoise — On May 12, 2011

I think Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a great way to understand other cultures. I've met a lot of people who say they do not understand why another culture is the way it is. Or how some people can live as they do. Maslow has explained this perfectly in the hierarchy.

People can only move on to certain issues and problems, if they have been able to fulfill their basic needs. For example, you cannot expect people who are struggling in poverty and are trying to feed themselves and their families to be concerned about recycling or wonder about existentialism. Because they are still worried about the most basic needs.

I think we can understand each other better using this system about human needs and psychology.

By serenesurface — On May 11, 2011

I realized after reading this that the hierarchy of needs is also the basis used for some studies that measure quality of life. It basically has the same factors like wealth, health, political freedom, security and so forth.

So a community or nation that has all the needs met in Maslow's hierarchy has a high quality of living. The less the needs are met, the less the quality of life is.

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to...
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