Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: An Overview

Posted on August 14, 2012


(Related: Maslow’s Hierarchy: The Physiological Needs 1 – Air and Water)

We have a lot of needs. It’s often hard to understand how they relate and where they fall in terms of priority. Understanding our needs we can answer questions like:

  • How does a drug addict rationalize their need for a drug at the expense of their family and physical health?
  • How can a gamer play video games for so long while neglecting to eat, drink and sleep to the point of death?
  • Why do we procrastinate when we should be doing something else? Why do we form the habits we do?

I think these can partially be answered by understanding how our needs motivate us, and how they relate in a hierarchy. When we don’t meet our needs or confuse the relative importance of these needs in relation to another, e.g. the need for belonging or competence gained from playing a video game over the need to drink, eat, and sleep, we can have serious problems.

In the 1950’s Abraham Maslow detailed his theory of human motivation and produced his hierarchy of needs. At the bottom of the pyramid are the basic physiological needs of food, water, sleep, sex etc. These must be satisfied before higher level needs can be realised. It’s difficult to be a great parent or leader if you’re starving to death.

On top of physiological needs are safety needs, or our need to feel safe and secure. We need to have physical safety and security. This includes knowing that our physical bodies, loved ones, and possessions are protected from harm. This gives a sense that our physiological needs will be secure in the future.

Having this security and confidence, we can then realize the next level of love and belonging. Once we feel secure that those around us won’t harm us, our food, family and shelter are secure then we must fulfill our needs for love and belonging. We need to feel part of a group that we value and that values and benefits us in return.

When we feel accepted and loved by our friends and family we have a stronger foundation to seek esteem and respect in larger society. We have a need to gain respect from our peers and society for achievements and competences. Everyone needs to feel that they have a set of skills that are valued and respected by society.

And once all of these more fundamental needs are met, Maslow crowns his hierarchy with self-actualization, the idea that once more basic needs are met, people will achieve their full potential. This is the highest level of human creativity and morality according to Maslow.

At any point where these needs aren’t met mastery at the next level will be difficult if not impossible, e.g. a person who doesn’t trust another to not steal or hurt them will have difficulty having close personal relationships and achieving high respect in a social group.

See also:

Maslow’s Hierarchy: The Physical Needs 1 – Air and Water

Maslow’s Hierarchy: The Physical Needs 2 – Nutrition (eat your way to a better mood)