Introduction to Abraham Maslows Hierarchy of needs

The great American psychologist Abraham Maslow studied human behavior over many years, and in 1943, published his Theory of Human Motivation. His Hierarchy of Needs model can be understood as a series of basic human needs that represent goals to be achieved at any given moment in a person’s life. These needs will influence behavior and can be a major motivating force in many aspects of human existence.

The hierarchy works in a pyramid formation, staring at the bottom, with the most basic, then working to the apex and reaching the highest goal. Once each need is met, the individual seeks to meet another and so works up the pyramid. Maslow stated these as follows:


PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS: These are the most basic necessities in order to live and are things like food, water, warmth and shelter. They have to be met before an individual can move upwards. To illustrate how this works, consider a group of people who have never met, attending a meeting or training intervention, in a totally alien environment. Before they can even think of learning or contributing, issues of physical comfort must be dealt with. What food or drink is available, when, are their surroundings and accommodation comfortable, are there any special needs like hearing loops required? The good facilitator will always address these matters first, as well as engaging the interest of delegates, promising activity and stimulation.

SAFETY/SECURITY NEEDS: Once the first basic needs have been met, a person will move on to desire to feel safe and secure. To carry on with the illustration, this is where the Fire and Bomb instructions are given, along with assurances that the facilitator will guide and protect them in any emergency. But in a group of strangers, who knows if a threatening person is present? So introductions are made to allow everybody to show something of themselves and help each other to feel safe together. Once that need for safety and self preservation is met, along with basic physiological needs, then the individual is ready to move on to seek and meet the next set of needs.

LOVE AND AFFILIATION NEEDS: Because man is a social animal, wanting to interact and belong to the group, this need emerges. Motivated by wanting to establish relationships and gain acceptance, it becomes important. The learning event or meeting can progress towards achieving its aims and objectives, once the individuals reach this stage in the hierarchy. The relationships and interactions bring about collaborative working, they are happy to learn together and so another basic need is met.

ESTEEM: Once the individual is established as part of a group, and feels comfortable there, they will seek next to fulfill the need for both self-esteem and esteem and respect of others, in fact recognition of their value. They need others to appreciate their input and worth, and in seeking and meeting this need, become more self-confident, effective and useful. In the training or meeting scenario, this brings out the best, because people work at contributing, participating, offering ideas and innovations, motivated to gain the esteem of others, bolster their own and achieve the goal.

SELF-ACTUALIZATION/SELF FULFILLMENT: The other needs have been established and met, the individual now seeks to reach the pinnacle, or realize his/her full potential. In the illustration, the learner will find themselves confident in the belief that their knowledge, skills and abilities are such that they will use them to their full extent and so achieve excellence. The need to do this represents self-fulfillment.

Maslow recognized that not everybody would progress through the hierarchy in the same order; after all, human beings are all different. Some who cannot achieve esteem, for example, through positive actions, be it due to life circumstances, lack of opportunities, social problems or pressure and so forth, may use negative behaviors to achieve recognition and so meet the need that way. But this would then prevent achieving respect of others and self fulfillment of becoming the best, reaching full potential.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that everyone’s self-fulfillment is different and may in fact differ at various stages in their lives. A girl who wants to be the best mother ever, may, when her children have grown, perceive her self actualization lies in becoming a good artist. A pianist in an ensemble may, after a time, see self fulfillment in becoming a solo performer.

Our needs motivate us to behave in certain ways at certain times. A man who thinks he needs to be rich, to make a million dollars, may be seeking esteem in a material society. But when threatened by fire and flood, his need moves back down in the hierarchy to one of safety and security, self preservation.

Understanding needs, motivation and behaviors helps us to understand ourselves and our world. It is such understanding that we can apply to education, career, personal development, and possibly to the achievement of happiness or at least contentment. Abraham Maslow’s model goes a long way to aiding that understanding and to helping us to recognize why we do what we do, and more importantly, what we can be. Per ardua ad astra – reach for the stars.