What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 27, 2022
5 min read

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology that explains the five different levels of human needs. This theory created by Abraham Maslow is based on how humans are inspired to satisfy their needs in a hierarchical order. Starting from the bottom going upwards, the five needs are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

The hierarchy goes from the most basic to the most advanced needs. The ultimate goal is to reach the highest level of the hierarchy, which is self-actualization.

The following are the five levels of hierarchy explained.

Physiological needs are the most basic of Maslow’s hierarchy. These are the essentials people need for physical survival. Examples include air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, sleep, and health. 

If you fail to meet these needs, your body cannot function properly. Physiological needs are considered the most essential because you can't meet the other needs until your physiological ones are fulfilled. The motivation at this level comes from a person’s instinct to survive.

Once you meet your physiological needs, you need to need a safe and secure environment. Safety and security needs are associated with the need to feel safe and secure in your life and environment. Safety needs are obvious starting from childhood. When these needs are not met, children naturally react with fear and anxiety.

These needs also involve the desire for order, predictability, and control. Examples of safety needs include emotional security, financial security (social welfare and employment), law and order, social stability, freedom from fear, health, and well-being.

This is the third and the last of the lower needs in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It involves the need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. It's motivated by the natural instinct of humans to interact. This hierarchy level involves romantic relationships and connections to family and friends. It also includes the need to feel that you belong to a social group. In addition, this need includes feeling loved and feeling love toward others. If you fail to meet these needs, you may experience loneliness and depression.

This is the first of the higher needs in the hierarchy of needs. Esteem needs are motivated by the desire to feel good about yourself. 

There are two categories of esteem needs: Self-esteem, which is feeling confident and good about yourself, and respect, which is feeling valued by other people and knowing that they recognize your achievements.

When your esteem needs are not met, you may feel unimportant, less confident, unprotected, and incompetent. According to Maslow, respect and reputation are vital for children and adolescents and come before real self-esteem or dignity.

Self-actualization needs are the highest level on Maslow's pyramid of needs. These needs include realizing your potential, self-fulfillment, self-development, and peak experiences.

Self-actualization is the desire to accomplish all that you can and unleash all your potential. Different individuals may have different ideas of self-actualization since your desires differ from other people’s.

Maslow’s theory states that reaching the self-actualization level is difficult. The reason is that people are focused on satisfying the more urgent needs in the hierarchy of needs first.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often presented as a pyramid of needs. The pyramid is organized from the most basic needs at the bottom to the most complex at the top. 

Maslow theorized that you have to meet these needs at the bottom to move to the next level of needs. Even so, you don’t need to satisfy one need in order to move to the next one in the hierarchy. Maslow's theory also advocates that most people focus on meeting their needs partly, as a result progressing more in meeting needs lower on the hierarchy.

There are two types of needs on Maslow’s pyramid:

Deficiency needs: These are needs you develop due to deprivation. They include physiological, security, social, and esteem needs. You have to meet these needs to avoid unpleasant results.

Growth needs: The highest level of Maslow's pyramid is categorized as growth needs. Unlike deficiency needs, self-actualization needs are motivated by the desire to grow as a person and reach your full potential.

When you apply Maslow's hierarchy of needs in your life, you may experience improvements in some areas. To reach the highest level of development in this motivational theory, you must be self-actualized. Identifying your needs and ensuring that those needs are fulfilled can help increase your chances of success.

Maslow’s five-level pyramid has been expanded to include cognitive, aesthetic, and transcendence needs. 

The pyramid is now made up of more levels. They include:

1. Physiological and biological needs — air, water, food, shelter, sex, health, sleep, etc.

2. Safety needs — protection, security, financial stability, law, order, freedom, etc.

3. Love and belongingness needs — friendship, trust, intimacy, acceptance, loving and feeling loved in return, being part of a group (friends, family, workmates).

4. Esteem needs — Maslow classified them into two categories: 

  •  Self-esteem: dignity, self-fulfillment, mastery, independence
  •  The need to feel recognized, accepted, and valued by others

5. Cognitive needs — Cognitive needs arise when you start getting curious and desire to explore and gain knowledge, as well as understanding and wanting to know more about what interests you. 

6. Aesthetic needs — They include appreciation, stability, the search for beauty, etc.

7. Self-actualization needs — These are realizing your potential, achievements, self-growth, and peak experiences. You get the desire to be the best you can be.

8. Transcendence needs — You are motivated by values that go beyond the personal self. Examples include supernatural experiences, nature experiences, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences, service to others, religious faith, and the pursuit of science.

Your motivation is dependent on a hierarchy of needs. These needs are organized in a pyramid showing the needs that should first be met prior to higher needs. Even so, the order of these needs is not inflexible, since they can be adjusted depending on individual and other circumstances. Motivation is highly determined by more than one basic need, which may result in satisfying several needs altogether.