A look on the Maslow’s heirarchy of needs.
Abraham H. Maslow felt as though conditioning theories did not adequately capture the complexity of human behavior. In a 1943 paper called A Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow presented the idea that human actions are directed toward goal attainment.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization and self-transcendence at the top.
The most fundamental and basic four layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called “deficiency needs” or “d-needs”: esteem, friendship and love, security, and physical needs. If these “deficiency needs” are not met – with the exception of the most fundamental (physiological) need – there may not be a physical indication, but the individual will feel anxious and tense. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs. Maslow also coined the term “metamotivation” to describe the motivation of people who go beyond the scope of the basic needs and strive for constant betterment.
The human brain is a complex system and has parallel processes running at the same time, thus many different motivations from various levels of Maslow’s hierarchy can occur at the same time. Maslow spoke clearly about these levels and their satisfaction in terms such as “relative”, “general”, and “primarily”. Instead of stating that the individual focuses on a certain need at any given time, Maslow stated that a certain need “dominates” the human organism. Thus Maslow acknowledged the likelihood that the different levels of motivation could occur at any time in the human mind, but he focused on identifying the basic types of motivation and the order in which they would tend to be met.
The heirarchy of needs pyramid.
The original hierarchy of needs five-stage model includes:
1. Physiological needs – these are biological requirements for human survival, e.g. air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex, sleep.
If these needs are not satisfied the human body cannot function optimally. Maslow considered physiological needs the most important as all the other needs become secondary until these needs are met.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
3. Love and belongingness needs – after physiological and safety needs have been fulfilled, the third level of human needs is social and involves feelings of belongingness. The need for interpersonal relationships motivates behavior
Examples include friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).
4. Esteem needs – which Maslow classified into two categories: (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige).
Maslow indicated that the need for respect or reputation is most important for children and adolescents and precedes real self-esteem or dignity.
5. Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. A desire “to become everything one is capable of becoming”(Maslow, 1987, p. 64).
The urge to write poetry, the desire to acquire an automobile, the interest in the country’s history, the desire for a new pair of shoes are, in the extreme case, forgotten or become of secondary importance. For the man who is extremely and dangerously hungry, no other interests exist but food. He dreams food, he remembers food, he thinks about food, he emotes only about food, he perceives only food and he wants only food. The more subtle determinants that ordinarily fuse with the physiological drives in organizing even feeding, drinking or sexual behavior, may now be so completely overwhelmed as to allow us to speak at this time (but only at this time) of pure hunger drive and behavior, with the one unqualified aim of relief.
The eight stage model includes cognitive and aesthetic needs (Maslow, 1970a) and later transcendence needs (Maslow, 1970b).
- Physiological needs
- Safety needs
- Love and belongingness needs
- Esteem needs
- Cognitive needs – knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability
- Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
7. Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
8. Transcendence needs – A person is motivated by values which transcend beyond the personal self (e.g., mystical experiences and certain experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences, service to others, the pursuit of science, religious faith, etc.).
Eight stage model of heirarchy of needs by Maslow.
Image courtesy basic-counseling-skills.com
“Another peculiar characteristic of the human organism when it is dominated by a certain need is that the whole philosophy of the future tends also to change. For our chronically and extremely hungry man, Utopia can be defined very simply as a place where there is plenty of food. He tends to think that, if only he is guaranteed food for the rest of his life, he will be perfectly happy and will never want anything more. Life itself tends to be defined in terms of eating. Anything else will be defined as unimportant. Freedom, love, community feeling, respect, philosophy, may all be waved aside as fripperies which are useless since they fail to fill the stomach. Such a man may fairly be said to live by bread alone”.
A self-actualizer is a person who is living creatively and fully using his or her potentials. What a man can do, he must do. It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. While the theory is generally portrayed as a fairly rigid hierarchy, Maslow noted that the order in which these needs are fulfilled does not always follow this standard progression. For example, he notes that for some individuals, the need for self-esteem is more important than the need for love. For others, the need for creative fulfillment may supersede even the most basic needs. In his studies, Maslow found that self-actualizers share similarities. Whether famous or unknown, educated or not, rich or poor, self-actualizers tend to fit the following profile.
Maslow’s self-actualizing characteristics
Efficient perceptions of reality. Self-actualizers are able to judge situations correctly and honestly. They are very sensitive to the fake and dishonest, and are free to see reality ‘as it is’.
Comfortable acceptance of self, others and nature. Self-actualizers accept their own human nature with all its flaws. The shortcomings of others and the contradictions of the human condition are accepted with humor and tolerance.
Reliant on own experiences and judgement. Independent, not reliant on culture and environment to form opinions and views.
Spontaneous and natural. True to oneself, rather than being how others want.
Task centering. Most of Maslow’s subjects had a mission to fulfill in life or some task or problem ‘beyond’ themselves (instead of outside themselves) to pursue.
Autonomy. Self-actualizers are free from reliance on external authorities or other people. They tend to be resourceful and independent.
Continued freshness of appreciation. The self-actualizer seems to constantly renew appreciation of life’s basic goods. A sunset or a flower will be experienced as intensely time after time as it was at first. There is an “innocence of vision”, like that of an artist or child.
Profound interpersonal relationships. The interpersonal relationships of self-actualizers are marked by deep loving bonds.
Comfort with solitude. Despite their satisfying relationships with others, self-actualizing people value solitude and are comfortable being alone.
Non-hostile sense of humor. This refers to the ability to laugh at oneself.
Peak experiences. All of Maslow’s subjects reported the frequent occurrence of peak experiences(temporary moments of self-actualization). These occasions were marked by feelings of ecstasy, harmony, and deep meaning. Self-actualizers reported feeling at one with the universe, stronger and calmer than ever before, filled with light, beauty, goodness, and so forth.
Socially compassionate. Possessing humanity.
Few friends. Few close intimate friends rather than many superficial relationships.
In summary, self-actualizers feel finally themselves, safe, not anxious, accepted, loved, loving, and alive, certainly living a fulfilling life.
Instead of focusing on what goes wrong with people, Maslow wanted to focus on human potential, and how we fulfill that potential. Maslow (1943, 1954) stated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Self-actualized people as those who were fulfilled and doing all they were capable of. It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. “The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions.”
What is less well-known is that Maslow amended his model near the end of his life, and therefore the conventional portrayal of his hierarchy is inaccurate, as it omits a description of this later thought. In his later thinking, he argued that the we can experience the highest level of development, what he called self-transcendence, by focusing on some higher goal outside ourselves. Examples include altruism, or spiritual awakening or liberation from egocentricity. Here is how he put it:
“Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos”. (The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, New York, 1971, p. 269.)
Notice that placing self-transcendence above self-actualization results in a radically different model. While self-actualization refers to fulfilling your own potential, self-transcendence puts your own needs aside to serve something greater than yourself. In the process, self-trancenders may have what Maslow called peak experiences, in which they transcend personal concerns. In such mystical, aesthetic, or emotional states one feels intense joy, peace, well-being, and an awareness of ultimate truth and the unity of all things.
Maslow also believed that such states aren’t always transitory—some people might be able to readily access them. This led him to define another term, “plateau experience.” These are more lasting, serene, and cognitive states, as opposed to peak experiences which tend to be mostly emotional and temporary. Moreover, in plateau experiences one feels not only ecstasy, but the sadness that comes with realizing that others cannot have similar encounters. While Maslow believed that self-actualized, mature people are those most likely to have these self-transcendent experiences, he also felt that everyone was capable of having them.
… the true meaning of life is to be found in the world rather than within [our own] psyche … the real aim of human existence cannot be found in what is called self-actualization. Human existence is essentially self-transcendence rather than self-actualization. Self-actualization is not a possible aim at all; for the simple reason that the more a man would strive for it, the more he would miss it. For only to the extent to which man commits himself to the fulfillment of his life’s meaning, to this extent he also actualizes himself. In other words, self-actualization cannot be attained if it is made an end in itself
-Man’s search for meaning, Frankl.
A Theory of Human Motivation. A. H. Maslow (1943). Originally Published in Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.
Abraham Maslow, motivation and personality, 2nd edition, Harper and Row, 1970.
Maslow, A. H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). Delhi, India: Pearson Education.
Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(2), 354-356. doi:10.1037/a00