Hierarchy of Needs: what to start with?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper   ”A Theory of Human Motivation”. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans’ innate curiosity. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, all of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans.

Each of us is motivated by needs. Our most basic needs are inborn, having evolved over tens of thousands of years. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs helps to explain how these needs motivate us all.

The Hierarchy of Needs states, that we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the first, which deals with the most obvious needs for survival itself.

Only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied are we concerned with the higher order needs of influence and personal development.

Conversely, if the things that satisfy our lower order needs are swept away, we are no longer concerned about the maintenance of our higher order needs.

1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.

3. Belongingness and Love needs – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.

4. Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.

5. Self-Actualization needs – realising personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

This is the definitive and original Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.


 the hierarchy has been criticized, as the major extensive researches, based on Maslow’s theory, revealed little evidence for the ranking of needs Maslow described, or even for the existence of a definite hierarchy at all.

 Chilean economist and philosopher Manfred Max-Neef has argued fundamental human needs are non-hierarchical, and are ontologically universal and invariant in nature. Apart of the condition of being human, poverty, he argues, may result from any one of these needs being frustrated, denied or unfulfilled.

 The order in which the hierarchy is arranged (with self-actualization as the highest order need) has been criticised as being ethnocentric by Geert Hofstede.

Hofstede’s criticism of Maslow’s pyramid as ethnocentric may stem from the fact that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs neglects to illustrate and expand upon the difference between the social and intellectual needs of those raised in individualistic societies and those raised in collectivist societies. Maslow created his hierarchy of needs from an individualistic perspective, being that he was from the United States, a highly individualistic nation.

The needs and drives of those in individualistic societies tend to be more self-centred than those in collectivist societies, focusing on improvement of the self, with self-actualization being the apex of self-improvement. Since the hierarchy was written from the perspective of an individualist, the order of needs in the hierarchy with self actualization at the top is not representative of the needs of those in collectivist cultures. In collectivist societies, the needs of acceptance and community will outweigh the needs for freedom and individuality.

Maslow’s hierarchy has also been criticized as being individualistic because of the position and value of sex on the pyramid. Maslow’s pyramid puts sex on the bottom rung of physiological needs, along with breathing and food. It views sex from an individualistic and not collectivist perspective: i.e., as an individualistic physiological need that must be satisfied before one moves on to higher pursuits. This view of sex neglects the emotional, familial and evolutionary implications of sex within the community.

The hierarchy has been also criticized because of the obvious exceptions to the unidirectional nature of the sets of needs (the idea of prepotency).

For example, some individuals in concentration camps who were deprived of almost all of the lower needs were still pursuing truth, beauty, creativity, and morality. Individuals who go on hunger strikes deprive themselves of physiological needs in order to achieve higher needs.

In addition, there has been no systematic empirical support for prepotency.

Although there is no denying that humans are motivated by all of the needs he listed in the hierarchy (there is empirical support for this), one need not be satisfied within a lower need before moving on to being motivated by the next.

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