Maslow's Needs Hierarchy

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What Is the Hierarchy of Needs?

Image: J. Finkelstein

The hierarchy of needs is one of the best-known theories of motivation. Created by psychologist Abraham Maslow, the hierarchy is often displayed as a pyramid, with the most basic needs at the bottom and more complex needs at the peak.

The four lowest-level needs are what Maslow referred to as D-needs (or deficiency needs). These needs are due to a lack of something and need to be satisfied in order to avoid unpleasant feelings and to move on to higher level needs. The uppermost needs in the hierarchy are referred to B-needs (being needs or growth needs) and involve the desire to grow as an individual and fulfill one’s own potential.

Learn more about Maslow’s needs starting at the lowest level, which are known as physiological needs.

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Physiological Needs

Physiological needs
Basic physiological needs make up the base of the needs hierarchy. YinYang / E+ / Getty Images

The basic physiological needs are probably fairly apparent – these include the things that are vital to our survival. Some examples of the physiological needs include:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Breathing
  • Homeostasis

In addition to the basic requirements of nutrition, air and temperature regulation, the physiological needs also include such things as shelter and clothing. Maslow also included sexual reproduction in this level of the hierarchy of needs since it is essential to the survival and propagation of the species.

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Security and Safety Needs

Security needs
Safety and security needs make up the second level of the hierarchy. David Jakle / Image Source / Getty Images

As we move up to the second level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the requirements start to become a bit more complex. At this level, the needs for security and safety become primary. People want control and order in their lives, so this need for safety and security contributes largely to behaviors at this level.

Some of the basic security and safety needs include:

  • Financial security
  • Heath and wellness
  • Safety against accidents and injury

Finding a job, obtaining health insurance and health care, contributing money to a savings account, and moving into a safer neighborhood are all examples of actions motivated by the security and safety needs.

Together, the safety and physiological levels of the hierarchy make up what is often referred to as the basic needs.

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Social Needs

Social needs
Social needs make up the third level of the needs hierarchy. Peathegee Inc / Blend Images / Getty Images

The social needs in Maslow’s hierarchy include such things as love, acceptance and belonging. At this level, the need for emotional relationships drives human behavior. Some of the things that satisfy this need include:

  • Friendships
  • Romantic attachments
  • Family
  • Social groups
  • Community groups
  • Churches and religious organizations

In order to avoid problems such as loneliness, depression, and anxiety, it is important for people to feel loved and accepted by other people. Personal relationships with friends, family, and lovers play an important role, as does involvement in other groups that might include religious groups, sports teams, book clubs, and other group activities.

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Esteem Needs

Esteem Needs
Esteem needs make up the fourth level of the needs hierarchy. Tom Merton / Caiaimage / Getty Images

At the fourth level in Maslow’s hierarchy is the need for appreciation and respect. When the needs at the bottom three levels have been satisfied, the esteem needs begin to play a more prominent role in motivating behavior.

In addition to the need for feelings of accomplishment and prestige, the esteem needs include such things as self-esteem and personal worth. People need to sense that they are valued and by others and feel that they are making a contribution to the world. Participation in professional activities, academic accomplishments, athletic or team participation, and personal hobbies can all play a role in fulfilling the esteem needs.

People who are able to satisfy the esteem needs by achieving good self-esteem and the recognition of others tend to feel confident in their abilities. Those who lack self-esteem and the respect of others can develop feelings of inferiority.

Together, the esteem and social levels make up what is known as the psychological needs of the hierarchy.

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Self-Actualization Needs

Self-actualizing needs
Self-actualizing needs are at the fifth level of the needs hierarchy. Philip and Karen Smith / The Image Bank / Getty Images

At the very peak of Maslow’s hierarchy are the self-actualization needs. "What a man can be, he must be," Maslow explained, referring to the need people have to achieve their full potential as human beings.

According to Maslow’s definition of self-actualization:

"It may be loosely described as the full use and exploitation of talents, capabilities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing... They are people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they capable."

As he was developing his theory, Maslow studied the biographies of famous historical individuals who he believed were good examples of self-actualized people. These figures included Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass.

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