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Maslow’s pyramid: human needs


The Maslow pyramid , is part of what has been so far one of the most famous theories about human motivation. This psychological theory, proposed by the humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow , has aimed to prioritize human needs to better understand the development of our values ​​and motivations.

Human beings follow a kind of behavioral guidelines depending on our motivations, experts have tried to explain how these motivations develop, what is it that most influences us to change from one motivation to another? This is of great interest, since from this answer we can get an idea of ​​how we develop our maturity and self-knowledge .

Motivations are one of the main guides that leads us to take actions of all kinds. From achieving increasingly complex and beneficial achievements for our evolution, to committing the most heinous and bloody destruction for humanity. From the motivations we have, our ideas and decisions arise , that is why its field of study is of great interest to anyone interested in human behavior.

Abraham Maslow formulated his hierarchical theory of human needs through Maslow’s pyramid, establishing the most basic needs at its base, and the highest wants and needs at the top. Let’s see what Maslow’s pyramid consists of and what we can learn from it.

Basic principles of Maslow’s pyramid

Maslow’s pyramid has a five-level structure . These levels follow a scale of needs. The first four levels that are those that start from the base are the primordial levels, which are commonly accessed by most of us. However, at the top, the fifth level is where a different need develops, the “need to be” a higher order motivation, which is rooted in personal growth . This higher motivation was called “self-realization.”

The humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow first developed this concept of the “hierarchy of needs” in an article that did not leave anyone indifferent “A Theory of human motivation” published in 1943. Also exposed in his book “Motivation and personality”.

According to this theory developed in his research article, every human being aspires to reach self-realization. Although to reach it we must have the lower needs covered, going through each of the levels from the most basic needs. As we cover certain needs, we are prepared for higher ones, which are of greater importance to our global well-being. Therefore, this theory implies that human beings cannot achieve more meaningful and beneficial motivations globally, until they have satisfied other more essential and specific ones .

What are the needs we are talking about? In each of these levels, as we have commented, there are a series of needs, which are what indicate that we are at that level of the pyramid. With regard to these needs, there are a number of motivations in relation to them. Let’s look at the characteristics and needs of each level from the bottom to the top.

Structure and hierarchy of needs

Maslow, in his research, finds distinctions in the needs of the human being. Being common for all of us this series of needs . Since they have to do with our physiology, survival, social recognition and relationship with other people (deficit needs) that have to do with the deficiencies that we have in our human condition. Until reaching the “development of being” (self-realization) that is linked to spirituality, self-knowledge, and being able to see oneself as a whole as part of nature.

Maslow’s pyramid has this hierarchy, we will see its five-level structure that goes from the most essential needs of the human being (basic needs), to the highest (self-realization):

Basic needs

At the base of the pyramid are the basic needs of the human being, which correspond to the physiological ones. It is about our most primary needs, those that are vital for survival such as:

  • Need for shelter and avoid pain.
  • Breathe, drink water, eat.
  • Maintain the necessary body temperature to survive, through clothing or warm places.
  • Sleep, rest and eliminate body waste.

Keeping these needs covered is of vital importance, since our homeostasis is involved, the internal regulation of our body that allows us to survive the environment in which we find ourselves. As we see, these needs are primary, and until they have been met, the secondary ones remain on a higher plane.

Safety and security needs

This area of ​​Maslow’s pyramid is at a higher level than the basic necessities for survival. Although it is true that these needs are also necessary for us to live. However, until they have been satisfied the first ones do not arise those of this higher level that correspond to safety and personal protection:

  • Need to ensure the integrity and proper functioning of the body and the organism.
  • Employment and resources to create a comfortable home (money, house, vehicle, etc.).
  • Family security and feeling of protection against external dangers.

Social needs and affiliation

In this third level of Maslow’s pyramid our social nature is especially reflected. Needs already in a higher order, which begin to make sense when we have already satisfied the above. Under these needs we find the feeling of romantic love and wanting to start a family, trying to drive away the feeling of loneliness. They are also related to:

  • Establishment of affective relationships and significant ties, whether with a partner, friends, colleagues or family. Somewhat deeper and more meaningful links.
  • Need for social acceptance; that others recognize us as an individual of a group.
  • Feeling of belonging to a social group with which there is a commitment.

Need for esteem and recognition

After covering the previous levels of Maslow’s pyramid, we find ourselves with higher needs, such as social recognition and esteem. Maslow made a distinction between high esteem and low esteem.

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It refers with high esteem to the need we have to respect ourselves, also to the feelings related to achievement, success, confidence, freedom and independence.

While respect for other people and the feeling of being worthy, having fame, recognition and reputation, are related to low esteem; something that would also belong to the feeling of pride and to appear something important to society.

Failure to meet the needs of this level has consequences such as low self-esteem or feelings of inferiority . By having these needs covered, there is a greater personal value, and a deeper and more structured concept of the meaning of life. A journey that begins personal growth and development. Reaching this level of this pyramid corresponds to the need for mental balance, with aspirations of success and of fulfilling all those dreams and illusions that arise throughout one’s existence.

Need for self-realization

We are already at the top of Maslow’s pyramid with the highest human need, the need for self-realization. This last level, as we have said before, differs from the others in that it is not a deficiency to be covered, but a “need to be” and to self-fulfill .

It is at the top of the hierarchy because it is the highest psychological need to which the human being can aspire. This level can be reached when the previous levels we have described have been completed, or at least largely satisfied. This elevated need corresponds to personal growth, spiritual and moral development . The development of one’s own potentialities, thanks to self-knowledge, occurs at this level. In it, a greater capacity is acquired to make sense of what it means to live. In this regard, the highest feelings; as are compassion and unconditional love, they reach their highest degree of development.

What are self-actualized people like?

Maslow, based on writings, biographies and achievements, managed to identify common qualities and capacities in self-actualized people who went down in history. Historical figures such as: Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and William James, among others …

These are some of the common characteristics these people had, which Maslow defined as self-actualized people:

  • Special interest in what is genuine, knowing how to identify it from what is false or fictitious. This made them focus better on reality.
  • They appreciated creativity and originality, detaching themselves from what was already established, to give their own vision of the world.
  • They discarded prejudices, relearning what they had already learned in their education, thus rejecting the implicit messages of their culture, to generate ideas based on their own experience and criteria.
  • The focus of attention was on the solutions, rather than getting stuck on the problem.
  • They have a special enthusiasm for what they do, putting passion in their ideas and in what they truly believe. This made them live their experiences with greater intensity.

These are the characteristics that Maslow was able to see that self-actualized people have. A way of seeing the world that gives meaning in itself to their lives .

Criticisms of Maslow’s Theory

The investigations that have been made about the Maslow pyramid, have not reached a consensus since there is much controversy around this theory. There is research that downplays it, concluding that there is little scientific evidence to show that there is a specific hierarchy of needs in humans.

The concepts of Maslow’s theory being of the humanist current are somewhat abstract, and this makes it have little validity and is difficult to demonstrate in an empirical way. This is what his detractors recriminate him above all.

Other more recent research, empirically testing Maslow’s pyramid, found that it correlates well with people’s satisfaction and happiness . Although they also gave importance to the fact that the last step, that of self-realization, could be a need of many people who have not covered all the previous ones.

Another criticism of Maslow is that he relied on exceptional and unrepresentative people to develop his theory. This is something that detracts from the validity and significance of his theory, since it does not represent humanity as a whole, nor the majority of people.

After making a more extensive review about Maslow’s theory, it is true that it can serve to give us an idea about the motivations of the human being, and it is a humanist contribution that, without a doubt, has led to much research. However, it has little scientific evidence so that it can be assumed that this hierarchy of human needs exists, as described by Maslow.

Contribution of Maslow’s pyramid to psychology

Although Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory has not obtained good results through empirical evidence, it has contributed to the humanist current having a greater presence in psychology, especially in the psychological therapies that have dominated historically, like behaviorism and psychoanalysis. This is how humanistic psychology earned the label of the third force .

Its impact has not only been in the world of psychology, its contributions have also served for other areas such as sports, marketing and the business world . Maslow’s theory continues to have force and presence in all of these areas. Through this theory, a contribution is made that moves away from the legacy of psychology, focused on psychopathology. The humanist current is reinforced thanks to this Maslow theory , giving relevance to the potentialities, capacities and motivations of people, focusing on the positive aspects that each individual has.


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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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