What Are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Banner)

Devised in the late 1940s by American psychologist Abraham Maslow, the hierarchy of needs are a complex and varied collection of human needs that drive self-growth and motivation

After spending a period of time with and studying the Native American Blackfeet tribe, Maslow came up with his famous theory based on a series of “deficient” and “growth” factors that humans must address in order to succeed. In this article, we’re going to go over the needs that Maslow defines and how they fit into the hierarchy.

The Principle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Best visualised in the shape of a triangle, Maslow put forward the idea that needs can be divided into stages, each with varying degrees of importance. From the absolute basics to finding a sense of purpose and direction, Maslow defined these needs as such:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Physiological Needs

This is described as the bottom or the base of the hierarchy. These are the most basic human needs that need to be fulfilled and maintained to ensure survival and sustain life. These are defined as:

  • Air
  • Food
  • Water
  • Sleep
  • Clothing
  • Shelter

Safety Needs

Once the most basic needs have been taken care of, the next set of needs that must be fulfilled is safety. Whether this is safety from danger or stability in health or money, this is another key part of the hierarchy that has to be brought to attention. Such factors include:

  • Health
  • Personal Security
  • Emotional Security
  • Financial Security

Love & Social Belonging

The third stage in the hierarchy is the need for belongingness. Whether these are personal relationships at home or socially, the need to feel involved and accepted as part of a group is key. Some of the factors in which humans need to feel belonging are described as being:

  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Intimacy
  • Trust
  • Acceptance
  • Love & Affection

Esteem Needs

This is described as the need to respect one’s self and to be respected by others, defined as being “higher” and “lower” needs respectively. For example, “higher” esteem needs include independence and confidence, whilst “lower” needs include factors like fame and prestige.

Cognitive Needs

Once esteem has been fulfilled, the next logical step that Maslow defines is gaining curiosity, foresight and creativity skills, as well as finding meaning. This can more commonly be described as the “thirst for knowledge”.

Aesthetic Needs

Before reaching the crucial stage of self-actualisation, Maslow’s theory puts forward the idea that humans need to experience and be surrounded by aesthetically pleasing experiences. Whether that’s the improvement of one’s self visually or drawing a stronger sense of beauty from the world around them, this is described as a crucial step in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.


To put it simply, the need for self-actualisation is to realise one’s full potential in life. Whether that’s providing for others or pursuing life goals, this point can only be reached if every other stage has been passed. This can include:

  • Partner Acquisition
  • Parenting
  • Developing Skills & Talents
  • Achieving Lifelong Goals

Transcendence Needs

The highest point of Maslow’s hierarchy is the need to find spirituality and a higher purpose in life. Also known as altruism, Maslow describes this as “the highest level of human consciousness”.

Criticism of Maslow’s Theory

Although it is now widely accepted that humans have universal needs that need to be met, many in academia have come to criticise the way in which Maslow’s theory categorises people. For example, it is argued that the hierarchal structure itself is not universal, as different needs and wants can vary depending on society and culture. One other common criticism of this theory is that Maslow had only taken into account the top 1% of college students whilst putting his theory together.

As we now know in today’s world, human beings require a complex set of needs in order to achieve and succeed, whether that is in the workplace or life in general. For example, Maslow’s theory doesn’t take mental health into account and the barriers they can cause to otherwise ‘healthy’ individuals, which we know has a huge effect on people, society and the workplace today.

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