Abraham Maslow's Theory of Human Needs

Sherman Hoover
Abraham Maslow's Theory of Human Needs

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), American psychologist, known as one of the founders and main exponents of Humanist Psychology, firmly opposed the prevailing models up to that time: the Behavioral model and Psychoanalysis..

It was in the 20th century, between the 40s and 50s, when a new psychological trend appeared: Humanist Psychology. It is a psychological current that postulates the existence of a basic human tendency focused on mental health. His posture is often classified in psychology as a "third force.".


  • The pyramid of needs
  • First level: physiological needs
  • Second level: security and protection needs
  • Third level: need for affection and belonging
  • Fourth level: need for recognition
  • Fifth level: self-realization
    • Summary of Maslow's theory

The pyramid of needs

Maslow's best-known work is the Pyramid of Needs, a model that proposes a hierarchy of human needs, in which the satisfaction of the most basic or subordinate needs gives rise to the successive generation of higher or higher needs. Thus, according to Maslow, the NEED is what if it is not met or satisfied, the person will get sick or die..

According to Maslow and his theory of human needs, our needs are distributed in a pyramid, depending on the importance and influence they have on human behavior. At the base of the pyramid are the most elementary and recurring needs (called primary needs), while at the top are the most sophisticated and abstract (secondary needs).

Maslow asserts that we have an innate tendency toward self-actualization: the innate motivation of every human being to realize their potential using their skills and abilities. That is, what moves us or the reasons we have to act, is the will that to have those needs that we develop covered.

Therefore, to reach self-realization, we must satisfy lower needs to go up the level in Maslow's Pyramid.

The basic idea of ‚Äč‚Äčthis hierarchy is that the highest needs occupy our attention only when the lowest needs in the pyramid have been satisfied. The forces of growth lead to an upward movement in the hierarchy, while the regressive forces push the overbearing needs down the hierarchy. According to Maslow's pyramid:

Physiological needs, those for safety and protection, and those for love and belonging (the 3 needs starting at the base of the pyramid) are considered motivations for lack and recognition and self-realization are considered motivations for knowledge..

Maslow's Pyramid of Needs

In this way, we have to satisfy each need starting at the bottom of the pyramid, before the next need motivates us. Finally we will reach the top of the pyramid: self-realization, a moment in life where you feel happy and totally self-realized..

To satisfy the needs we find three types of behaviors:

  • Constructive: needs are met and everyone benefits.
  • Destructive: needs are met but not everyone benefits.
  • Failed: the goal of meeting the needs is not reached.

In practice, this theory consists of seeking constructive behavior, avoiding destructive and failed ones for each of the levels of the pyramid..

Next we are going to explain with examples what each need consists of and the possible types of behaviors: Constructive, destructive and failed.

First level: physiological needs

They constitute the lowest level of human needs. They are innate needs, such as the need for food, sleep and rest, shelter, or sexual desire. They are also called biological or basic needs, which require repeated and cyclical satisfaction to guarantee the survival of the individual. Human life is a continuous and constant search for the satisfaction of these elementary, but urgent, needs. The moment any of them cannot be satisfied, the direction of the person's behavior dominates.

This is the lower level, where the need to satisfy the most basic biological or physiological impulses, such as food or housing, is found..

    • Constructive: A girl arrives at the student flat and there is no food, so she decides to go buy food for herself and all her roommates, so that they too can eat
    • Destructive: A girl arrives at the student flat and there is no food, so she decides to go buy the right and necessary food so that she can eat, without thinking about her classmates.
    • Failed: A girl arrives at the student apartment and there is nothing to eat, but she does not have time to go shopping because she has to catch the train. So pack your bags and go without eating a thing.

Second level: security and protection needs

They constitute the second level of human needs. They lead the person to protect themselves from any real or imaginary, physical or abstract danger. The search for protection against threat or deprivation, the flight from danger, the search for an orderly and predictable world, are typical manifestations of these needs. They arise in human behavior when physiological needs are relatively satisfied. Like the former, they are also closely linked to people's survival. Safety needs are of great importance, since in organizational life people depend on the organization, and arbitrary administrative decisions or inconsistent or incoherent decisions can cause uncertainty or insecurity in people regarding their permanence at work.

At the second level, it places the need to live in a stable environment without threats..

  • Constructive: They raise the salary of all the workers of a restaurant, thanks to the good functioning of the same.
  • Destructive: The operation of the restaurant begins to fail, so they fire a part of the staff to be financially well.
  • Failed: The restaurant is not working well, so they are forced to close it.

Third level: need for affection and belonging

They are related to the life of the individual in society, together with other people. They are the needs of association, participation, acceptance by colleagues, friendship, affection and love. They arise in behavior when elementary needs (physiological and safety) are relatively satisfied. When social needs are not sufficiently satisfied, the person becomes reluctant, antagonistic and hostile to the people around him. The frustration of these needs generally leads to social maladjustment and loneliness. The need to give and receive affection is an important motivator of human behavior when applying participatory management.

In the third, the need for affiliation, the interest in living in societies, relating to others or having friends.

  • Constructive: A very loving mother, every day she embraces her three children.
  • Destructive: A very loving mother, every day she embraces only two children, she never shows love and affection to the other
  • Failed: A mother never hugs or gives affection to her children

Fourth level: need for recognition

They are related to the way the person is seen and evaluated, that is, with self-evaluation and self-esteem. They include self-assurance, self-confidence, the need for social approval and recognition, status, prestige, reputation, and consideration. Meeting these needs leads to feelings of self-confidence, worth, strength, prestige, power, ability, and usefulness. Their frustration can lead to feelings of inferiority, weakness, dependency, and helplessness, which in turn can lead to discouragement or compensatory activities..

Next comes the need for self-esteem, personal appreciation and recognition.

  • Constructive: A high school teacher asserts herself and respects her students, within a harmonious environment.
  • Destructive: A high school teacher asserts herself and respects herself by yelling and ridiculing her students.
  • Failed: A high school teacher is not respected by her students for lack of authority.

Fifth level: self-realization

They are the highest human needs; they are at the top of the hierarchy. These needs lead people to develop their own potential and fulfill themselves as human creatures throughout life. This tendency is expressed through the impulse to surpass oneself more and more and to reach the full potential of the person. The needs for self-realization are related to autonomy, independence, self-control, competence and full realization of the potential of each person, of individual talents. While the previous four needs can be satisfied through external rewards (extrinsic) to the person, who have a concrete reality (money, food, friendships, praise from other people), the needs for self-realization can only be satisfied through intrinsic rewards that people give themselves (for example, feeling of accomplishment), and are not observable or controllable by others.

And finally at the top level is the need for personal self-realization. It is going to point out that these needs are hierarchical in such a way that first the most basic need is satisfied to go up progressively until reaching the need for self-realization, as higher up the pyramid, the more motivated the individual is.

  • Constructive: A good actor who makes a very famous American movie.
  • Destructive: A model makes her partner fall, to keep her place.
  • Failed: A girl whose desire is to be a dancer, rehearses for a long time for a casting, but does not end up surpassing it.

The other needs do not motivate the behavior when they have been satisfied; On the other hand, the needs for self-fulfillment can be insatiable, since the more rewards the person obtains, the more important they become and they will want to satisfy these needs more and more. No matter how satisfied the person is, they will always want more.

Summary of Maslow's theory

A satisfied need does not motivate any behavior; only unmet needs influence behavior and direct it toward the achievement of individual goals.

The individual is born with a set of innate or hereditary physiological needs. At first, their behavior revolves around the cyclical satisfaction of them (hunger, thirst, cycle, sleep activity, sex, etc.).

After a certain age, the individual begins a long learning of new patterns of needs. The need for security arises, focused on protection against danger, against threats and against deprivation. Physiological and safety needs are the primary needs of the individual, and are related to their personal preservation.

As the individual manages to control his physiological and security needs, higher needs slowly and gradually appear: social, self-esteem and self-actualization. When the individual manages to satisfy his social needs, the needs of self-realization arise; This means that self-esteem needs are complementary to social needs, while self-fulfillment needs complement self-esteem. The highest levels of needs only arise when the individual relatively controls the lowest levels. Not all individuals manage to reach the level of self-realization needs, not even the level of self-esteem needs, since these are individual achievements.

The higher needs arise as the lower ones are being satisfied, since they predominate, according to the hierarchy of needs. Various concomitant needs influence the individual simultaneously; however, the lowest ones have predominant activation compared to the highest ones.

Lower needs (eating, sleeping, etc.) require a relatively fast motivational cycle, while higher needs require a much longer one. If some of the lower needs go unmet for a long period, it becomes imperative and neutralizes the effect of the higher ones. The energies of an individual are directed to strive to satisfy a lower need, when it exists.

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