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Maslow's Hierarchy

Explanations > Needs >  Maslow's Hierarchy
The hierarchical effect | The five needs  | Three  more needs | So what?

In 1943 Abraham Maslow, one of the founding fathers of humanist approaches to management, wrote an influential paper that set out five fundamental human needs needs and their hierarchical nature. They are quoted and taught so widely now that many people perceive this model as the definitive set of needs and do not look further.

The hierarchical effect

A key aspect of the model is the hierarchical nature of the needs. The lower the needs in the hierarchy, the more fundamental they are and the more a person will tend to abandon the higher needs in order to pay attention to sufficiently meeting the lower needs. For example, when we are ill, we care little for what others think about us: all we want is to get better.

Maslow called the first four needs 'D-need' as they are triggered when we have a deficit. Only self-actualization is a need that we seek for solely positive reasons. Maslow also called them 'instinctoid' as they are genetically programmed into us as essential for evolutionary survival. Loss of these during childhood can lead to trauma and lifelong fixation.

Click on the needs in the diagram below for more detail, or read below for a quick summary of each.




Note that in practice this hierarchy is only approximate and you do not have to have your physiologically needs fully satisfied before going on to seeking higher needs. In their global survey, for example, Tay and Diener (2011) found that people can be living in hazardous poverty and yet still derive much satisfaction from having social needs (belonging and esteem) fulfilled. 

The five needs

  • Physiological needs are to do with the maintenance of the human body. If we are unwell, then little else matters until we recover.

  • Safety needs are about putting a roof over our heads and keeping us from harm. If we are rich, strong and powerful, or have good friends, we can make ourselves safe.

  • Belonging needs introduce our tribal nature. If we are helpful and kind to others they will want us as friends.

  • Esteem needs are for a higher position within a group. If people respect us, we have greater power.

  • Self-actualization needs are to 'become what we are capable of becoming', which would our greatest achievement.

Three more needs

These are the needs that are most commonly discussed and used. In fact Maslow later added three more needs by splitting two of the above five needs.

Between esteem and self-actualization needs was added:

  • Need to know and understand, which explains the cognitive need of the academic.

  • The need for aesthetic beauty, which is the emotional need of the artist.

Self-actualization was divided into:

  • Self-actualization, which is realizing one's own potential, as above.

  • Transcendence, which is helping others to achieve their potential.

So what?

Using it

To distract people from higher needs, threaten their lower needs. It is no surprise that poison has been effectively used to bring down kings and princes without necessarily killing them.

Perceive and help people to meet the needs on which they currently focused. Their attention is here and they will thank you for assistance in meeting their present needs.

Encourage them reach up to higher needs. Let them see and reach up to the greater things in life. Create a tension which you can use for your purpose.


Seek only needs at your current level. Neither retreat too rapidly to lower needs nor reach too quickly for higher needs. When you are ready, only then reach in your own time for higher needs. If other people seek to help you, you may accept their help but are not obliged to repay in any way they demand. 

See also

CIN Model, Argyris' Model 1, Murray's Needs, Evolution


Maslow (1943), Maslow and Lowery (1998)


Tay L, and Diener E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world. Journal of Personal Social Psychology, 101, 2, 354-65.


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