Understanding Motivation through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation. In this paper, Maslow contended that human beings are motivated to fulfill basic needs and once those needs are met, they seek to satisfy successfully higher needs in a set of progressive hierarchies. It was previously believed that humans were only motivated to seek physiological needs such as warmth, shelter, food, water and sex, or in other words, the “animal needs” of the person. Maslow, however, contended that mere physiological needs were not enough to motivate a person completely as a conscious individual. Maslow contended that an individual’s biological and safety needs represented only the basic underlying level of needs and that there were additional needs that the individual was motivated to pursue during the course of their lives. This was described by Maslow as the Hierarchy of Needs, also known as Maslow’s Hierarchy.
The Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
The theory behind Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is that there are five motivating layers of progressive needs that drive human behavior. Biological needs, such as the need for food and water, are at the bottom, because as we know, if we don’t drink water, we will die. But once we meet all those biological needs, then it no longer becomes a driving force in our lives, and we rise up to a new layer of needs which we are motivated towards. Imagine a pyramid with five different layers. For the sake of this article, let’s reference the bottom layer as layer #1 and the top of the pyramid as layer #5.
Layer #1 – Physiological Needs
Physiological needs consist of the basic nutrients needed to support the biological existence of that individual as an organism. These include the need for oxygen, food and water, elimination of bodily waste, sleep, and body temperature. Arguably, the need for sex is also a physiological need in this category. Physiological needs represent the foundation of the hierarchy from which all other layers are built upon. Anytime when one of these physiological needs are threatened, all other needs will be inconsequential and the physiological needs will take priority.
Layer #2 – Safety Needs
The second layer of the hierarchy is the need for safety and security. In order for this need to be fulfilled, a person needs to experience a sense of security in their lives and to live without fear. In the caveman days, this usually meant having a nice secure cave-dwelling that would protect him and his clan from the harsh environment, as well as other predatory animals and human enemies. Safety and security needs can include physical safety from violence, security of employment, financial security, security of good health and security of family.
Layer #3 – Love & Belonging Needs
Belonging needs require that the person feel that they belong to a particular group, association, club, or team and that they are loved and shown affection by persons of their choosing. People have a need to be accepted and to belong in the groups that they associate with. These can be work groups, family groups, clubs, religious groups and even gangs. All people have a need to feel loved both sexually and non-sexually by other people and to be genuinely accepted by them. When these social needs are not met, people are susceptible to loneliness and depression as a result.
Layer #4 – (Status) Esteem Needs
Esteem or status needs is having a need to be respected by others and to have respect for themselves. In order to gain recognition for themselves and to be respected by other people, included ourselves, we pursue activities, hobbies, and professional careers which give us a sense of self-value and also becomes an avenue to compare ourselves with others. Confidence, competence, and achievement fall under esteem needs. Lower-level esteem needs are fame, respect, and glory, but these are dependant upon other people to achieve and therefore are considered inferior to self-esteem, which is dependant only on the individual.
Layer #5 – Self-Actualization
Self-actualization is realizing the potential of being the best that you can be in life. Self-actualizing people have a more efficient perception of reality. They have a superior ability to reason efficiently and logically. The self-actualizing person accepts themselves and the world that they live in as they are. They are able to enjoy themselves without regret, shame or apology, and do not have any unnecessary inhibitions. They are also spontaneous and motivated towards continual growth. They are promoted to a higher sense of duty. They are also able to be alone without being lonely. They are responsible for themselves and own their own behavior. The self-actualizing person has a fresh perspective and appreciation of all people as being basically good in life. Culture or stereotype associations with people do not taint them. They are also able to experience powerful feelings of unlimited horizons. They are able to see that they are both helpless and small in the world and also more powerful than anything physical on this world. The self-actualizing person develops an affection with the good, the bad and the ugly. The truth is clear to the self-actualizing person where others cannot see it.
© Copyright 2006 by Tristan Loo.
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