A review on Maslow’s pyramid, it’s misinterpretation, and it’s flaws

The best article that describes well, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is the one below, from simplypsychology, then there is a wikipedia article, and lastly an article that explains in a simple way, the basic concepts from verywell.

For now, let’s put a pyramid model, to see and understand the basics:

maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramide

First, the first misinterpretation, is the one from wikipedia article, that says that some needs are more important than others, in different societies.

The truth is, this system of Maslow can be well interpreted, as needs that once satisfied, would go to higher needs on the levels of the pyramid.

But one aspect that is not mentioned, and should be mentioned is that, needs can be started and stopped at one’s will. Which means, that, through ascetism, discipline and control, one can skip some of the needs that are not necessary for survival(like belonging and love needs, esteem needs, aesthetic needs).

Self-Actualization can be defined, by the writer of this article(me), with one keyword.


Self-Actualization = Analysis.

The individuals who make analysis on their own behavior, own world, who study and analyze, compare, are practicing the process of Self-Actualization.

It is similar to how a Blockchain(with transactions and history) operates.

The wallet when seeks to update, it looks to take the best information out of the world, and seeks to be, up to date.

The process of Self-Actualization, however, in the real world, for people, is done through Analysis, that improves each time more information input is added. To call the process of Self-Actualization a continuing process is correct. It takes years, sometime tens of years of time, to fully reach a complete level of Self-Actualization.

Because, the Analysis, or the Cognitive factor has to be very accurate, and Self-Actualization is fully complete, when all there is to Analyze, from top to bottom, is complete. The more a person doing Self-Actualization manages to get a more fundamental, core like, perspective, the more that person is completing Self-Actualization. This is true, because, every action, has a source. Higher things create manifestations into lower things, and thus the real purpose of analysis is to look into the current lower things, to perceive higher things. Therefore, the process of Self-Actualization may never end, but it can be completed, by adding and learning a lot from history, continually re-testing to see if current theories may actually be not true in all environments, and thus learning all the exceptions.

Self-Transcendence is defined one time, as helping others to go into Self-Actualization.

Let it be a reminder, because some have said that Self-Actualized people are doing literature and art. Some people do it out of the desire to paint and write, with no care about how the world works, and how far things can go(the rabbit hole metaphor, the matrix, etc.). Those people are not fully into the process of Self-Actualization.

A person Self-Actualization level can be measured by how broad or big it’s perspective really is. One who is a painter and nothing else, could have a lower Self-Actualization level, while a person who would write a Constitution, A Declaration of Independence or do a political movement that is entirely beneficial to the rights of a person and improve other’s Self-Actualization levels is most likely having a higher Self-Actualization level.

So now, as to define, Self-Transcendence, these values can be defined as those of people like Buddha, Lao-Tzu, and likely some Hindu Gods, like Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu.

So, to further explain what Maslow wanted to provide with “Self-Transcendence” level, the best way is to be aware of teachings like Tao Te Ching, Buddha’s Eightfold Path, the path of Arihants and Siddhas.

To quote:

Arihant (Magadhi Prakritअरिहन्तarihantSanskritअर्हतárhat “conqueror”) or jina, is a soul who has conquered inner passions such as attachment, anger, pride and greed.[1] Arihant are also called kevalins (omniscient beings) as they possess Kevala Jnana (pure infinite knowledge).[2][3] An arihant is also called a Jina “conqueror”. At the end of their life, arihants destroy all four gathiya karmas and attain moksha(liberation) and become siddha (liberated soul). The Ṇamōkāra mantra, the fundamental prayer dedicated to Pañca-Parameṣṭhi (five supreme beings), begins with Ṇnamō arihantāṇnamṁ, “Obeisance to the arihants”.

In Jainism, omniscience is said to be the infinite, all-embracing knowledge that reflects, as it were in a mirror, all substances and their infinite modes, extending through the past, the present and the future.[7] According to Jain texts, omniscience is the natural attribute of the pure souls. The self-attaining omniscience becomes a kevalī.

Siddha (Tamil ‘Great thinker/wise man’, Sanskrit, “perfected one”) is a term that is used widely in Indian religions and culture. It means “one who is accomplished”.[1][2] It refers to perfected masters who have achieved a high degree of physical as well as spiritual perfection or enlightenment. In Jainism, the term is used to refer the liberated souls. Siddha may also refer to one who has attained a siddhi, paranormal capabilities.

In Jainism, the term siddha is used to refer the liberated souls who have destroyed all karmas and have obtained moksha.[5] They are free from the transmigratory cycle of birth and death (saṃsāra) and are above Arihantas (omniscient beings). Siddhas do not have a body; they are soul in its purest form. They reside in the Siddhashila, which is situated at the top of the Universe.[6] They are formless and have no passions and therefore are free from all temptations. They do not have any karmas and they do not collect any new karmas.

According to Jains, Siddhas have eight specific characteristics or qualities. Ancient Tamil Jain Classic ‘Choodamani Nigandu’ describes the eight characteristics in a poem, which is given below.[7]

“கடையிலா ஞானத்தோடு காட்சி வீரியமே இன்ப
மிடையுறு நாமமின்மை விதித்த கோத்திரங்களின்மை
அடைவிலா ஆயுஇன்மை அந்தராயங்கள் இன்மை
உடையவன் யாவன் மற்று இவ்வுலகினுக்கு இறைவனாமே”

“The soul that has infinite knowledge (Ananta jnāna, கடையிலா ஞானம்), infinite vision or wisdom (Ananta darshana, கடையிலா காட்சி), infinite power (Ananta labdhi, கடையிலா வீரியம்), infinite bliss (Ananta sukha, கடையிலா இன்பம்), without name (Akshaya sthiti, நாமமின்மை), without association to any caste (Being vitāraga, கோத்திரமின்மை), infinite life span (Being arupa, ஆயுள் இன்மை) and without any change (Aguruladhutaa, அழியா இயல்பு) is God.”

The following table summarizes the eight supreme qualities of a liberated soul.[8]

Quality Meaning Manifestation
Kśāyika samyaktva infinite faith or belief in the tattvas or essential principles of reality manifested on the destruction of the faith-deluding (darśana mohanīya) karma
Kevala Jnāna infinite knowledge on the destruction of the knowledge-obscuring (jnānāvarnīya) karma.
Kevaladarśana infinite perception on the destruction of the perception-obscuring (darśanāvarnīya) karma
Anantavīrya infinite power on the destruction of the obstructive (antarāya) karma
Sūksmatva fineness manifested on the destruction of the life- determining (āyuh) karma
Avagāhan inter-penetrability manifested on the destruction of the name-determining (nāma) karma
Agurulaghutva literally, neither heavy nor light manifested on the destruction of the status-determining (gotra) karma
Avyābādha undisturbed, infinite bliss manifested on the destruction of the feeling-producing (vedanīya) karma

Because of the quality of Sūksmatva, the liberated soul is beyond sense-perception and its knowledge of the substances is direct, without the use of the senses and the mind. The quality of avagāhan means that the liberated soul does not hinder the existence of other such souls in the same space.

A soul after attaining Siddhahood goes to the top of the loka (as per jain cosmology) and stays there till infinity. Siddhas are formless and dwell in Siddhashila with the above mentioned eight qualities.

So, the path of Self-Transcendence is a path leading to enlightenment, and the levels of such persons can be described as ArihantsSiddhas and possibly individuals and/or personalities that were worshipped in the past as Gods.

A good look on more of these values, here:

Now, because the levels of Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence are explained, a small commentary can be added. To go faster into levels of Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence, one only needs to follow a Buddhist or Taoist or Jainist or Hindu path, that would lead one to levels such as Arihants or Siddhas.The reason for their success, is because they are actively practicing Cardinal Virtues, such as Temperance, through which they learn to control their own desires and thus more easily go into a path of Self-Actualization and later on Self-Transcendence.

One can simply skip Self-Actualization(which is more dependent on accumulation and analysis of knowledge) and go to Self-Transcendence.

So to make matters clear, Maslow’s pyramid of needs, generally sustains that some needs need to be fulfilled, before other needs will be found more interesting. That is generally true, but, with the willpower and likely discipline, as explained in Buddhist texts and other sacred texts, one can skip those needs and thus be more closer to Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence needs.

Also, there have been characteristics or persons who can be described at a level of Self-Actualization, however they are not entirely true:

“3. Spontaneous in thought and action; ”

People who are methodical too, can be considered good in Self-Actualization, but let’s not forget, that everyone’s thoughts can be spontaneous, so it’s more of a characteristic for everyone, not just persons with Self-Actualization.

“5. Unusual sense of humor;”

Depending on one’s definition of  ‘humor’, and ‘unusual’, this is a process that describes people who are on the way to Self-Actualization, but have no interest in the process called Self-Transcendence. Humor and laughter comes from psychological values like pride satisfaction and other types of greed satisfaction. Thus, it’s a value more likely to be common for people with esteem needs and other basic needs rather than Self-Actualization needs.


Final points…

People with focus on lower needs, tend to find needs such as Self-Actualization to be uninteresting, especially when they are really focused on those lower needs. And sometimes, the discomfort of telling people that Self-Actualization might be better than lower needs(which some people are dependent on it, or in love with it), will cause them, sometimes, more rejection towards those values of Self-Actualization or higher values like Self-Transcendence.

The myth that one of the lower needs needs to be fulfilled so that higher needs can be fulfilled, stands in general, untrue, because the needs don’t need to be fulfilled, but instead made in such a way that they go away. One way, is through fulfilling that need via giving that person what it craves(esteem, etc.) or the other, that is to simply stop that need from happening, and with one’s will, it can be done, so that higher needs are pursued. As long as they are not needs that stand for survival, those can be supressed.

However, there are examples of basic needs that can be supressed, though rare.

These needs like food, might be supressed via fasting initially, all the way when one leaves as a breatharian(if possible), so that one does not eat anything, and only drinks.

The same thing can be said about sleeping needs, there is some Uberman practice that involves napping for only 20 minutes, 6 times a day, leaving one day with only 2 hours of sleep. But such practices need to be well timed with food practices too.

Of course one can go to tell about the argument that even temperature resistance is possible. Through advanced control of one’s body energy, one can sit naked in winter for extended periods of time, and at the same time, similar practice for walking in the desert. But likely, these practices would involve a lot of temperance and good practice of chi energy.

So, the practice of skipping, is the alternative, to getting into higher states, like Self-Actualization or Self-Transcendence.

With enough discipline, theoretically, everything can be skipped, even food and shelter.

Skipping the needs of esteem and respect are more easy, but some basic needs however needs practice and time.

Thus, persons who are highly focused on Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence, are more likely to give less time and energy towards lower needs.

This is the end of the review, and the analysis about other articles.


Below, are the articles that were used to both strengthen some points and criticize other points:


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s (1943, 1954) hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behaviour. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.

maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramide

This five stage model can be divided into deficiency needs and growth needs. The first four levels are often referred to as deficiency needs (D-needs), and the top level is known as growth or being needs (B-needs).

The deficiency needs are said to motivate people when they are unmet. Also, the need to fulfil such needs will become stronger the longer the duration they are denied. For example, the longer a person goes without food, the more hungry they will become.

One must satisfy lower level deficit needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. When a deficit need has been satisfied it will go away, and our activities become habitually directed towards meeting the next set of needs that we have yet to satisfy. These then become our salient needs. However, growth needs continue to be felt and may even become stronger once they have been engaged. Once these growth needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualization.

Every person is capable and has the desire to move up the hierarchy toward a level of self-actualization. Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by a failure to meet lower level needs. Life experiences, including divorce and loss of a job may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy. Therefore, not everyone will move through the hierarchy in a uni-directional manner but may move back and forth between the different types of needs.

Maslow noted only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualized because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs.

The original hierarchy of needsfive-stage model includes:

1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.

2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.

3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).

4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.

5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramide

Maslow posited that human needs are arranged in a hierarchy:

‘It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?

At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency’ (Maslow, 1943, p. 375).

The expanded hierarchy of needs:

It is important to note that Maslow’s (1943, 1954) five stage model has been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs (Maslow, 1970a) and later transcendence needs (Maslow, 1970b).
Changes to the original five-stage model are highlighted and include a seven-stage model and a eight-stage model, both developed during the 1960’s and 1970s.

1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, etc.

3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).

4. Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.

5. Cognitive needs – knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability.

6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.


7. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

8. Transcendence needs – helping others to achieve self actualization.
maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramide


Instead of focusing on psychopathology and what goes wrong with people, Maslow (1943) formulated a more positive account of human behavior which focused on what goes right. He was interested in human potential, and how we fulfill that potential.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1943, 1954) stated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Self-actualized people are those who were fulfilled and doing all they were capable of.

The growth of self-actualization (Maslow, 1962) refers to the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life. For Maslow, a person is always ‘becoming’ and never remains static in these terms. In self-actualization a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them.

As each individual is unique the motivation for self-actualization leads people in different directions (Kenrick et al., 2010). For some people self-actualization can be achieved through creating works of art or literature, for others through sport, in the classroom, or within a corporate setting.

Maslow (1962) believed self-actualization could be measured through the concept of peak experiences. This occurs when a person experiences the world totally for what it is, and there are feelings of euphoria, joy and wonder.

It is important to note that self-actualization is a continual process of becoming rather than a perfect state one reaches of a ‘happy ever after’ (Hoffman, 1988).

Maslow offers the following description of self-actualization:

‘It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially.

The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions’ (Maslow, 1943, p. 382–383).

Are you self-actualized?

Characteristics of self-actualized people

Although we are all, theoretically, capable of self-actualizing, most of us will not do so, or only to a limited degree. Maslow (1970) estimated that only two percent of people would reach the state of self-actualization. He was especially interested in the characteristics of people whom he considered to have achieved their potential as individuals.

By studying 18 people he considered to be self-actualized (including Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein) Maslow (1970) identified 15 characteristics of a self-actualized person.

Characteristics of self-actualizers:

1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty;

2. Accept themselves and others for what they are;

3. Spontaneous in thought and action;

4. Problem-centered (not self-centered);

5. Unusual sense of humor;

6. Able to look at life objectively;

7. Highly creative;

8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional;

9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity;

10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;

11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;

12. Peak experiences;

13. Need for privacy;

14. Democratic attitudes;

15. Strong moral/ethical standards.

Behavior leading to self-actualization:

(a) Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;

(b) Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;

(c) Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority or the majority;

(d) Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and being honest;

(e) Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;

(f) Taking responsibility and working hard;

(g) Trying to identify your defenses and having the courage to give them up.

The characteristics of self-actualizers and the behaviors leading to self-actualization are shown in the list above.  Although people achieve self-actualization in their own unique way, they tend to share certain characteristics.  However, self-actualization is a matter of degree, ‘There are no perfect human beings’ (Maslow,1970a, p. 176).

It is not necessary to display all 15 characteristics to become self-actualized, and not only self-actualized people will display them. Maslow did not equate self-actualization with perfection. Self-actualization merely involves achieving one’s potential. Thus, someone can be silly, wasteful, vain and impolite, and still self-actualize. Less than two percent of the population achieve self-actualization.

Educational applications

Maslow’s (1968) hierarchy of needs theory has made a major contribution to teaching and classroom management in schools. Rather than reducing behavior to a response in the environment, Maslow (1970a) adopts a holistic approach to education and learning. Maslow looks at the complete physical, emotional, social, and intellectual qualities of an individual and how they impact on learning.

Applications of Maslow’s hierarchy theory to the work of the classroom teacher are obvious. Before a student’s cognitive needs can be met they must first fulfil their basic physiological needs. For example a tired and hungry student will find it difficult to focus on learning. Students need to feel emotionally and physically safe and accepted within the classroom to progress and reach their full potential.

Maslow suggests students must be shown that they are valued and respected in the classroom and the teacher should create a supportive environment. Students with a low self-esteem will not progress academically at an optimum rate until their self-esteem is strengthened.

Critical evaluation

The most significant limitation of Maslow’s theory concerns his methodology. Maslow formulated the characteristics of self-actualized individuals from undertaking a qualitative method called biographical analysis.

He looked at the biographies and writings of 18 people he identified as being self-actualized. From these sources he developed a list of qualities that seemed characteristic of this specific group of people, as opposed to humanity in general.

From a scientific perspective there are numerous problems with this particular approach. First, it could be argued that biographical analysis as a method is extremely subjective as it is based entirely on the opinion of the researcher. Personal opinion is always prone to bias, which reduces the validity of any data obtained. Therefore Maslow’s operational definition of self-actualization must not be blindly accepted as scientific fact.

Furthermore, Maslow’s biographical analysis focused on a biased sample of self-actualized individuals, prominently limited to highly educated white males (such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, William James, Aldous Huxley, Gandhi, Beethoven).

Although Maslow (1970) did study self-actualized females, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teresa, they comprised a small proportion of his sample. This makes it difficult to generalize his theory to females and individuals from lower social classes or different ethnicity. Thus questioning the population validity of Maslow’s findings.

Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to empirically test Maslow’s concept of self-actualization in a way that causal relationships can be established.

Another criticism concerns Maslow’s assumption that the lower needs must be satisfied before a person can achieve their potential and self-actualize. This is not always the case, and therefore Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in some aspects has been falsified.

Through examining cultures in which large numbers of people live in poverty (such as India) it is clear that people are still capable of higher order needs such as love and belongingness. However, this should not occur, as according to Maslow, people who have difficulty achieving very basic physiological needs (such as food, shelter etc.) are not capable of meeting higher growth needs.

Also, many creative people, such as authors and artists (e.g. Rembrandt and Van Gogh) lived in poverty throughout their lifetime, yet it could be argued that they achieved self-actualization.

Psychologists now conceptualize motivation as a pluralistic behavior, whereby needs can operate on many levels simultaneously. A person may be motivated by higher growth needs at the same time as lower level deficiency needs.

Contemporary research by Tay & Diener (2011) has tested Maslow’s theory by analyzing the data of 60,865 participants from 123 countries, representing every major region of the world. The survey was conducted from 2005 to 2010.

Respondents answered questions about six needs that closely resemble those in Maslow’s model: basic needs (food, shelter); safety; social needs (love, support); respect; mastery; and autonomy. They also rated their well-being across three discrete measures: life evaluation (a person’s view of his or her life as a whole), positive feelings (day-to-day instances of joy or pleasure), and negative feelings (everyday experiences of sorrow, anger, or stress).


The results of the study support the view that universal human needs appear to exist regardless of cultural differences. However, the ordering of the needs within the hierarchy was not correct.

“Although the most basic needs might get the most attention when you don’t have them,” Diener explains, “you don’t need to fulfill them in order to get benefits [from the others].” Even when we are hungry, for instance, we can be happy with our friends. “They’re like vitamins,” Diener says about how the needs work independently. “We need them all.”


From wikipedia:


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid with the more basic needs at the bottom[1]

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review.[2] Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans’ innate curiosity. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, some of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans. Maslow used the terms “physiological”, “safety”, “belonging” and “love”, “esteem”, “self-actualization”, and “self-transcendence” to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through. The goal of Maslow’s Theory is to attain the sixth level of stage: self transcendent needs.[3]

Maslow studied what he called exemplary people such as Albert EinsteinJane AddamsEleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass rather than mentally ill or neurotic people, writing that “the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.”[4]:236 Maslow studied the healthiest 1% of the college student population.[5]

Maslow’s theory was fully expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality.[4] The hierarchy remains a very popular framework in sociology research, management training[6] and secondary and higher psychology instruction.



Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization and self-transcendence at the top.[1][7]

The most fundamental and basic four layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called “deficiency needs” or “d-needs”: esteem, friendship and love, security, and physical needs. If these “deficiency needs” are not met – with the exception of the most fundamental (physiological) need – there may not be a physical indication, but the individual will feel anxious and tense. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs. Maslow also coined the term “metamotivation” to describe the motivation of people who go beyond the scope of the basic needs and strive for constant betterment.[8]

The human brain is a complex system and has parallel processes running at the same time, thus many different motivations from various levels of Maslow’s hierarchy can occur at the same time. Maslow spoke clearly about these levels and their satisfaction in terms such as “relative”, “general”, and “primarily”. Instead of stating that the individual focuses on a certain need at any given time, Maslow stated that a certain need “dominates” the human organism.[4] Thus Maslow acknowledged the likelihood that the different levels of motivation could occur at any time in the human mind, but he focused on identifying the basic types of motivation and the order in which they should be met.

Physiological needs

Physiological needs are the physical requirements for human survival. If these requirements are not met, the human body cannot function properly and will ultimately fail. Physiological needs are thought to be the most important; they should be met first.

Air, water, and food are metabolic requirements for survival in all animals, including humans. Clothing and shelter provide necessary protection from the elements. While maintaining an adequate birth rate shapes the intensity of the human sexual instinct, sexual competition may also shape said instinct.[2]

Safety needs

Once a person’s physiological needs are relatively satisfied, their safety needs take precedence and dominate behavior. In the absence of physical safety – due to war, natural disaster, family violencechildhood abuse, etc. – people may (re-)experience post-traumatic stress disorder or transgenerational trauma. In the absence of economic safety – due to economic crisis and lack of work opportunities – these safety needs manifest themselves in ways such as a preference for job security, grievance procedures for protecting the individual from unilateral authority, savings accounts, insurance policies, disability accommodations, etc. This level is more likely to be found in children as they generally have a greater need to feel safe.

Safety and Security needs include:

  • Personal security
  • Financial security
  • Health and well-being
  • Safety net against accidents/illness and their adverse impacts

Social belonging

After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third level of human needs is interpersonal and involves feelings of belongingness. This need is especially strong in childhood and it can override the need for safety as witnessed in children who cling to abusive parents. Deficiencies within this level of Maslow’s hierarchy – due to hospitalismneglectshunningostracism, etc. – can adversely affect the individual’s ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships in general, such as:

  • Friendships
  • Intimacy
  • Family

According to Maslow, humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups, regardless whether these groups are large or small. For example, some large social groups may include clubs, co-workers, religious groups, professional organizations, sports teams, and gangs. Some examples of small social connections include family members, intimate partners, mentors, colleagues, and confidants. Humans need to love and be loved – both sexually and non-sexually – by others.[2] Many people become susceptible to lonelinesssocial anxiety, and clinical depression in the absence of this love or belonging element. This need for belonging may overcome the physiological and security needs, depending on the strength of the peer pressure.


All humans have a need to feel respected; this includes the need to have self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem presents the typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People often engage in a profession or hobby to gain recognition. These activities give the person a sense of contribution or value. Low self-esteem or an inferiority complexmay result from imbalances during this level in the hierarchy. People with low self-esteem often need respect from others; they may feel the need to seek fame or glory. However, fame or glory will not help the person to build their self-esteem until they accept who they are internally. Psychological imbalances such as depression can hinder the person from obtaining a higher level of self-esteem or self-respect.

Most people have a need for stable self-respect and self-esteem. Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs: a “lower” version and a “higher” version. The “lower” version of esteem is the need for respect from others. This may include a need for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. The “higher” version manifests itself as the need for self-respect. For example, the person may have a need for strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence, and freedom. This “higher” version takes precedence over the “lower” version because it relies on an inner competence established through experience. Deprivation of these needs may lead to an inferiority complex, weakness, and helplessness.

Maslow states that while he originally thought the needs of humans had strict guidelines, the “hierarchies are interrelated rather than sharply separated”.[4] This means that esteem and the subsequent levels are not strictly separated; instead, the levels are closely related.


“What a man can be, he must be.”[4]:91 This quotation forms the basis of the perceived need for self-actualization. This level of need refers to what a person’s full potential is and the realization of that potential. Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.[4]:92 Individuals may perceive or focus on this need very specifically. For example, one individual may have the strong desire to become an ideal parent. In another, the desire may be expressed athletically. For others, it may be expressed in paintings, pictures, or inventions.[4]:93 As previously mentioned, Maslow believed that to understand this level of need, the person must not only achieve the previous needs, but master them.


In his later years, Maslow explored a further dimension of needs, while criticizing his own vision on self-actualization.[9] The self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality.[10] “Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos” (Farther Reaches of Human Nature, New York 1971, p. 269).

Applying Maslow’s Theory to Nursing

Nurses can apply Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs in the assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation of patient care. It helps the nurse identify unmet needs as they become health care needs, and allows the nurse to locate the patient on the health-illness continuum and to incorporate the human dimensions and health models into meeting needs.

The Human Dimensions and Basic Human Needs

Physical dimension Physiologic needs Breathing, circulation, temperature, intake of food and fluids, elimination of wastes, movement.
Environmental dimension Safety and security needs Housing, community, climate.
Sociocultural dimension Love and belonging needs Relationships with others, communications with others, support systems, being part of community, feeling loved by others.
Emotional dimension Self-esteem needs Fear, sadness, loneliness, happiness, accepting self.
Intellectual and spiritual dimensions Self-actualization needs Thinking, learning, decision making, values, beliefs, fulfillment, helping others.

All basic human needs are interrelated and may require nursing actions at more than one level at a given time. For example, in caring for a person coming into the emergency department with a heart attack, the nurse’s immediate concern in the patient’s physiologic needs (e.g., oxygen and pain relief). At the same time, safety needs (e.g., for ensuring that the person does not fall off the examining table) and love and belonging needs (e.g., for having a family member nearby if possible) are still major considerations. [11]


Recent research appears to validate the existence of universal human needs, although the hierarchy proposed by Maslow is called into question.[12][13]

Following World War II, the unmet needs of homeless and orphaned children presented difficulties that were often addressed with the help of attachment theory, which was initially based on Maslow and others’ developmental psychology work by John Bowlby.[14] Originally dealing primarily with maternal deprivation and concordant losses of essential and primal needs, attachment theory has since been extended to provide explanations of nearly all the human needs in Maslow’s hierarchy, from sustenance and mating to group membership and justice.[15]



Global ranking

In their extensive review of research based on Maslow’s theory, Wahba and Bridwell found little evidence for the ranking of needs that Maslow described or for the existence of a definite hierarchy at all.[16]

The order in which the hierarchy is arranged has been criticized as being ethnocentric by Geert Hofstede.[17] Maslow’s hierarchy of needs fails to illustrate and expand upon the difference between the social and intellectual needs of those raised in individualistic societies and those raised in collectivist societies. The needs and drives of those in individualistic societies tend to be more self-centered than those in collectivist societies, focusing on improvement of the self, with self-actualization being the apex of self-improvement. In collectivist societies, the needs of acceptance and community will outweigh the needs for freedom and individuality.[18]

Ranking of sex

The position and value of sex on the pyramid has also been a source of criticism regarding Maslow’s hierarchy. Maslow’s hierarchy places sex in the physiological needs category along with food and breathing; it lists sex solely from an individualistic perspective. For example, sex is placed with other physiological needs which must be satisfied before a person considers “higher” levels of motivation. Some critics feel this placement of sex neglects the emotional, familial, and evolutionary implications of sex within the community, although others point out that this is true of all of the basic needs.[19][20] There are also people who do not want sex, such as some asexuals.[21][22][23]

Changes to the hierarchy by circumstance

The higher-order (self-esteem and self-actualization) and lower-order (physiological, safety, and love) needs classification of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is not universal and may vary across cultures due to individual differences and availability of resources in the region or geopolitical entity/country.

In one study,[24] exploratory factor analysis (EFA) of a thirteen item scale showed there were two particularly important levels of needs in the US during the peacetime of 1993 to 1994: survival (physiological and safety) and psychological (love, self-esteem, and self-actualization). In 1991, a retrospective peacetime measure was established and collected during the Persian Gulf War and US citizens were asked to recall the importance of needs from the previous year. Once again, only two levels of needs were identified; therefore, people have the ability and competence to recall and estimate the importance of needs. For citizens in the Middle East (Egypt and Saudi Arabia), three levels of needs regarding importance and satisfaction surfaced during the 1990 retrospective peacetime. These three levels were completely different from those of the US citizens.


The Five Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

How Maslow’s Famous Hierarchy Explains Human Motivation


From Basic to More Complex Needs
hierarchy of needs
J. Finkelstein

Maslow’s hierarchy is most often displayed as a pyramid. The lowest levels of the pyramid are made up of the most basic needs, while the most complex needs are at the top of the pyramid.

Needs at the bottom of the pyramid are basic physical requirements including the need for food, water, sleep, and warmth. Once these lower-level needs have been met, people can move on to the next level of needs, which are for safety and security.

As people progress up the pyramid, needs become increasingly psychological and social. Soon, the need for love, friendship, and intimacy become important. Further up the pyramid, the need for personal esteem and feelings of accomplishment take priority.

Like Carl Rogers, Maslow emphasized the importance of self-actualization, which is a process of growing and developing as a person in order to achieve individual potential.





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