Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of needs

Abraham Maslow proposed motivation theory, often depicted as a “hierarchy of needs”, suggests that people are motivated by fulfilling a sequence of physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization needs, with each level building upon the one below.


Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, often referred to as Maslow’s motivation theory, is a widely recognized framework that explains human motivation and the factors that drive behavior. Drawing on Freudian psychoanalysis, Abraham Maslow attempts to understand human behavior by applying it in organizational behavior. The concept of hierarchy of needs in psychology was first proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A theory of Human Motivation” in the journal Psychological Review. Maslow’s idea was fully expressed in his 1954 book “Motivation and Personality”.

In his depiction, Maslow viewed humans as inherently driven by desires, rarely attaining a state of absolute contentment. It is an inherent quality of human existence that individuals constantly yearn for something. Once one desire is fulfilled, another arises, forming an ongoing cycle. Maslow consistently maintained that lower-level needs must be fulfilled to some extent before individuals can even recognize or pursue higher-level needs. He postulated that human desires and needs, in general, are innate and organized in a hierarchical manner. 

Hierarchy of needs in 5 levels Proposed By Abraham Maslow 

There are five main levels to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These levels begin from the most basic needs to the most advanced needs. Maslow originally believed that a person needed to completely satisfy one level to begin pursuing further levels. 

Physiological Needs

At the base of the hierarchy are physiological needs, which are essential for survival. These needs include the basic biological requirements such as food, water, shelter, sleep, and sexual fulfillment. When these needs are unmet, individuals experience a strong motivation to fulfill them. For example, hunger creates a strong drive to seek food, and thirst motivates individuals to find water sources.

Safety Needs

Once physiological needs are reasonably satisfied, individuals move up to safety needs. Safety needs encompass the desire for physical and psychological security, stability, and protection from harm. This includes seeking a safe living environment, financial security, job security, and a sense of order in one’s life. Individuals are motivated to establish a sense of safety and eliminate potential threats or dangers.

Belongingness and Love Needs

Beyond safety needs, individuals strive to fulfill belongingness and love needs. These needs involve the desire for social connection, companionship, love, and a sense of belonging. Humans are inherently social beings, and the fulfillment of these needs is crucial for psychological well-being. Motivation at this stage is driven by the need to form meaningful relationships, experience love and acceptance from others, and feel a sense of belonging and inclusion.

Esteem Needs

Once the need for belongingness is fulfilled, individuals progress to the level of esteem needs. Esteem needs refer to the desire for self-esteem, self-worth, and recognition from others. There are two aspects to esteem needs: the need for self-respect and the need for respect from others. Self-respect involves feelings of accomplishment, self-confidence, and a positive self-image. Respect from others entails receiving recognition, admiration, and acknowledgment for one’s achievements and contributions. Motivation at this stage is centered around gaining recognition and enhancing one’s self-esteem.


At the pinnacle of the hierarchy is the need for self-actualization. Self-actualization represents the realization of one’s full potential and the pursuit of personal growth and fulfillment. It involves using and developing one’s unique talents and abilities, engaging in creative and meaningful activities, and striving for personal excellence. Self-actualized individuals are driven by their intrinsic motivation to become the best version of themselves and lead a purposeful and meaningful life.

Significance and Utilization

According to Abraham Maslow, motivation arises from the unsatisfied needs at each level of the hierarchy. As individuals fulfill their lower-level needs, the motivation shifts to higher-level needs. For example, once physiological and safety needs are met, individuals become motivated to satisfy their belongingness and love needs. As these needs are fulfilled, the focus of motivation shifts further to esteem needs, and eventually, to the pursuit of self-actualization.

It is important to note that Maslow’s theory does not imply a rigid progression through the hierarchy. Individuals may have simultaneous needs at different levels, and the importance of each need can vary depending on cultural, individual, and situational factors. Additionally, individuals may move back and forth between levels based on changing circumstances or experiences.

Maslow’s motivation theory emphasizes the idea that individuals have innate needs that drive their behavior. These needs create a state of tension or deficiency, motivating individuals to take action to satisfy those needs and restore a sense of balance and well-being. The theory highlights the importance of understanding and addressing these needs in various contexts, such as personal development, education, workplace motivation, and marketing.

Moreover, Maslow’s theory has implications for leadership and management. Recognizing and addressing employees’ needs at different levels of the hierarchy can lead to increased motivation, job satisfaction, and overall well-being. Managers can create a supportive work environment by ensuring physical safety, providing opportunities for social interaction and collaboration, offering recognition and feedback to enhance self-esteem, and fostering an environment that promotes personal growth and self-actualization.

Criticism Of Motivation Theory of Abraham Maslow

Critics of Abraham Maslow’s motivation theory contend that it lacks empirical evidence, is culturally biased, and oversimplifies motivation as a rigid hierarchy of needs. They argue it places undue emphasis on self-actualization, neglects individual differences, and doesn’t account for the dynamic nature of human motivation. Moreover, it may not offer practical guidance for real-world applications, as it hasn’t been substantially updated since its inception. Overall, while influential, Maslow’s theory is viewed by some as limited in its universality and ability to accurately explain the complexities of human motivation in diverse contexts.


Abraham Maslow’s motivation theory, represented by the hierarchy of needs, provides a framework for understanding human motivation. The theory suggests that individuals are motivated by a series of needs that are arranged in a hierarchical order. As lower-level needs are satisfied, higher-level needs emerge and become the focus of motivation. By recognizing and addressing these needs, individuals can experience increased motivation, personal growth, and fulfillment. While the theory has its limitations, it has made a significant impact on the field of psychology and continues to be a valuable framework for understanding human behavior.

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