Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory of motivation and personality developed by the psychologist Abraham H. Maslow (1908-1970). Maslow's hierarchy explains human behavior in terms of basic requirements for survival and growth. These requirements, or needs, are arranged according to their importance for survival and their power to motivate the individual. The most basic physical requirements, such as food, water, or oxygen, constitute the lowest level of the need hierarchy. These needs must be satisfied before other, higher needs become important to individuals. Needs at the higher levels of the hierarchy are less oriented towards physical survival and more toward psychological well-being and growth. These needs have less power to motivate persons, and they are more influenced by formal education and life experiences. The resulting hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a pyramid, with physical survival needs located at the base of the pyramid and needs for self-actualization located at the top.
Maslow's hierarchy specifies the following levels:
Physiological needs: These are the basic requirements for human physical survival. They include such essentials as food, water, shelter, oxygen, and sleep. When these needs are unmet, human beings will focus on satisfying them and will ignore higher needs.
Safety needs: Once the individual's basic physical needs are met, his or her needs for safety emerge. These include needs for a sense of security and predictability in the world. The person tries to maintain the conditions that allow him or her to feel safe and avoid danger. Maslow thought that inadequate fulfillment of these needs might explain neurotic behavior and other emotional problems in some people.
Love and belonging needs: When the individual's physiological and safety needs are met, needs for love and belongingness emerge. These needs include longings for an intimate relationship with another person as well as the need to belong to a group and to feel accepted. Maslow emphasized that these needs involve both giving and receiving love.
Esteem needs: Esteem needs include both self-esteem and the esteem of others. Self-esteem is the feeling that one is worthwhile, competent, and independent. The esteem of others involves the feeling that other people respect and appreciate the person. Once the person has satisfied his or her basic needs, concerns about worthiness emerge. The focus becomes not just surviving, but doing well according to meaningful communal standards.
Self-actualization needs: These are the needs associated with realizing one's full potential. As these needs emerge, the person focuses on doing what he or she is meant to do in life—developing his or her talents and abilities to their fullest extent.
Denise L. Schmutte Ph.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,