Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs Theory Explained

In 1943, Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, published a paper in the Psychological Review named “A Theory of Human Motivation.” In the paper, Maslow theorized that human behavior worked on a hierarchy of physical and psychological needs. Following the paper, Maslow soon presented the “Hierarchy of Needs” theory, in which he marked the five needs that formed the fundamental basis of human behavior.

In a time when human development models were designed only to explain human desires, Maslow stood out with a model that stressed societal needs first and then focused on individual emotions. The needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory are generally represented through a pyramid where the basic needs are at the base. As per Maslow, an individual can only move forward after fulfilling the basic needs of each level. 

From the lowest levels, let us understand the five basic needs as per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory.

Wooden pins standing in a Hieratical order.

Five Levels Of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

1. Psychological Needs

Psychological needs are the basic things required for an individual’s survival. These include:

  • food,
  • water,
  • breathing,
  • clothing and shelter,
  • reproduction, etc.

2. Safety Needs

Safety needs occupy the second level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. Humans hold safety to their very core and have been attracted to safer environments since childhood. Basic safety needs include:

  • protection from violence and theft,
  • financial security,
  • emotional and mental well-being,
  • health security, etc.

3. Love And Belonging Needs

The third level in the hierarchy of needs belongs to human interaction. At this level, the individual is driven by the need for emotional relationships and a sense of belonging. Some of the things that satisfy these needs are:

  • friendships,
  • family relationships,
  • romantic attachments,
  • social and community groups,
  • religious gatherings, etc.

This level marks the end of basic needs.

Read more: How Mental Health Affects Family Relationships

4. Esteem Needs

Higher needs begin from the fourth level. Esteem needs are divided into two parts. The first part of esteem is based on the acknowledgment one receives from others. The other part is based on a more personal level of self-assessment. 

5. Self-Actualization Needs

Self-actualization needs occupy the highest level in this pyramid. It refers to the fulfillment of an individual’s full potential as a person and is viewed differently by every other person. Maslow believed that achieving self-actualization was a rare occurrence, and only the greats like Albert Einstein were able to do so. 

Read more: The Ultimate Mental Health Shop

Criticisms Of The Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

Maslow’s theory has influenced fields both in and out of psychology. The field of education and business has been heavily influenced by the hierarchy of needs theory. However, this has not been without criticism. The main objections against the theory include the following:

  • Human needs do not have a hierarchy: Various researchers, including those from Baruch University, have claimed that there is little evidence for Maslow’s ranking of needs and even lesser for them being hierarchical in nature.
  • The theory is difficult to test: Other criticism of the needs theory comes from the fact that specific terms like self-actualization are difficult to test scientifically. 


The basis of Maslow’s needs theory explains that human behavior is motivated by needs. Moreover, if our basic level needs are unmet, we might not be able to proceed ahead in life. This can explain the feeling of being stuck and unmotivated that most of us feel at some point in time in our lives. It is possible that in all these moments of feeling unmotivated, some of our needs weren’t being met or fulfilled. If you have been experiencing a lack of motivation, here are some practical ways to deal with your situation and effectively come out of it.

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