What Is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?

It is a theory of motivation created by the American psychologist and psychology professor in several US universities Abraham Maslow. This widely-known concept suggests that humans are motivated by five basic categories of needs. As soon as a person feels they have satisfied one level of needs, a higher tier of needs emerges. This model of human needs created by Maslow is often presented as a pyramid with hierarchical levels within it, where each level has a specific color (fun fact: Maslow himself has never created a pyramid that represented his hierarchy of needs). In the most simple versions of the pyramid, the following colors are used, from bottom to top:

  • Physiological needs (air, water, food, clothing, hygiene, shelter, sleep) - red;
  • Safety needs (personal security, job, resources, health) - orange;
  • Love and belonging needs (romantic love, intimacy, family, friendship, sense of connection) - yellow;
  • Esteem needs (self-esteem, respect, recognition, status, autonomy) - green;
  • Self-actualization needs (achieving the fullest potential) - blue.

Maslow's Hierarchy

It is actually crucial for every human being to have good health, resources to live decently, a loving family, not to mention water, food, clothes, a roof above their heads, and safety. We do hope that these needs of yours are satisfied. But how about higher needs such as self-esteem? If you want to determine whether you are doing okay in that field, take this reliable Rosenberg Self-Esteem Test.

Types of Human Needs According to Maslow

The hierarchy of needs suggested by Abraham Maslow can be divided into two types: deficiency needs and growth needs. Deficiency needs are physiological, security, social, and esteem needs. They&nbs;arise because of deprivation. It is crucial to satisfy these lower-level needs to avoid uncomfortable feelings and negative consequences. Growth needs are the needs at the top of Maslow’s pyramid. These needs do not appear as a result of an individual lacking something but from their desire to grow.

History and Practical Application of The Theory in Today’s World

Most doctrines in the 20th century, such as psychoanalysis and behaviorism, focused on fixing problematic behaviors. Instead, Maslow, being a humanist, was more interested in studying human motivation, that is, discovering what makes people happy and what they do to achieve happiness. The psychologist believed that humans have an innate desire to be “self-actualized” - to accomplish everything they possibly can, to become the best version of themselves, the most they can be. But for a person to achieve this utmost goal, their more basic needs have to be met first. Maslow first introduced the concept of the hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper titled A Theory of Human Motivation.

Later, in 1970, the psychologist added three more needs at the top of his pyramid:

  • Cognitive needs (learning new things)
  • Aesthetic needs (enjoying or creating music, literature, any form of art)
  • Transcendence needs (spirituality, connection with nature).

However, the original version with the five needs remains the most popular today. In our time, Maslow’s theory is often applied in the workplace as a means to discover how to effectively motivate employees, ensure their needs are met, and help them reach their highest potential. Workforce mental well-being isis essential - if employees choose to leave because of burnout and stress, it might have a significant financial impact on a company. In fact, smart owners and top-level management of major companies worldwide understand they have to prioritize their commitment to the mental health of the employees.

According to some contemporary researchers, Maslow's theory is still highly relevant - both in the workplace and in people's personal lives; however, today, there is room for an additional need: psychological safety. Definition of psychological safety by American psychologist William A. Kahn is being able to show and employ oneself without fear of negative consequences of self-image, career, or status.

Criticisms of Maslow’s Concept

Because Abraham Maslow's theory has been developed mainly on the basis of his personal observations and biographical analysis of individuals he considered to be self-actualized, some critics out there do not fully support the hierarchy of needs suggested by the psychologist. Some other critics claim that Maslow stole some of the ideas from the belief system of the Blackfoot tribe and has never acknowledged that. But while Maslow did work (as an anthropologist) with the Blackfoot, gained valuable insight, and learned a lot about this proud nation, there is nothing in the scientist's writings that could suggest he borrowed or stole ideas from these people for his hierarchy of needs.

Besides, since the psychologist's death, it seems like research has found little evidence for the validity of Maslow's five-tier model of human needs. For example, according to a 2011 study, in which researchers from the University of Illinois examined the link between the satisfaction of needs and subjective well-being in people from 123 countries, most of the needs described by the scientist were actually universal, but the order of need fulfillment had little impact on people's overall satisfaction with life. In other words, higher-tier needs like social recognition, status, and feeling respected were still important to people even if some of their lower-tier needs, like, for instance, having a romantic partner or family with children, were not fulfilled.

But it turns out that in one of his numerous works, Maslow did specify that the order in which these human needs are satisfied does not necessarily have to follow this exact progression - it may vary from person to person.


Without regard to all the objections and criticism, Maslow has been recognized 10th most cited psychologist of the past century. And it happened for a reason.

A large number of individuals worldwide are still drawn to the hierarchy of needs introduced by him. It comes as no surprise - this model is simple, neat, and well-defined. It also makes perfect sense based on many people's personal life experiences, even if not all of us place these needs in the same order. Maslow’s theory can and should be used as a stepping stone for innovation, creativity, and growth in all spheres of human activity. We also think that remembering Maslow’s pyramid when interacting with family members, friends, coworkers, and other important people in our lives can help us make these interactions more respectful, caring, and loving. We are all humans, after all, we want our needs to be met, and we deserve it.