maslow pyramid



Let me state upfront that this title has nothing to do with the man Maslow’s person but with the theory of psychology which he propounded. Known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, it is practically a mantra in classes in sociology research, psychology and management.

But first, who was Maslow? Abraham Harold Maslow (1908–1970) was a professor of psychology at Brandeis University, Brooklyn College, New School for Social Research and Columbia University. In a 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” Maslow wrote about his observations of humans’ innate curiosity and therefrom propounded a theory of human developmental psychology. In studying the healthiest 1% of the college student population as well as the lives of exemplary people like Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass, Maslow came up with a hierarchy of human needs which according to him, motivate human behaviour. Maslow’s theory was fully expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality.

His thesis has since become a framework of reference in sociology, management and of course in his profession psychology. It is pertinent at this point to examine the key components of Maslow’s hierarchy beginning with the largest, most fundamental needs at the base of the pyramid and peaking with the need for self-actualization.

Usually represented as a pyramid, it is instructive to note that Maslow never described the hierarchy as such in any of his writings. Sociologists probably adopted that model for better explanation of the concept. Maslow posited that because of the complexity of the human thought process, many of these motivations can occur at the same time although a certain motivation may predominate at certain times.

At the base of the pyramid is what he terms Physiological needs. These consist of the physical requirements for human survival. Without them, the human body may not be able to function effectively. These include air, water, and food which are described as metabolic requirements for survival in all animals, including humans. Clothing and shelter provide necessary protection from the elements. In addition, sexuality which enables reproduction, and the need for excretion are not to be underestimated as legitimate motivations.

At the next level are what Maslow calls safety needs. Having met the basic physiological needs, the security of the individual takes priority. These include security of personal life, job, family, property as well as health and economic well-being. It also entails safety from accidents, war, etc. Following suit are the need for love and belonging. This is expressed in Love and belonging. This need is very strong in children and can override the need for safety especially in the face of peer influence.

Maslow posits that we all desire a sense of belonging and acceptance among our social groups, whether large or small. Such social groups may include clubs, colleagues at work, religious groups, professional organizations, sports teams, and even gangs. Small social connections include family members, intimate partners, mentors, colleagues, and confidants. Humans need to love and be loved – both sexually and platonically – by others.

The absence of this love or belonging makes some people prone to loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression. A deficiency at this level will impact the individual’s ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships. People who grow up with rejection and a lot of hostility would find it difficult to maintain critical relationships with family members, friends and even their spouses.

The next level on the pyramid is described as the need for esteem. According to Maslow, we all desire to have a healthy self-esteem and be respected by others. Many career as well as recreational or hobby choices are based on this need for recognition. Individuals make those choices based on their conviction that the option they settle for will give them a sense of contribution and value.

Deficiencies at this level lead to low self-esteem and inferiority complex. people who suffer from these usually seek to fill that gap through an unending and sometimes frustrating quest for fame and the klieg lights of social prominence and visibility. A failure to resolve the intrinsic issues required to develop a healthy self-esteem leads to depression in many irrespective of their social status or attainment.

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

At the zenith of Maslow’s pyramid is Self-actualization. The quotation “What a man can be, he must be.” forms the basis of the perceived need for self-actualization. Maslow rates this as the apogee of all human motivations because this is the point at which a person has not only discovered his potentials but is operating at the full realization of that potential. The driving force at this level is the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be. It includes a high sense of morality and creative expression as well as a willingness to readily accept certain realities of life.

At this level, individual perceptions of reality and possibilities become subjective and personal, depending on the individual’s loftiest ideals and pursuits. As Maslow posits, to fully understand this level of need, the person must not only achieve the previous needs, but master them. On the surface, Maslow’s theory sounds infallible especially considering the fact that it had shaped perceptions for several decades.

For many people and in several businesses, Maslow’s hierarchy has been the foundation of many strategy sessions. Marketers training sessions have brainstormed endlessly on how to use it to penetrate markets by tailoring products to the various motivations. So how can anything be amiss with Maslow’s postulations?

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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