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Explore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In this article, we delve into the 5 levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, discussing what every person needs in order to be successful.
© University of Reading

For a person to be successful in life they need to be eating well, getting enough sleep, feeling safe and secure at home, and they need to have confidence in themselves. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a popular theory that focuses on a series of needs that need to be reached in order for someone to thrive.

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who published his hierarchy of needs in 1943 to explain human motivation. He considered there were five needs – physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-actualisation and he placed them in a pyramid to represent the order of importance of these needs.

Figure 1: Maslow theory of needs. ©University of Reading

Maslow placed these needs in order to represent the idea that the needs at the top are reliant on the lower needs being met first. The pyramid begins with the foundational aspects of the basic needs – physiological and safety, and eventually contains self-actualisation at the top of the pyramid, which refers to a person reaching their fullest potential as a human being.

Criticism of Maslow’s theory

Maslow’s theory has its supporters and its critics. The main criticism is that his theory isn’t based on rigorous empirical data, but more on philosophy. However, the theory still serves as a simple framework and helpful reminder that all people are less likely to be successful if their basic needs are not met. For example, when it comes to students, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can help shine a light on what learners need. Teachers are more able to attribute poor performance or behaviour to gaps in a student’s needs – for example, perhaps a student is misbehaving because they are hungry, and so the school can provide breakfast.

The five levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Below we’ll go into more detail about what the five levels of the pyramid are, and why each of these needs is hugely important.

1. Physiological needs

This encompasses all of the things that you physically need in order to function properly. For example, having nutritious meals, having access to water and fresh air, getting enough rest, and having time to exercise or just move your body.

2. Safety needs

These needs are all about security and feeling safe – physically and emotionally. This includes the need to have shelter or a home, the desire for financial security, and also wanting general stability in your life. This might be through having a stable group of people surrounding you, like family or friends.

3. Belongingness and love

Needing to feel loved and a sense of belonging is related to your relationships with other people. It’s about maintaining social interactions and relationships so that you feel like you belong, are connected, loved and included. Feeling a complete sense of loneliness makes it very hard for someone to achieve success.

4. Esteem

Esteem encompasses our needs that concern the inner self – this includes having feelings of achievement, being recognised for our hard work or passion, having a sense of power over one’s life and feeling like a unique human being with an individual identity and purpose.

5. Self-actualization

This is to do with achieving one’s full potential, being creative and finding that specialness of oneself. Maslow, in 1943, described this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be. It’s right at the top of the pyramid because all of the other needs must be met before we can fulfil self-actualization.

Conclusions from Maslow’s hierarchy

From a purely child development stance, all child developmental needs are encompassed in Maslow’s theory – physical development, emotional development, social development, cognitive and language development and aesthetic development.

What’s important to take away from looking at Maslow’s theory is that the positive human condition rests on being healthy in body and mind. You have to attend to the basic needs of a person before you can expect them to reach their full potential.

© University of Reading
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