MASLOW'S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS
Abraham Maslow is known for establishing the theory of a hierarchy of needs, writing that human beings
are motivated by unsatisfied needs, and that certain lower needs need to be satisfied before higher needs
can be satisfied. Maslow studied exemplary people such as Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor
Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglas rather than mentally ill or neurotic people. This was a radical departure
from two of the chief schools of psychology of his day: Freud and B.F. Skinner. Freud saw little difference
between the motivations of humans and animals. We are supposedly rational beings; however, we do not
act that way. Such pessimism, Maslow believed, was the result of Freud's study of mentally ill people. "The
study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a
cripple philosophy" (Motivation and Personality). Skinner, on the other hand, studied how pigeons and
white rats learn. His motivational models were based on simple rewards such as food and water, sex, and
avoidance of pain. Say, "sit" to your dog and give the dog a treat when it sits, and-after several repetitions--
the dog will sit when you command it to do so. Maslow thought that psychologists should instead study the
playfulness, affection, etc., of animals. He also believed that Skinner discounted things that make humans
different from each other. Instead, Skinner relied on statistical descriptions of people.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs was an alternative to the depressing determinism of Freud and Skinner. He felt
that people are trustworthy, self-protecting, and self-governing. Humans tend toward growth and love.
Although there is a continuous cycle of human wars, murder, deceit, etc., he believed that violence is not
what human nature is meant to be like. Violence and other evils occur when human needs are thwarted. In
other words, people who are deprived of lower needs such as safety may defend themselves by violent
means. He did not believe that humans are violent because they enjoy violence. Alternatively, that they lie,
cheat, and steal because they enjoy doing it.
According to Maslow, there are general types of needs (physiological, safety, love, and esteem) that must be
satisfied before a person can act unselfishly. He called these needs "deficiency needs." As long as we are
motivated to satisfy these cravings, we are moving towards growth, toward self-actualization. Satisfying
needs is healthy; blocking gratification makes us sick or evil. In other words, we are all "needs junkies" with
cravings that must be satisfied and should be satisfied. Else, we become sick.
Needs are proponent. A proponent need is one that has the greatest influence over our actions. Everyone
has a proponent need, but that need will vary among individuals. A teenager may have a need to feel that a
group accepts him/her. A heroin addict will need to satisfy his/her cravings for heroin to function normally
in society, and will not worry about acceptance by other people. According to Maslow, when the deficiency
needs are met:
At once other (and higher) needs emerge, and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the
organism. In addition, when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still higher) needs emerge, and so
on. As one desire is satisfied, another pops up to take its place.
Physiological needs are the very basic needs such as air, water, food, sleep, sex, etc. When these are not
satisfied we may feel sickness, irritation, pain, discomfort, etc. These feelings motivate us to alleviate them
as soon as possible to establish homeostasis. Once they are alleviated, we may think about other things.
Safety needs have to do with establishing stability and consistency in a chaotic world. These needs are
mostly psychological in nature. We need the security of a home and family. However, if a family is
dysfunction, i.e., an abusive husband, the wife cannot move to the next level because she is constantly
concerned for her safety. Love and belongingness have to wait until she is no longer cringing in fear. Many
in our society cry out for law and order because they do not feel safe enough to go for a walk in their
neighborhood. Many people, particularly those in the inner cities, unfortunately, are stuck at this level. In
addition, safety needs sometimes motivate people to be religious. Religions comfort us with the promise of a
safe secure place after we die and leave the insecurity of this world.
Love and belongingness are next on the ladder. Humans have a desire to belong to groups: clubs, work
groups, religious groups, family, gangs, etc. We need to feel loved (non-sexual) by others, to be accepted by
others. Performers appreciate applause. We need to be needed. Beer commercials, in addition to playing on
sex, also often show how beer makes for camaraderie. When was the last time you saw a beer commercial
with someone drinking beer alone?
There are two types of esteem needs. First is self-esteem, which results from competence or mastery of a
task. Second, there is the attention and recognition that comes from others. This is similar to the
belongingness level; however, wanting admiration has to do with the need for power. People, who have all
of their lower needs satisfied, often drive very expensive cars because doing so raises their level of esteem.
"Hey, look what I can afford-peon!"
The need for self-actualization is "the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything
that one is capable of becoming." People who have everything can maximize their potential. They can seek
knowledge, peace, esthetic experiences, self-fulfillment, and oneness with God, etc. It is usually middle-class
to upper-class students who take up environmental causes, join the Peace Corps, go off to a monastery, etc.