Maslow's Hierarchy of Basic Needs

Around the world, people go about doing the same things in very different ways. Although the behaviours of races and cultures are different, the basic needs they are satisfying are very similar. Abraham Maslow is one psychologist who studied these needs.

A great deal of Maslow's work was devoted to how people got the best from themselves. He researched productive, well-balanced and happy people. Initially he studied the famous – like Lincoln- and later the non-famous. He found common characteristics throughout. These were a love of life, creativity, high energy, a sense of humour and good relationships in their lives. People with these characteristics are self-fulfilled. Maslow called them Self-actualised: that is, they are using their full potential.

Maslow found that all human beings have five levels of needs to be satisfied and Self-fulfilled people constantly get all five of these needs met. Maslow saw these needs in a hierarchy; a list of ideas, values or objects from the lowest to the highest.

LEVEL 1: Physical Survival Needs
The first and most basic of all needs are those to do with physical survival. This is the need for food, drink, shelter, sleep and oxygen. If a person cannot satisfy this basic survival need it dominates their interest and concern. A person who is cold, sick or hungry will not be very interested in socialising, learning or working.

LEVEL 2: Physical Safety Needs
Once the physical survival needs are met, a new set of needs emerges. The physical survival needs still exist, but having these needs satisfied regularly, a person becomes aware of the next level of human need – physical safety. This is the need to feel safe in the world: to feel safe from personal danger and threats; being deprived at Level 2 results in fear. When a person is fearful, all concentration goes to calming the fear with no thought for any other task. For a person to develop fully as a human being there must be some freedom from fear of personal attack, particularly in one's own home.

LEVEL 3: Love and Belonging Needs
Once the physical survival and safety needs are being regularly met, a need for love, affection and belonging begin to emerge. Level 3 needs result from the fact that human beings are sociable and need relationships with others. Maslow states: "The person … will hunger for affectionate relationships with people in general for a place in the group."
Some of these needs include:

  • Family or belonging – the need to belong to a group, family, religion, town or class.

  • Acceptance and understanding – the need to feel alright and to know that others accept you as you are.

  • Loving and affection – the need both to get and give love.

  • Intimacy – the need to share inner thoughts with others in close, caring ways.

People deprived at this level seem bored and joyless, even if they are doing well at their chosen tasks. They have feelings of loneliness, pain, sadness, separation and unworthiness.

LEVEL 4: Self-esteem Needs
With a few exceptions, people in our society have a need to feel of value and to count for something. This is called the need for esteem. It is a degree of self-respect and respect from others. Self-respect includes the need for confidence, achievement, independence and freedom. Respect from others includes recognition, attention and appreciation.

LEVEL 5: Self-fulfilled (Self-actualised)
If the first four needs are being met, a new one will probably develop: the need for self-fulfilment. This is to become more what a person can be: to develop all aspects – physical, social, emotional and spiritual. Among the characteristics of self-fulfilled people is awareness of living, completeness, joyfulness, unforgettable moments or periods of joy, unity and understanding.