Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a framework for understanding human needs and motivations.
The five-step pyramid model proposes that base needs must be met in order before higher needs can be tackled. If a base need is not met, an individual’s drive, desire, and motivation will be to meet it.
Once it’s met, their motivations will move up to tackling the next level of needs, and so on, until the person reaches self-actualization.
The five tiers of need, from base needs to higher-order needs, are:
- Physiological – we first desire things that keep us alive, like air and water
- Safety and Security – then, we desire things that make us feel safe and secure, like shelter and financial stability
- Love and Belonging – then, we seek out social satisfaction through a sense of belonging to an in-group, a good family life, and finding friends or an intimate partner
- Esteem – then, we seek respect from both our community and ourselves (self-esteem).
- Self-actualization – lastly, we seek self-actualization, by which Maslow means becoming the best version of ourselves. An example might be the deep satisfaction from raising happy children.
Below are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs examples for each step in the pyramid.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Examples
1. Physiological Needs
Physiological needs represent the base needs in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They refer to the basic things that humans need for survival.
Examples of physiological needs include:
- Air: The most basic physiological need is breathing. Humans need a constant supply of oxygen for cells to function and survive.
- Water: Humans must maintain proper hydration for critical bodily functions such as digestion, temperature regulation, and waste elimination.
- Food: Nutrients and energy are needed to fuel the body and maintain various bodily functions. A balanced diet is essential to meet these needs.
- Sleep: Sleep is necessary for maintaining cognitive and physical health. It provides a chance for the body and mind to rest, recover, and repair.
- Homeostasis: The body’s need to maintain a balanced internal state. This encompasses various physiological systems like temperature regulation, acid-base balance, and blood pressure.
- Excretion: Proper waste elimination is crucial for the body to maintain its internal balance and overall health.
- Sexual reproduction: A biological need to procreate and ensure the continuity of the species. This need is often driven by a natural desire to find a partner and reproduce.
- Physical activity: Exercise is necessary for maintaining physical health, strength, and flexibility. It is essential for promoting overall well-being.
2. Safety Needs
One physiological needs are met, Maslow argues that people start focusing on their safety and security needs. People will be motivated by the need to be protected and secure.
Examples of Maslow’s safety needs include:
- Physical safety: Protection from physical harm, violence, accidents, or natural disasters.
- Emotional safety: Freedom from emotional abuse, manipulation, and toxic relationships.
- Financial security: Having a stable income or financial resources to meet basic needs, handle emergencies, and plan for the future.
- Health and well-being: Access to healthcare and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular check-ups and vaccinations.
- Job security: Stable employment or job prospects that provide a consistent income and long-term career growth.
- Safe environment: Living in a safe neighborhood or community, free from crime or other dangers.
- Order and stability: Consistency and predictability in daily life, including routines, rules, and social norms.
- Support system: Having a reliable network of friends, family, and other loved ones who can provide emotional and practical support in times of need.
3. Love and Belonging Needs
Once a person feels safe and secure, they start moving toward social needs, also known as the love and belonging stage.
At this stage, people are motivated by their desire for social interaction, community, and relationships.
Examples of social needs include:
- Affection: Experiencing love, care, and physical touch from family members, friends, and romantic partners.
- Friendship: Establishing and nurturing meaningful friendships and social connections.
- Family bonds: Developing and maintaining strong, supportive relationships with family members, whether biological or chosen.
- Intimacy: Forming deep, emotional connections with romantic partners, friends, or family members, and sharing personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
- Emotional support: Having a support network of people who can provide empathy, understanding, and encouragement during challenging times.
- Trust: Building and maintaining trust within relationships, allowing for open and honest communication.
- Sense of belonging: Feeling a sense of belonging and identity within a family, social group, or community, and knowing that one is an essential part of a larger whole.
4. Esteem Needs
The esteem needs stage represents the transition to higher-order needs and motivations.
This stage is split into two: lower-order esteem needs (representing need for social status) and higher-order esteem needs (representing need for self-esteem).
Examples of esteem needs include:
- Self-confidence: Cultivating a strong sense of self-assurance and belief in one’s own abilities and potential.
- Self-respect: Valuing oneself and maintaining a positive self-image, regardless of external opinions or validation.
- Achievement: Striving for and accomplishing personal goals in various areas of life, such as work, education, or personal development.
- Competence: Developing and demonstrating proficiency or mastery in various skills, talents, or professional areas.
- Recognition: Receiving acknowledgment and praise from others for one’s achievements, talents, or contributions.
- Status: Gaining respect and admiration from others, leading to a sense of prestige or importance within a social group, organization, or community.
- Independence: Being self-reliant and having the ability to make decisions and solve problems autonomously.
- Responsibility: Taking ownership of one’s actions and decisions, being accountable for the outcomes, and accepting consequences.
- Authority: Exercising control, influence, or leadership over others, either professionally or personally.
- Self-discipline: Developing and maintaining self-control and the ability to resist temptation or distraction to achieve long-term goals.
- Contribution: Making a positive impact on others or society by sharing one’s skills, knowledge, or resources.
- Personal growth: Engaging in ongoing self-improvement and self-reflection to enhance personal abilities, self-awareness, and overall well-being.
5. Self-Actualization Needs
Once all other stages of needs have been successfully met, a person can work toward self-actualization.
According to Maslow, motivation to strive for self-actualizastion can only occur when someone feels secure, a sense of belonging, and strong self-esteem. They will also need to time and space to pursue these higher-order goals.
Examples of self-actualization include:
- Pursuing a passion: Engaging in activities or hobbies that genuinely ignite one’s enthusiasm and bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
- Creativity: Expressing oneself through various creative outlets, such as art, music, writing, or any other form that allows for personal exploration and self-expression.
- Authenticity: Embracing one’s true self and acting in alignment with personal values, beliefs, and desires, even when faced with external pressures or expectations.
- Empathy: Cultivating the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, fostering compassionate and meaningful connections.
- Altruism: Engaging in selfless acts of kindness or service to benefit others or contribute to the greater good.
- Mastery: Achieving a high level of expertise or excellence in a specific skill, profession, or area of interest.
- Mindfulness: Developing the ability to be fully present and aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences, without judgment or distraction.
- Work-life balance: Finding harmony between personal and professional responsibilities, ensuring that both aspects of life are equally fulfilling and enjoyable.
- Sense of purpose: Identifying and pursuing a personal mission or calling that provides meaning, direction, and fulfillment in life.
Criticism of Maslow’s Hierarchy
While Maslow’s hierarchy offers a good framwork for thinking about how to satisfy people’s intrinsic needs, it key flaw is its linearity.
In other words, it assumes one need has to be met in order for the next needs to be approached.
But there are ample examples of people working on higher needs while still struggling to achieve base needs.
Take, for example, a political prisoner like Nelson Mandela who has sacrificed a great deal to stand on his morals (and in the process achieving self-actualization), while failing to have basic needs like freedom, exercise, and even food met.
Of course, that’s an extreme example.
But such examples demonstrate how people don’t move through Maslow’s stages in a simple linear way, for example how some people who have had a tough life still have high self-esteem. We may desire some higher needs at the expense of lower needs; or, some people may me more motivated by some needs more than others.
Read Next: The Humanistic Theory of Personality
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – a central concept in humanist theory – has influenced fields as diverse as therapy, education, nursing, criminology, business, and entrepreneurship. It helps us to conceptualize how to achieve intrinsic motivation. It also helps us to think through what fundamental factors need to fall in place for someone to find success in life. With the above heirarchy of needs examples, each stage can be further broken down into actionable areas where we can achieve improvement and meet people’s fundamental needs and desires.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]