Explanation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

The Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory proposed by Abraham Harold Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”.

Maslow, a famous psychologist tried to understand human motivation. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the most well-known theory of motivation.

Here A.H. Maslow has shown that an individual has a hierarchy of needs that shape his reaction to any particular situation. Maslow advanced the following important propositions about human behavior;

  • Man is a wanting being: Man always wants and he wants more. But what he wants depends upon what he already has. As soon as one of the man’s needs is satiated, another appears in the place. This process is unending and continuous from birth to death.
  • A satisfied need is not a motivator: A satisfied need is not a motivator of human behavior. Only the unsatisfied needs motivate behavior.
  • A Need can be arranged in a number of levels: When a need can be arranged in a number of levels a hierarchy is formed.The satisfaction of lower level needs demands the fulfillment of the next level. That is, human needs move in an ascending order, from the lowest to the highest levels.

According to Maslow, each person had a different set of needs at different point of time in his life.

He said that all needs of humans could be arranged in a hierarchy. Each person is said to move through the hierarchy by fulfilling each level of needs.

Some people may have dominant needs at a particular level and thus never move through the .entire hierarchy.

He hypothesized that within every human being there exists a hierarchy of five needs:
Let us see what is meant by of each of these needs:

Hierarchy of Five Needs

  1. Physiological Needs

    These are the basic needs for the maintenance of human life. These are the basic needs of organism—food, water, shelter, clothing, sexual satisfaction and the like.

    Maslow took the positions that until these needs are satisfied to the degree necessary to maintain life other needs will not motivate people.

  2. Safety Needs

    These are the needs to be free from physical danger and the fear of loss of a job, property, food, or shelter.

  3. Social Needs

    Since people are social beings, they need to belong and to be accepted by others. Social needs are; physical association and contact, belongingness, love and affection, acceptance by fellows and the like.

  4. Esteem Needs

    If other needs are reasonably satisfied then ego needs become motivator. People want to be held in esteem both by themselves and by others.

    This kind of need produces such satisfactions as power, prestige, status and self-confidence.

    It includes internal esteem factors such as self-respect, autonomy, and achievement; and external esteem factors such as status, recognition, and attention

  5. Self-Actualization Needs

    Maslow regards this as the highest need in his hierarchy. It is the desire to become what one is capable of becoming—to maximize one’s potential and to accomplish something.

It is apparent that it is impossible to motivate workers by satisfying all of the above mentioned needs. It is not valid for the workers of developing countries. It may be somewhat true for developed countries.

The levels are presented in the form of a triangle or a pyramid with the largest and most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom tier, and the need for self- actualization at the top.

As a need becomes substantially satisfied, the next need becomes dominant. No need is ever fully gratified; a substantially satisfied need no longer motivates.

According to Maslow physiological, security, social, and esteem needs are deficiency needs or D-needs that arise because of deprivation.

The highest-level of the pyramid is called the growth needs or B-needs. Maslow separated the five needs into higher and lower orders;

  • Physiological and safety needs are described as lower-order.
  • Social, esteem, and self-actualization arc as higher-order needs.
  • Higher-order needs are satisfied internally.
  • Lower-order needs are predominantly satisfied externally.

Criticism of Maslow’s Need-hierarchy Theory:

Maslow’s concept of Need-hierarchy has been subjected to considerable research. Researchers have raised questions about the accuracy of the hierarchical aspects of these needs. Maslow’s Need-hierarchy theory is criticized for the following reasons:

  1. The limitations with this theory lie in the fact that different cultures may cause people to have different hierarchies of needs.People necessarily may not satisfy one level after another and may have other needs not mentioned in the list and may be ready to sacrifice some needs.
  2. He describes that after fulfilling one need people jump over the need. But one person can exist in a definite hierarchy at a same time.
  3. He has over emphasized on subjective side of motivation but failed to spell out clearly the objective side of motivation.
  4. The theory does not mention the proportion of need that must be satisfied to move to higher need.
  5. The strength of needs varies in between individuals. In one individual social needs may predominate while in another actualization needs may be strongest.
  6. Maslow’s theory lacks clarity and consistency which are the prerequisites for the formation of a theory. Maslow has failed to show empirical evidence to support his theory.
  7. Maslow provided conflicting images of self-actualized man.
  8. Maslow has over-emphasized the subjective side of motivation but he has failed to spell out clearly the objective side of motivation.
  9. Needs do not always follow a hierarchy, especially after lower level needs are satisfied.
  10. The upward movement of needs result from upward career changes and not from the satisfaction of lower order needs.
  11. In almost all groups satisfaction of needs is definitely more or less insufficient.


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is not only outdated but also limited in its usefulness to act as an all-encompassing theory of human motivation. Maslow’s need theory has received wide recognition, particularly among practicing managers.

Research docs not generally validate the theory. Maslow provided no empirical substantiation, and several studies that sought to validate the theory found no support for it.