Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explained

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory proposed by Abraham Maslow. It outlines a five-tier model of human needs, ranging from basic (such as food and safety) to more complex (like esteem and self-actualization). The theory suggests that higher needs become significant only after lower needs are met.

what is maslow’s hierarchy of needs

The explanation of Maslow's pyramid

Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory was introduced in 1943 in one of his seminal works, “A Theory of Human Motivation”.

This theory aims to explain what motivates human behaviour by identifying a hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid. According to Maslow, individuals must satisfy their most basic needs before addressing more complex ones.

Maslow's pyramid categorises human needs into five levels, prioritising them from the most fundamental to the more advanced. Starting with physiological needs, such as food, water, and shelter, it suggests that only after these basic needs are met can individuals focus on higher-level needs.

The levels of Maslow's pyramid

The pyramid's levels are as follows:

  1. Physiological or basic needs: These are the essentials for survival, including food, water, and shelter.
  2. Safety needs: Once basic needs are met, the next tier focuses on achieving stability and security in life, encompassing employment, health, and a safe environment.
  3. Social needs: After securing safety, social needs emerge, driven by our interactions with others. This includes needs for friendship, love, and family.
  4. Esteem needs: With social needs satisfied, esteem needs to become relevant. This level is about achieving recognition, respect, and self-confidence, alongside meeting professional and financial goals.
  5. Self-actualisation needs: At the pinnacle of the pyramid, self-actualisation represents the fulfilment of personal potential and realising one's own abilities.
maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory

Maslow posited that fulfilling each level of need is a prerequisite to progressing to the next, indicating that a lack in basic needs prevents the pursuit of higher psychological and self-fulfilment needs.

In essence, Maslow's theory suggests that human beings progress through a series of needs, starting with the most basic for survival, and only when these are met can they move on to satisfy higher-level needs, culminating in self-actualisation, or achieving one's fullest potential.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs: real-world applications

Maslow's theory has broad applications beyond psychology, notably in economics, marketing, and commerce. These fields fundamentally explore human behaviour, focusing on how needs drive actions. In economics, the focus is on how individuals allocate resources to fulfil as many needs as possible. Marketing delves into creating and fulfilling consumer needs, and promoting products effectively. Commerce, similarly, revolves around generating and meeting the needs of potential customers.

These disciplines underscore the importance of understanding and addressing human needs. Thus, Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory, though rooted in humanistic psychology, extends its relevance to areas seemingly unrelated to psychology.

Application of Maslow's theory in business: an example

Consider applying Maslow's pyramid to establishing a restaurant. This scenario allows us to categorise operational needs following Maslow's hierarchical structure:

  1. Physiological or basic needs: This foundational tier includes securing a location, hiring staff, equipping the kitchen, and sourcing raw materials—essential components to start the restaurant's operations.
  2. Safety needs: Addressing safety involves obtaining the necessary licences, ensuring cleanliness, and attracting customers to establish a stable and secure business environment.
  3. Social needs: Creating a positive work atmosphere, fostering good relationships with customers, neighbours, and local authorities enhances the restaurant's social standing.
  4. Esteem needs: Gaining positive reviews, social media recognition, and acceptance within the community contributes to the restaurant's esteem and reputation.
  5. Self-actualisation needs: Achieving top culinary honours, such as Michelin Stars or Repsol Suns, represents the pinnacle of self-actualisation for the restaurant, signifying the fulfilment of its highest potential.

In this way, Maslow's theory provides a structured approach to understanding and prioritising the diverse needs involved in launching and growing a business, demonstrating its versatility and applicability across various disciplines.


In conclusion, Maslow's hierarchy of needs provides a framework for understanding human motivation. It emphasises the progression through different levels of needs, from basic survival to achieving one's full potential. This theory has influenced various fields, including psychology, business, and education, highlighting the importance of addressing diverse human needs.

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Can needs at different levels arise simultaneously?

Yes, needs at different levels can arise simultaneously, but Maslow suggested that lower-level needs must be satisfied before higher-level needs.

Are there any criticisms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs?

Yes, some criticisms include the theory's lack of empirical support, its Western bias, and the assumption that the hierarchy applies universally to all individuals.

Is Maslow's hierarchy of needs still relevant today?

Yes, despite criticisms and newer theories, Maslow's hierarchy remains a popular and influential theory in understanding human motivation and behaviour in various fields.

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