Overview of the Theory
The Hierarchy of Needs is a psychology theory that was proposed in 1943 by an American psychologist, Abraham Maslow. This was done through his paper of psychological review on the theory of human motivation. Maslow did this paper after he was dismayed by the attempts to reduce the human psychology to some form of mindless mechanisms (Boone & GWC, 2002). Thus he started a new psychological movement, which he called the ‘Humanistic Psychology.’ This theory is parallel to many theories of development psychology.
In order to come up with this theory, Maslow studied some of the work done by outstanding people like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Fredrick Douglass among others, as opposed to studying the neurotic or mentally ill people (Boone & Mark Earls Productions, 2002). In his research, he used the healthiest one per cent of students in a college. In this theory, Maslow proposed that human beings are normally driven by different factors at different points in time. These forces are hierarchical and people normally start from the bottom and work their way up the hierarchy.
This theory is normally pyramid-shaped and the most fundamental and largest needs are at the bottom of the pyramid (Boone & GWC, 2002). These needs include, from the bottom-up, physiological needs, safety needs, love (or belonging), esteem needs and self-actualization. This suggestion of this theory is that the most basic of human needs have to be met first so that the higher level needs will be desired more robustly by an individual. However, these stages are not strict and some may overlap. Maslow also came up with the term meta-motivation to explain the motivation of the individuals who even after fulfilling their basic needs constantly strive to improve themselves.
Fundamentally, the four parts of the pyramid comprise of the deficiency needs. These are the physical needs, security, friendship and love and esteem. If these needs are not met, the individual will have a tendency of feeling anxious and tense (Noonan, 2006). There is also a likelihood that an individual could have different levels of motivation occurring at any time, but Maslow prescribed the sequence in which they are supposed to happen. The physiological needs include any physical requirements for a human being to survive. These are the basic needs and without them, the body cannot be able to function well. These are therefore the most important needs and should be the first to be met. Examples of these needs include water, air, food, clothing, sex among others.
After a human being has satisfied the physiological needs, he or she can move up the hierarchy to satisfy the safety needs. These needs include the availability of security, stability and order (Noonan, 2006). If physical safety is absent, for example if there are wars or violence, people will experience stress. Economic safety is also important, in terms of job security and stability of the economy. There is also need for good health, financial stability, and general well-being.
The third level of needs is love and belonging. This is interpersonal and the need is particularly strong among children and therefore may override safety needs. Deficiencies experience in this level may affect the ability of a person to form and be able to maintain meaningful relationships with other people (Boone & Mark Earls Productions, 2002). Human beings therefore need to feel acceptance and a sense of belonging in their social groups. After love and belonging is achieved, there is the need for self-esteem. This is where human beings feel the need to be respected, recognized and admired by their peers as individuals who have achieved a lot. These needs comprise of self-actualization and self-respect needs.
The last level is the self-actualization needs. This is the most top part of the pyramid and it is the desire for a person to experience even deeper sense of fulfilment by realising more and more of their potential (Boone & Mark Earls Productions, 2002). A person has the need to realise their full potential. Maslow states that for an individual to comprehend this category of needs, he or she must achieve the other needs first.
Literature Review: Summary of Current Research
A lot of research has been done after Abraham Maslow propagated the hierarchy of needs theory. Some of the research findings support this theory while others question some aspects of the theory (Boone & Mark Earls Productions, 2002). Current research done on this hierarchy agrees that there exists some universal human needs but they greatly question Maslow’s hierarchy. Further research done on the subject indicates that the hierarchy of needs reflect human motivation as binary and moving in a certain known way. This is not the case with human motivation.
McGillivray & Clarke (2006) argued that the manner in which the model is arranged is ethnocentric. They said that the hierarchy fails to state and explain the differences between social and intellectual needs of those who have experienced societies that are individualistic, and those from collectivist societies. The needs for people from societies which are individualistic in nature tend to be more self-centred than those from the collectivist society and therefore their highest need is self-actualization (Noonan, 2006). On the other hand, for those individuals from societies that are collectivistic, the needs of feeling accepted in the society outweigh their needs for individuality. He also argues that Maslow did not properly explain self-actualization as when an individual is in the point of self-actualization, most of what they want to achieve may generally benefit others.
Critics have criticized the value and position of sex in the hierarchy (Holzknecht, Butler, Hoffman, Prager, Raghunathan, Smith, & Insight Media Firm, 2007). Maslow has placed sex in the category of needs that are physiological. This views sex only from an individual’s perspective. This therefore neglects the familial, emotional and evolutionary implication of it within the community. Others disagree with this and state that it is true sex is a basic need.
Other critics state that it is hard to scientifically test self-actualization. The sample of individuals that Maslow used is very small and therefore lacks accuracy (Ryan, 2012). To add on this, Maslow included people he knows and believes to be self-actualized. This means that his findings could have had some subjectivity. Thus this level is not well developed and explained.
Hamilton (2003) points out that Maslow’s discussions rarely point out to any supporting research of the theory. He states that the research on the few individuals is not enough and needs to be supplemented (Boone & Mark Earls Productions, 2002). Because of this, Hamilton led a study that serves to put this hierarchy of needs to test in different countries in the world. Surveys were done on shelter, food, safety, social support, money and emotions in 155 countries. Some aspects are consistent with the theory but others depart from it. From the findings the needs as stated in the theory appeared to be universal but the manner through which the needs are met did not appear to really impact different people’s life satisfaction (Boone & Mark Earls Productions, 2002). An important departure is that a person could report that they are having good social relationships and also self-actualization but they haven’t achieved their basic and safety needs.
Implications of the theory in International Settings (Middle East and North America)
This theory has been used by different people in different areas. However, Maslow’s model classification of needs whether higher order or lower order is non-universal and with time may tend to vary across different cultures due to the differences in the resource availability in the regions in the world(Boone & Mark Earls Productions, 2002). For example, there are different kinds and quantities of resources in the North America and the Middle East. This means that to some extent the needs to be fulfilled by the people in these different regions may vary considerably.
A study was done, named Exploratory Factor Analysis, whereby a scale of thirteen items showed that there are particularly two essential categories of needs in the United States in the peace time period between 1993 and 1994. These needs are the need for survival and psychological satisfaction. The psychological satisfaction included self-esteem, love and self-actualization (Ryan, 2012). Taking into retrospective the peacetime measure gathered at the time of the Gulf War in Persia (1991), only the two categories of needs were identified. This implied that individuals have the power and level of competence to recall which needs were important to them in the previous year.
On the other hand, for the population in the Middle East, that is Egypt and Saudi Arabia, there are three levels of needs that came up with regards to importance and satisfaction in the year 1990 period of peace. These three needs were completely different from the needs of the North American citizens. These changes in the needs’ importance and satisfaction from the time of peace to the time of war significantly varied across different cultures, like in North America and the Middle East, due to the stress that is normally present during wars (Ryan, 2012). For the citizens of North America, only a single category of needs was present. This is because they considered all the needs to be equally important. The three needs satisfied by the United States citizens during the war were the physiological needs, psychological needs and safety needs.
According to Maslow’s model, these were the self-actualization needs, social needs and self-esteem needs. When the war was on going, the satisfaction of the safety needs and the physiological needs was separated into two different and independent needs to be satisfied. During the period of peace, they were grouped as one need. This grouping changed due to the existing conditions (Ryan, 2012). Similarly, for the population of the Middle East, the meeting of their respective needs transformed to two levels from three levels at the time of the war while they were three levels during the peacetime. This could also be attributed to the higher stress levels during the war.
In summary, the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs aims at validating the existence of all universal human needs. Even though this hierarchy that was proposed Maslow was called into question, it holds for the facts outlined about human needs. Other researches activities indicate that Maslow’s view reflect a typical binary pattern of exponential growth.
Boone, D., & GWC (Firm), Mark Earls Productions (2002). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Cahokia, IL: GWC.
Hamilton, L. (2003). The political philosophy of needs. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Holzknecht, J., Butler, J. S., Hoffman, E., Prager, K. J., Raghunathan, R., Smith, S. M., & Insight Media (Firm) (2007). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Austin, Tex?: Castalia Media.
McGillivray, M., & Clarke, M. (2006). Understanding human well-being. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.
Noonan, J. (2006). Democratic society and human needs. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Ryan, R. M. (2012). The Oxford handbook of human motivation. New York: Oxford University Press.