What Is the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory that explains human motivation by prioritizing various human needs in a pyramid structure. First explained by the psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943, it places basic, fundamental needs at the bottom of the pyramid, and more open-ended desires at the capstone, with several levels in between.

Each of the levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs supports the next level of the hierarchy. As a person satisfies one level of needs and stops worrying about it, the next level of needs becomes important.

Physiological needs form the base of the hierarchy. These needs include what is necessary for survival, such as food, water and shelter, and support the next level, which is safety. The need for safety leads to basic tools and routines that make life predictable and easier to control.

The next level of the hierarchy is love and belonging. To satisfy these needs, a person seeks out friendship, romantic love, sex, or groups of people who share common interests in politics, religion, art or culture.

The next level up is esteem. To satisfy these needs, a person seeks to belong and be respected within a community of others. This may motivate him to make lots of money, pursue higher education or excel at a certain skill.

Finally, at the top of the hierarchy comes self-actualization, which Maslow explained by saying “What a man can be, he must be.” After a person becomes highly skilled in a discipline or art form, he feels compelled to experiment, innovate and push the limits. The same could be said of writers, teachers, athletes, and anyone else who has satisfied all the other needs in the hierarchy. Maslow theorized that less than 10 percent of people achieve full self-actualization.