Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Motivation Theory

A number of theories have been developed in a bid to explain the forces that drive individuals to behave the way they do. The Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is one theory of motivation; it organizes needs into five major categories in order of their significance: physiological, security, social, esteem, and self-actualization. The key contributor in this theory is Abraham Maslow, who proposed the theory.

According to this theory, physiological/basic needs are the key motivation for any individual. Once these needs are fulfilled, the individual seeks to satisfy the next category of needs: safety and employment. Satisfaction of safety needs leads to the third category, which comprises the need for friendship, family, and belonging. Achievement of this motivates the individual to begin seeking accomplishment and self-worth, and eventually attains inner fulfillment or self-actualization (Spielman, Jenkins & Lovett, 2020).

In other words, the theory postulates that a need has a motivational effect only when it is not satisfied; once satisfied, needs cease to have the motivating impact and the drive shifts to the next need within the pyramid.

The hierarchy of needs is not only very easy to understand but is also practical. It would be irrational and illogical for a person to want to have a family, for example, when they do not have a source of income and a good house in which to shelter the family. A major criticism of the hierarchy of needs theory is that it is subjective. It is also criticized for failing to explain real world phenomena (Spielman et al., 2020).

Precisely, the theory presents the misguided view that human beings “have the freedom [and resources] to chart their courses of action and are not pawns of their environment” (Weiten, Dunn & Hammer, p.44).

The truth is that in developing countries and marginalized society where poverty is widespread; people’s needs seldom advance beyond basic needs. Similarly, in situations such as war, the need for security may become paramount over physiological needs.

A real-life example of the hierarchy of needs theory in action would be the path taken by most African men. Traditionally, upon attaining a certain age, an African man would build and move into his own house.

After that, he would look for a job or start a business before thinking of getting a wife and children. Having a family that is well-taken care of through a well-paying job and stable income typically provides gratification and a sense of accomplishment, which ultimately leads to a feeling that one has accomplished his purpose as a man.


Spielman, R., Jenkins, W. & Lovett, M. (2020). Psychology 2e. OpenStax.

Weiten, W., Dunn, D., & Hammer, E. Y. (2018). Psychology applied to modern life: Adjustment in the 21st century. Cengage Learning.

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