Abraham Maslow stated in 1943 that human needs take the form of a hierarchical, pyramid structure wherein the most basic needs (such as food and sleep) sit at the bottom and a person’s individual needs (such as the desire for self-fulfilment) stand at the top. The pyramid of needs includes five sections which, in ascending order, are:
Physiological (food, water), Safety (shelter, a door with a lock), Belonging/Social (friendship groups, love), Esteem (self-esteem, esteem from others) and Self-Actualisation (achieving one’s potential).
The basic idea behind this is that some needs are more immediately important than others; if you’re starving, your first priority would be to get food and you wouldn’t much care about, for example, finding love. In contrast to this, if you’re well fed, have a roof over your head and feel generally safe where you live, then you’re very likely to then be thinking about finding love and/or friendship. All in all, you need to have achieved the basic needs before you can move up the pyramid, into the sectors of other, less immediate needs.
So what does each level of the hierarchy mean, exactly?
Physiological needs, at the very bottom of the pyramid, is perhaps the most simple to understand sector. These are your physical needs – the things you need to do to function, such as consume food and sleep.
These needs must to be fulfilled before you can concentrate on any higher level of the pyramid.
Next up is Safety – the understanding that you are safe in your environment, with a roof over your head and general security. This section also includes job security, as well as security of the body; to fulfil the needs here you need to feel comfortable in your environment. Above this is Belonging/Social needs.
This section deals with friendship, family and love. It is not just the base interaction with other people that satisfies this sector of the hierarchy, but the sense of fitting in with them. For example, although chatting with the cashier on a supermarket checkout may be pleasant enough, it doesn’t quite fulfil this section due to the lack of personal attachment you have with this person. Oppositely, chatting with a family member (who you get along with) over breakfast would fulfil this need because you feel you belong with them. You trust them and would most likely enjoy their company.
On top of this is Esteem – the way you view yourself, as well as how you believe others see you. This describes your level of confidence; having achieved your basic physical needs and a social circle, you are now free to focus on personal achievements and respect. This is the level that many people struggle to overcome as it is the level which deals with factors such as anxiety and mental health (mental health has been on the rise in recent years, with 1 out of 4 people estimated to experience some form of mental health condition in the UK as an example. http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/ )
Then lastly, at the very top of the pyramid, is Self-Actualisation. Perhaps the most complicated sector to understand, this deals broadly with concepts such as acceptance, spontaneity, personal morality and the arts. Self-actualisation can only be achieved if every sector below it has been satisfied, at least according to Maslow.
So for example, if all your needs have been met then you’re far more likely to be unprejudiced towards different groups of society, such as different ethnic groups, whereas if you’re struggling to find shelter then you’re far more likely to pin the blame for your situation on or simply feel general dislike for this other group of people. (Of course, some people in this sector can still be prejudiced towards others; Maslow simply saw it as much more unlikely.)
In conclusion, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a highly clear-cut way of defining human individual priorities. A well-known theory, it is more than likely that the average student will come across it at least once in their period of study. There is much debate over this particular Maslow theory currently – if it is overly clear-cut or perhaps if the sector for Self-Actualisation should be split up into two – but the fact remains that many schools and workplaces want their students and/or employees to understand it.