This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 09 table of contents.

Maslow's Pyramid

Maslow devised a now-famous pyramid-shaped diagram to express his ideas. At the bottom he put the base or biological needs. At the top were higher-level, spiritual or existential needs. In between was a range of other needs.

What is Maslow's famous pyramid-shaped diagram and what is the idea behind it?

As each lower need is satisfied, Maslow argued, the next higher level becomes more compelling. First are biological needs like eating and sleeping, on the bottom level. All humans must have those things, if nothing else. Next are security or safety needs: having a place to stay, knowing where your next meal is coming from, and avoiding danger. Then comes love or love and belongingness—the need to affiliate with other humans.

Although love is ranked high on most scales of human values, Maslow put it below the next level, which he labeled esteem. Maslow reasoned that it was possible, indeed common, to have love in relationships that did not promote esteem. In a good love relationship, growth of self-esteem is fostered. In a poor relationship, growth of self-esteem may be stunted as one party tries to keep the other insecure and dependent. In that sense, love or relationship needs are easier to achieve than self-esteem needs.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

The fifth level is self-actualization. You can go through all the other levels and still feel empty. You can have a big house, a high-paying job, a spouse, children, lots of self-esteem, but be unfulfilled. This would indicate, in Maslow's scheme, that the first four levels of needs are met but the fifth and highest is not yet recognized.

Is Maslow's hierarchy useful as a guide for research?

The hierarchy of needs is Maslow's best-known contribution to psychology. Everybody has heard of Maslow's need hierarchy, and most people find it plausible. However, there is very little research to support the need hierachy, and there are many exceptions to it (for example, people who fast for religious reasons, or people who pursue self-esteem before love). Maslow provides no way to decide which exceptions are important.

Is it likely to endure, as a result?

Hull's motivational theory was very precise and easy to test. Because it was testable, it, was put to the test and it was disproved. In contrast, Maslow's motivational theory is vague and general and admits to many exceptions, so it cannot be tested definatively. This vagueness has made Maslow's pyramid as immortal as the great pyramids of Egypt.

Write to Dr. Dewey at

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.

Custom Search

Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey