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Kendra Cherry

Putting Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to the Test

By July 5, 2011

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hierarchy of needs

Anyone who has ever taken a psychology probably has at least a basic understanding of Maslow's well-known hierarchy of needs. Maslow suggested that needs at the base of the pyramid, which include such things as food, water and sleep, must be met before people can move on to needs higher up on the hierarchy.

After these basic needs are fulfilled, people move on to the need for safety and security, then belonging and love and then esteem. Finally, once all these lower-level needs are met, Maslow suggested that people move on the need at the peak of the pyramid, which is known as self-actualization.

Despite the popularity of the theory, psychologist Ed Diener of the University of Illinois points out that discussions of Maslow's hierarchy rarely point to any actual research supporting the theory. For this reason, Diener led a new study that put the famous hierarchy of needs to the test in different countries all over the world.

Researchers conducted surveys on food, shelter, safety, money, social support, respect and emotions in 155 different countries between 2005 and 2010. While some aspects of their findings are consistent with Maslow's theory, there were also some notable departures. The needs described in the theory appear to be universal. However, the order in which these needs are met had little impact on people's satisfaction with life.

"Our findings suggest that Maslow's theory is largely correct. In cultures all over the world the fulfillment of his proposed needs correlates with happiness," Diener explained. "However, an important departure from Maslow's theory is that we found that a person can report having good social relationships and self-actualization even if their basic needs and safety needs are not completely fulfilled."

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Comments

July 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm
(1) Stabby says:

I’m glad somebody researched this, that is everyone’s main criticism of the hierarchy. Looks like it should be more of a disordered list of needs.

July 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm
(2) shivam says:

The theory is too simple for the dynamic and complex human behaviour. Even people in refugee camps write poems, which can’t be explained by this theory.

July 6, 2011 at 7:11 am
(3) Shaun says:

First off I never really understood an Esteem need to be something different from either a self-actualisation need or a social need.
For this study however I don’t know if it’s saying anything new, the hierachy’s about motivation to pursue needs, the study seems to be about needs being meet-things can fall in your lap.

July 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm
(4) Larraine says:

I feel Maslow has a point simplistic as it is but correct for the era of its completion. I feel that the complexities of humanity has grown and we have a deeper understanding of societies and other cultures and ok basic needs do not always have to be met but it facilitates the soul and spirit if those needs are not a priority over fulfilling other fuctioning needs such as warm, shelter food and water.

July 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm
(5) Marv Brilliant says:

I studied Maslow’s theory in college. I’m gratified a recent research method was used to verify the theory; however, there are those who will never achieve the peak of the pyramid. Maslow didn’t indicate the vexing problem of mental illness. That is the main gray area which is not structured into the pyramid. Those, who are seriously impaired mentally, are impervious to this scientific theory. Sure, we would all like to attain the various steps, but for some, that be highly improbable.

July 12, 2011 at 4:18 pm
(6) Mustapha Dumbuya says:

I am glad the theory is being put to test and it successfully survived it though. More theories need to be put on test to know whether they can stand the test of time.

July 14, 2011 at 3:39 am
(7) real man says:

What so amazing about it that everybody has a say on the theory. Even the Association of business executives UK, teach and debate for, and against this theory on their syllabus. If someone has a better theory better show it, before criticizing.

July 14, 2011 at 3:42 am
(8) Armstrong Obie says:

According to Diner, there is no scientific base or research supporting Maslow’s needs theory. Therefore Maslow was a real genius to have come out with such a theory that has stood the test of modern day research. But Diner is right to his findings because some people here in Africa are leaving happier lives even without all basic necessities.

July 14, 2011 at 4:12 am
(9) ibadat says:

the theory of need heirarchy depots the basic successive stages of needs,next is fulfilled lest one is fulfilled. applying to new age is a wonderful idea but we need to comprehand the basic ideaology of Abraham Maslow-a great humanistic psychologist ever born in psychology.

July 14, 2011 at 12:05 pm
(10) VJ says:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is not on a linear continuum it is a fluid moving thing based individual needs and motivations that moves on an indiscriminant pathway; with twists and turns along the way. The point is an individual is or maybe at a different level than say another individual. What counts as safety and security to me may not mean the same thing to you; at this point we are just arguing semantics. The becoming of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a heuristic cycle that is at the center of this THEORY. Research, reason, and logic can only tell us so much. And what it tells us is that the truth? I would rather know who did the research and what methods were used how were the results gauged and measured….introspection, surveys, interviews, ads in the newspaper? Ask questions, try to think not on auto-pilot but from a different perspective, from a meditative perspective one might see if only the eyes were open. I see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as being accurate in its potentiality for attempting to understand motives and the behaviors behind them with implications for individuals and societies alike. The results and beliefs about motives and behaviors are subjective.

As for self-actualization I believe that this is a level very few people will ever reach. One might try to better himself or better understand himself; he might do volunteer work and is a really “great guy” who is always “happy” and “fulfilled”; but is this the self actualization that Maslow was getting at? I doubt it seriously! Self actualization is not as simple as some seem to think.

Here’s the point people, think for yourselves do research, think some more, as questions but only after you’ve got your bag of chips and your soda while you sit down in front of your computer and think about where you stand which needs are met and which you feel are lacking. If you are reading this you have a couple of levels covered; yes/no? So where exactly are you on this cyclical continuum?

July 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm
(11) Debra says:

I’m glad that this research was undertaken. However, I disagree with the conclusions that it disproves the order of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. His hierarchy was not designed as a theory of what it takes to be happy but rather as a theory of human motivation.

July 17, 2011 at 1:34 am
(12) Ayo says:

Have you heard of suffering and smiling. Some group of people in some part of Africa no matter the situation they find themselves, they always adapt.

May 25, 2012 at 4:48 am
(13) Ben says:

Where does spiritual need of man come in? God created man in His image after his likeness. We’re meant to increase, multiply, replenish and subdue the earth. These to me are the needs for growth and contribution. For man to be able to achieve this, there is the need to know His creator and to be found top fulfill his God created purpose – to do good works in this life. How then can be we equipped to do good works. There is the need for us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.
Man will begin to find his place in the creation by trying to find out his purpose as part of the God’s creation.

February 12, 2013 at 12:03 pm
(14) Steve says:

I think that the theory is based on an assumption that it is dealing with the basic human nature of innate reactions to life, such as young children experience. As a person matures, they learn to adapt to many difficult challenges through adaptation to more productive responses rather than just reacting. People learn that they have choices that lead to better outcomes than reacting to what others do through fight or flight.
So when people learn to adapt and have inner control and security of who they are, no one can take that away externally. I thing that freedom to think and make choices cannot be taken away, only the liberty to act on them completely. When their security is threatened, they can respond to that treatment in healthy ways by writing poems in concentration camps, and giving security to their little children. But the little children would not be able to do this.

April 12, 2013 at 2:39 am
(15) Mugoya ASUMAN says:

We should agree with theory becouse to be considered successful,youu must have followed hierarchy of neeeds advanced by the theorist.

May 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm
(16) Ed says:

Maslow’s pyramid is an optimistic response to the “pessimistic” Freud’s psychoanalysis. And it is also easier to understand. That’s why the theory made great success in areas like Management, in which people need not-so-difficult theories about motivation to sell books, speeches and advices”

June 11, 2013 at 6:15 pm
(17) bmorebleak says:

While this theory may be too broad and plain to blanket all needs within the human scope when applied as a basic function for mentoring and developing personnel I believe it stands strong. During my career in the military I received troops straight from their momma’s bosom. Ensuring their lower level needs were met was critical in the development of many however just as prevalent were those that skipped lower level needs and immediately sought self-actualization. With that said, understanding and application of Maslow’s Theory is definitely a great starting point for action within an organization.

November 18, 2013 at 3:09 am
(18) Elyne Strauss says:

‘Heirarchy of needs’ has been on my mind and woke me up at 2 am to go online and refresh my memory. Rational, logical thinking can be disanulled instantly in an dire situation. For example, disaster survivors, martyrs, prisoners and rescue workers may ignore their basic needs on all levels in order to relieve suffering or to save lives. Perhaps, humanity should flip the chart upside-down and put actualization (reality) as the “bottom line” – step #1, helping others (social) – step #2, sanity (security) – step#3, and lastly, water, food, clothes and shelter (physical) – step #4 on the top of the chart. Our spirit is stronger than flesh. Our hearts are more desperate to love than to have our needs met. Perhaps, we should live in a constant state of “reckless abandon” to self-gratification. God Bless.

February 5, 2014 at 4:38 pm
(19) Jean Tau'a says:

In the years of studying Maslow, there are elements of life not taken into consideration. I don’t believe these considerations were ignored by Maslow, but rather, left to interpretation by those interested in studying his theory. What I have observed, no one can think about much when their basic needs are not met. Another observation, is the belief that once we are at a particular level, we cannot progress forward and there are numerous elements in life that agree with that self assesment. Once we believe something about ourselves, it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. On all levels, we meander up and down, in and out, working towards the goal of self-actuallization. One might think only the rich are able to become self actualized, but when we look at those who have made it, Budha, Mohammed, Christ, Mother Teresa, etc. none of them had personl wealth. It is a letting go of the need for personal wealth that renders us capable of self-actualization.

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