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Putting Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to the Test

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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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