Abraham Maslow Personality Theory Explained


Abraham Maslow earned a doctorate in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in 1934. In the early days of his career, he worked with monkeys and noted that they tended to fulfill their needs in specific order of importance. As he observed how those monkeys met their personal needs, Maslow recognized that humans acted in a similar way.

In Maslow’s personality theory, people act to make sure their core needs are first met. As those needs are fulfilled, they will then begin to meet their next basic needs. This continues until all needs are met, allowing the individual to achieve their full potential.

Maslow determined that there were five stages of needs that humans would work to meet. He formed the shape of those needs into a pyramid because the needs at the bottom would have a greater preference than the staged needs at the top of his proposal.

What Are the 5 Stages of the Abraham Maslow Personality Theory?

When composing his psychological tiers, Maslow grouped the basic needs of humanity into 5 distinct stages.

1. Physiological Needs. These needs would include the basics for survival. Water, food, sleep, and a desire for warmth (or a cooler environment if too hot) would be the first desires that a person would strive to meet.

2. Safety Needs. A person would then wish to feel safe and secure after they have met the basics of physical survival. This might include being able to live in a locked home, finding a safe neighborhood with a minimal crime history, or finding a job that can provide a regular income.

3. Love Needs. Once an individual has met all their basic needs of life preservation, they can move on to meeting their psychological needs. This means creating a feeling of “belongingness” to their lives. People at this stage will seek out friendships and work to form intimate relationships with others.

4. Esteem Needs. When an individual has formed several relationships, including an intimate relationship, then they begin to seek out ways to achieve positive self-esteem. They look for opportunities where they can earn societal prestige. There is a desire to pursue a feeling of accomplishment.

5. Self-Actualization. This final stage is the place where an individual can begin pursuing creative activities which have meaning to them. It is where individuals can pursue their full potential in every area of life.

The 5-stage model offered by Maslow can be broken into two different sets of needs. The first two stages (physiological and safety) are basic needs that must be met. The next two stages (love and esteem) are psychological needs. The final stage is then a self-fulfillment need.

The second way to look at these stages is to look at them as “deficiency needs” and “growth needs.” In this method, the first four stages (physiological, safety, love, and esteem) are the deficiency needs for an individual, while the final stage (self-actualization) is the growth need.

Why Do We Focus on Deficiency Needs So Often?

Even when an individual can reach the stage of self-actualization, the time they spend within this stage can be very limited. This is because there is a greater motivation to meet the deficiency needs than there is to meet the growth needs. If an individual goes all day without eating, the amount of hunger they experience is likely to grow. If they lack water, then feelings of being thirsty will keep growing as well.

Those feelings create a need that must be met. It is difficult to focus on being creative if one’s stomach is continually complaining about a lack of food.

When the deficiency has been met, then the feelings that “require” a person to meet that need disappear. This allows an individual to move upward on their pyramid of stages, according to Maslow.

Fluctuations between the various stages can occur at any time. People may move through the hierarchy of stages on a regular basis. Everyone experiences fluctuations every day. If you’re hungry and it is time for dinner, you tend to stop what you are doing so you can eat. Even if you’re driving, you might go through a drive-thru at a quick-service restaurant to order food.

The act of pulling into the drive-thru lane is evidence that the individual is meeting a basic deficiency need.

Life experiences can change how each person addresses their hierarchy of needs in the Abraham Maslow personality theory as well. Someone going through a divorce or experiences a long period of being unemployed will meet their needs differently than someone in a happy marriage and long-term employment.

Maslow suggests that just 1% of people can reach their full potential. That is because society tends to reward motivations based on deficiency needs instead of growth needs. By recognizing this fact, it can become possible to recognize a personal hierarchy of needs so that self-actualization can be achieved.