Theoretical Spotlight: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Literature Review

Dissertations typically require a theoretical or a conceptual framework to ground your research in existing concepts. However, it can be difficult to determine which framework you should use. In this blog series, we highlight popular theories to help you determine which theories best fit your dissertation.

Theory: Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs

In 1943, Abraham Maslow developed a theory on the hierarchy of human needs. Maslow’s hierarchy is often depicted as a pyramid- much like in a food pyramids where more important food groups are at the bottom of the pyramid and lesser or unnecessary groups are further to the top. There are five “needs” in the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy, and the needs ascend from the most basic human needs to higher level needs. Maslow termed the five levels of need physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and selfactualization. Maslow separated the needs into two groups: physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem are all deficiency needs; individuals must satisfy all of their deficiency needs before they can achieve self-actualization. Self-actualization is a growth need, and Maslow indicated that achieving this is the ultimate goal of the hierarchy of needs. Deficiency needs may include food, water, and shelter; while growth needs may include goal attainment and personal growth.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be a useful framework for your research if you are intending to study human motivation or behavior. Typically, as per Maslow’s hierarchy, individuals’ levels of motivation will decrease as they meet deficiency needs. However, motivation will increase as they achieve growth needs. The satisfaction of varying deficiency and growth needs influences human behavior, as individuals will act accordingly if they have needs that are not being met.

Further reading:

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.

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