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Why Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is Dead Wrong

May 22, 2017

In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced his theory on the Hierarchy of Needs, which he later developed further. This theory and the graphical representation of human needs in the form of a pyramid (a triangle to be more accurate) became very famous in both academia and popular culture.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was and even still is a very popular framework of what people need and want and what drives human behaviour. The appeal of this framework – the hierarchy of needs – resides in its intuitive nature.



If we think, but not too much, about what people want and need it makes sense that the fundamental layer is that of physiological needs such as food, water, clothes, excretion and sex.


The next, higher, level is that of safety and security and once again it makes sense that after people having what to eat they will want and need to feel safe, to have shelter from the elements, to be and feel safe from aggression and so on.


Going even further to the next level on the hierarchy of needs, it makes sense that after satisfying the physiological and safety needs, one will need and want to belong, to have good relationships with family and friends.


The next level up the Hierarchy of needs is that of esteem which includes needs such as being respected, fame and glory. Again, it makes perfect sense (at first glance) that after having covered the physiological needs, being safe and belonging to a social group an individual will want to feel and be respected by society and to enjoy some fame and even glory.


The next and final level of the framework is that of self-actualization which includes things like mastery and reaching one’s full potential. At this level, the individual has enough social recognition (respect and fame) and needs to fulfill his (her) own aspirations. Once again, it makes sense that people who have everything from food to fame and glory will want to surpass their limits and achieve everything that they can.


Quite interestingly, Abraham Maslow claimed that an individual will not experience a superior need such as esteem unless she satisfied her inferior needs such as physiological and safety.


The hierarchy of needs makes intuitive sense, but it is completely wrong!


You probably saw or heard of people who barely have anything to eat and buy expensive flashy status goods – hence satisfying their need for esteem. It seems a contradictory and counter-intuitive reality.


Moreover, from an intuitively rational point of view, one should first cover their basic needs of food and shelter and Only After, focus on satisfying needs such as achieving a high (social) status.


Although Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is popular and makes intuitive sense, it is nonetheless a flawed model of human needs and motivations. Abraham Maslow viewed people through rather idealistic lenses and not as we actually are.


We are not creatures designed by a Grand Designer with the aim of fitting idealistic models of humanity.


We are creatures shaped by evolution