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Theory of Needs

Updated on June 3, 2009


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Theory of Needs

According to observations made by Abraham Maslow, a person tries to meet his or her own needs according to which need is greatest. Maslow cites hunger and thirst as examples. Normally, a person tries to satisfy thirst before hunger because the need to quench one's thirst tends to be greater than the need to satisfy one's hunger.'

Maslow classifies human needs into five, ranked accordingly: physiological, security, belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization. Maslow calls this the hierarchy of needs.

Physiological needs. These are a person's primary needs—air, water, food, and sleep. If these needs are not met, a person may feel pain and discontent. But if these needs have been met, he or she can satisfy his or her needs in the next level—security.

The need for security. This pertains to the need to feel safe in one's home and among one's family. If the need for security is not met, a person will experience fear and will not be able to pay due attention to other needs. An example for this need may be seen in a battered child. Aside from having fear, the child will keep longing for security that his or her parents failed to provide. Unless this need is met, the child will be unable to proceed to the next level of needs—belongingness.

The need to belong. This refers to the need to feel loved and accepted by friends, classmates, and other people or groups of people. The need to belong explains a person's desire to have a family, join a Church, or become part of a community. If this need for belongingness is not met, a person will experience sadness and anxiety and, once again, will not be able to satisfy the next level of needs—esteem.

The need for esteem. Maslow classifies this type of need into self-esteem and esteem from others. He considers the need to be esteemed by other people as the lower need of the two. This type refers to the need to be granted respect, to be deemed popular, to be valuable, and to be given sufficient attention.

On the other hand, Maslow considers the need for self-esteem as the more important of the two. To have self-esteem is to develop respect for oneself. When this need is met, a person achieves a good degree of freedom and confidence in oneself. If this need is not satisfied, a person develops poor self-respect and may lose self-confidence.

The need for self-actualization. To achieve self-actualization, a person must first satisfy the lower levels in the hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization refers to a person's desire to know oneself fully and to grow into a better person.

In this theory of needs, physiological needs are given the greatest importance because on them depends the very survival of human beings. Such needs are, thus, called primary or basic needs.            

According to Maslow's theory, the higher levels of a person's needs cannot be satisfied unless the lower levels of needs are met. This means that a person must first learn to sort his or her priorities in favor of basic needs to fulfill the more significant needs of the self.

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