Taking apart the levels of Maslow’s pyramid

Methods of personal self-development

The motivational theory of satisfying people’s needs according to Maslow’s pyramid is widespread in everyday life, business and marketing. Developed more than half a century ago, it does not lose its relevance. Many modern models of promotion of goods and services are based on Maslow’s theory. It includes all of the basic human needs, arranged by levels.

The concept of the American psychologist was and remains universally recognized, but some contemporaries criticize the human needs pyramid. Why does Maslow’s theory have a place? How is it applied in practice? Why is it criticized? About this and much more in our article.

What is Maslow’s pyramid?

Needs are the main stimulus to action. It is the desire to fulfill them that motivates action. When any one of them is met, happiness is felt, but interest is also lost. This is only a general view. In the pyramid of needs of the majority of people there are exactly those goods, which create the maximum conditions for a comfortable life. People who understand the principles of its construction, it is much easier to achieve their goals.

Maslow’s pyramid gets its name from the fact that human needs are placed in a specific hierarchy from the most important to the least important. The author only described the theoretical part. Schematically it was depicted by his students. In all, there are two types of pyramids. One represents people’s needs at five levels, and the other at seven. The visualization of the one that has become classic is located below.

Maslow's pyramid
What is Maslow’s pyramid

In the generally accepted version, there are no such human needs as cognitive and aesthetic needs. In the extended version, they are on the fifth and sixth levels of the pyramid. A schematic representation is given below.

Maslows pyramid Theoretical
Theoretical framework

Goods are arranged from the least “low” to the “high. At the lower levels are those human needs without which it is impossible to exist at all. Above are those that are difficult to fulfill. Self-actualization, which crowns the top, as the American psychologist Abraham Maslow assured us, is a level that only 2% of people can reach. There have been no exact studies on this

Theoretical framework

The pyramid of needs is based on the work of the eminent psychologist, before whom almost no one had spoken about the importance of satisfying instincts and goods for improving the quality of life. Maslow based his theory on the fact that few people reach the peak of success. Based on this, he came to the conclusion that the human desire for self-realization and self-development begins only when the so-called “baser needs” are met. If this condition is not met, you cannot get to the top of the pyramid.

All people are driven by desires, but without some it is simply impossible to live. To meet basic needs, a person has to work. If the money received is enough only for food, some clothes and to pay the mortgage or rent, it will not be possible to move to the next step of the pyramid of needs or to reach the top.

In the hierarchy of needs, the first level is represented by physiological desires, and higher are the acquired desires. The essence of Maslow’s pyramid of needs is that everyone strives to become happier. To achieve this, it is necessary to reach a certain level of satisfaction and move up a step.

Advantages and disadvantages of the pyramid

Advantages and disadvantages of the pyramid 
Advantages and disadvantages of the pyramid

Abraham Maslow’s Pyramid of Human Needs only at first glance appears to be a perfect embodiment of people’s aspirations, but it has both merits and some flaws.

The main pluses are:

  • A simple explanation of the needs of any person at absolutely all levels, from the lowest to the highest.
  • A fundamental basis for the theory of motivation, which has become widespread not only in psychology, but also in other spheres of life.
  • A convenient application for introspection, which helps to put thoughts in order, to build a plan with structured goals.

Main minuses:

  • Abraham Maslow succeeded in describing these needs, but did not provide a tool for measuring the degree of satisfaction.
  • Positioning the pyramid as universal is misleading. It will not fit everyone.
  • Some points are considered somewhat outdated. In psychology and some other spheres, needs have a slightly different function, and the pyramid is used in a modified form.
  • Maslow’s theory does not explain how a fulfilled need can become a motivating factor again.
  • There is no explanation of extraordinary actions, that is, there is no prerequisite for the full disclosure of such a concept as motivation and personality. There is no consideration of the individual characteristics of people.

Abraham Maslow’s theory asserts that desires are embodied by people from the lowest to the highest levels. This creates some contradiction. At the first level are physiological needs, without which it is simply impossible to live. They are repetitive (cyclical). Thus, the pyramid should be used in a slightly different interpretation from the theory.

Pyramid steps

In practice, we almost never use Maslow’s seven-step pyramid. It is common to consider five levels that fully describe the benefits people require. They are placed one above the other. Let’s look at each level in more detail.

Pyramid steps
Pyramid steps

Physiological needs

In the first place are nature’s inherent benefits. These are physiological needs, inherent in absolutely every person and every living organism – hunger, thirst, natural needs. Without their satisfaction, man cannot exist. Hungry, thirsty or needing to go to the toilet, people simply cannot think about anything or engage in any activity.

People have a need for these needs from birth:


  • breathing;
  • sleep;
  • food;
  • health, and so on.

Man cannot resist these urges. These are the needs that occupy the minds of absolutely all living beings. If they are not met, it is not possible to move to higher levels. When people can’t buy enough food to eat, can’t get enough sleep because of work, and their health suffers, they are only able to act within this level. Other needs cannot be focused on.


On the second step of the pyramid, according to theory, is the need for security. It consists in the need to feel protected. A person experiences a desire to live in an apartment/home with minimal risk of burglary, fire, flood, and so on, and to have a job with a full set of social guarantees. For the sake of satisfying these needs according to Maslow, people are sold insurance policies and other means that provide an additional degree of security.

Love or belonging to something

There is always an acute craving for such needs as starting a family, making friends, and surrounding oneself with people of interest. Society is of great importance. If a person manages to find his place in it, it means that the need is satisfied. Disillusionment is clearly visible in people who have not achieved it.

The need for love, according to the theory, similar to other levels above the physiological, is considered acquired. Many consider this interpretation wrong. Such a need is inherent in a person since infancy, when he needs the love and care of his parents.

This level is often called social. The motivation for it is inherent in everyone. The theory gives it the third step. But, if we look at Maslow’s pyramid, the need for this level opens only when there is a full feeling of his own safety.

Respect and recognition

Humans are social creatures, but the need for recognition and respect is not the most urgent, if you look at the levels of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. This is explained by the theory of the hierarchy of required goods. As long as the other needs are not satisfied, this level is unattainable. If one is hungry, sleep-deprived, insecure and unloved, one cannot achieve recognition and respect.

Self-knowledge and realization

This level completes Maslow’s pyramid. There are no theories as to when it can be reached. The pioneering psychologist conducted his own calculations, according to which only some people (2% at the time of the theory’s creation) manage to reach it. The need for self-actualization is at the top of a seven-step pyramid, where it is preceded by aesthetic and cognitive benefits. Being at the peak of the pyramid is not the attainment of perfection. In people who have reached the top, flaws persist. This confirmation is given by the author of the theory himself in his research.

How is Maslow’s pyramid used?

The theory of the hierarchy of needs of any person is a powerful motivator. Personal development is impossible without the desire to receive benefits. Due to this principle the theory is used in various spheres.

In life

Maslow’s pyramid helps to understand life values and priorities. Actions and needs allow you to determine what level you are currently at. Following awareness and finding your level, it is advisable to analyze the current state of affairs and develop a plan of goals to meet immediate needs. When they are fully achieved, move on to making plans for the next step, and so on.

In marketing

The application of Maslow’s pyramid gives marketers the ability to study the needs of the target audience and offer exactly what they need.  Based on the theory, current desires are tracked and future desires are analyzed if at some point “saturation” occurs.

In business

The search for stability and satisfaction of daily needs leads to the desire to become successful at work, to achieve financial prosperity. It comes from the motivation to have food, clothes, a house/apartment, and so on. If you are self-employed, you should concentrate on your own needs.

How Maslow's pyramid is used
How Maslow’s pyramid is used

Managers who want to increase productivity should focus on the needs of their employees and potential business partners. If you understand exactly what the top people are lacking and give it to them, the workflow will go better, profits will grow, and so on.

What is the right way to meet needs?

The main thing is to clearly understand that a goal born of need can be achieved if several key conditions are met:

  • reality;
  • timing;
  • specificity;
  • lack of criticality.

After weighing one’s needs, one should clearly understand which ones are the priority at the moment. If one wants recognition, but does not have enough money for physiological needs, and the place of residence does not allow one to feel safe, one should first prioritize them.

Only when the benefits become sufficient to satisfy the current level, move on to a higher level, whose need at the current moment is real, feasible, concrete and without criticality for the paramount needs.

What happens when a need is violated?

Neglecting needs has negative consequences, which are not only a lack of satisfaction. If you stop sleeping the required number of hours for the sake of earning money, stick to a rigid diet to achieve the goal of becoming a successful model, put the desire for self-actualization above friends, relatives, and loved ones, the consequences will not be long in coming.

If you follow the theory, at least two of the lower levels should not be abandoned. It is good sleep, nutrition are the basis for maintaining human health, and the security of their own home and social benefits give confidence in the future. To jump to a higher degree, if the current needs remain not fully realized, it is impossible.

One must always relate to accomplishments. Comparing where you were before and where you are now, as well as the degree of satisfaction itself.

A Critique of the Theory

A criticism of the hierarchy of needs is the lack of consideration of age, personality traits and other individual characteristics. With the exception of the first two levels, people may not be uncomfortable with a lack of communication. Not everyone wants to draw attention to themselves and does not dream of being revered by others. In his research, the pioneering author looked at people who were successful from his point of view, who were healthy and incredibly active.

In later works he recognized the pyramid as unfinished, but this does not negate the fact that it perfectly describes the needs of the general mass of people in general. It can and should be used, but only with adjustments for personal qualities.

Video about Breaking Down Maslow’s Pyramid Levels


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Where is Maslow's pyramid used?