Deficiency-Growth Theory: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow’s perspective on motivation, deficiency-growth needs theory, has both similarities to, and differences from, instinct and drive theory. Like the originators of those theories, Maslow proposes that people are born with innate needs that they strive to satisfy. However, in contrast to Freud and Hull, Maslow (1943, 1970) believes that the ultimate direction of this energy is not simply the satisfaction of biological needs or tension reduction but a striving for self-actualization. Consequently, his theory accentuates the positive, intellectual, uplifting (not simply hedonistic) side of human beings. For Maslow, innate forces and an innate hierarchy of needs (both deficiency needs and growth needs) give human behavior its distinctive energy and direction. The figure below illustrates Maslow’s hierarchy of growth and deficiency needs, which range from primitive physiological requirements to complex aesthetic and cognitive needs, which Maslow calls self-actualization.

Figure 6.4.1. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model.

Basic needs are those of physiological and safety needs. These needs are our more primitive and instinctual needs for survival. Physicological needs include our needs for food, water, shelter, breathing, and sleep; those functions and requirements to keep us alive. At the safety needs level, we are concerned about avoiding harm and keeping safe. This may include physical harm to our body, but may also include psychological safety.

Our psychological needs include belongingness and love needs, and esteem needs. These needs relate to having meaning and purpose to our lives, making life worth living. Belongingness and love needs relate to our need to feel like we are an accepted member of social groups. These groups might include family, friends, work, or other social connections. Esteem needs include our needs for achievement, learning, industry, and status. These things contribute to the development of identity and self-esteem.

The pinnacle of the hierarchy is self-actualization. Self-actualization is a brief time in which all needs have been fulfilled and we are able to reach our potential. Not all individuals are able to reach self-actualization due to lower-level needs all needing to be fulfilled first. Those that do reach self-actualization will not remain there long as, eventually, lower level needs will arise.

Video 6.4.1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains Maslow’s theory and the different needs at each level.