Updates in This Seminal Concept in Understanding Human Motivation

Updates in This Seminal Concept in Understanding Human Motivation

Hierarchy of Needs: Understanding Maslow’s Theory for Personal Development and Updated Research

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one of the most influential theories in human psychology, has been a foundational guide for decades in addressing our quest for wellbeing. However, the rapid evolution of society, technology, and our understanding of human psychology calls for a fresh examination of this timeless framework.

To provide a nuanced understanding of human needs in the 21st century, it is helpful to both revisit and revitalize Maslow’s hierarchy by integrating contemporary research and practical insights. This will enable professionals working with clients to provide the best possible support and guidance for their wellbeing.

The Origin of the Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a well-known concept in the behavioral sciences that explains human motivation. Maslow’s theory is based on the idea that human motivations arise from inherent and universal human traits. Maslow developed his theory during the Second World War, a time of global upheaval and change, when the world was grappling with immense loss, trauma, and transformation.

Maslow’s theory comprises of five levels, which he referred to as the hierarchy of needs. The original pyramid includes physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization. Physiological needs are basic requirements for survival, such as food, water, shelter, and sleep. Safety needs include security of body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health, and property. Love and belonging needs include friendship, family, intimacy, and a sense of connection. Esteem needs include respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, and freedom. Self-actualization is the desire to become the best that one can be.

It is important to note that Maslow did not actually create the iconic pyramid that is frequently associated with his hierarchy of needs. Despite this, Maslow’s theory has profoundly influenced the behavioral sciences and has become a seminal concept in understanding human motivation.

Criticisms of the Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been subject to criticism for several limitations. This section discusses three key criticisms that have been identified by scholars and practitioners.

1. Needs are dynamic

Critics argue that the original hierarchy does not accurately depict human motivation as dynamic and continuously influenced by the interplay between our inner drives and the external world. Maslow’s early work suggested that one must fulfill lower levels in order to reach ultimate self-actualization. However, human needs are not always linear nor hierarchical. People might experience and pursue multiple needs simultaneously or in a different order than the hierarchy suggests. Personal motives and environmental factors constantly interact, shaping how individuals respond to their surroundings based on their past experiences.

2. Cultural bias

One of the primary criticisms is the cultural bias inherent in Maslow’s original model. While many human needs can be shared among cultures, different cultures may prioritize certain needs or goals over others. It’s often argued that Maslow’s emphasis on self-actualization reflects a distinctly Western, individualistic perspective, which may not resonate with or accurately represent the motivational structures in more collectivist societies where community and social connectedness are prioritized.

3. Empirical grounding

The hierarchy has also faced scrutiny for its lack of empirical grounding. Some suggest that there isn’t sufficient research to support the strict ordering of needs. In practice, this limitation can be addressed by viewing the hierarchy as a descriptive framework rather than a prescriptive one.

Overall, understanding these critiques and integrating responses to them is vital for therapists aiming to apply the hierarchy in a modernized way in their practice. While the hierarchy remains a useful tool for understanding human motivation, it is important to acknowledge its limitations and adapt it to fit the diverse needs of individuals and cultures.

Bringing the Hierarchy of Needs to the 21st Century

In order to ensure the continued relevance and usefulness of the hierarchy of needs in understanding human motivation, it is important to modernize the model and align it with the complexities of the 21st century. This can be achieved by integrating the latest psychological research, cultural studies, and technological advancements.

The modernization of the hierarchy allows for a more nuanced understanding of contemporary challenges and lifestyle changes, such as the impact of the digital revolution on social connections and the reshaping of identity and belonging through global multicultural interactions.

By adapting and expanding the hierarchy, mental health professionals can better equip themselves to address the complex needs of individuals in a rapidly changing world. This culturally sensitive tool provides a more accurate reflection of diverse human experiences, allowing therapists to guide their clients toward fulfillment and wellbeing in the context of modern life’s unique challenges and opportunities.

Physiological Needs

In the 21st century, meeting physiological needs goes beyond mere survival. Clients must consider the quality and nutritional value of food, the importance of sleep quality, and modern challenges like sedentary lifestyles. Mental health professionals must address modern habits and conveniences that may be hindering their fulfillment.

1. Nutrition and Health

Encouraging clients to consume balanced diets rich in essential nutrients can significantly affect their psychological wellbeing. Advances in nutrition science provide a better understanding of how different foods can affect mood, energy levels, and overall mental health. A balanced diet includes carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. By consuming a variety of foods, clients can ensure they meet their nutritional needs.

2. Sleep

The advent of technology and the 24-hour work cycle pose new challenges to natural sleep patterns. Educating clients about sleep hygiene and strategies to enhance quality sleep is crucial in our sleep-deprived society. Strategies to enhance sleep quality include establishing a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and engaging in relaxation techniques.

3. Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is vital for not only physical health, but also mental wellbeing, impacting mood, stress levels, and even cognitive function. The modern sedentary lifestyle is a significant departure from the physically active lives of our ancestors. Encouraging clients to engage in regular physical activity can be as simple as taking a daily walk, practicing yoga, or participating in a sport.

Safety Needs

Ensuring safety is a critical aspect of providing comprehensive care. Today’s safety needs have expanded beyond physical safety to include financial security, health and wellness, and digital safety. Understanding the impact of these aspects on an individual’s sense of safety is crucial for mental health professionals.

1. Financial Security

In today’s uncertain economic climate, concerns over job security, healthcare, and retirement can significantly affect an individual’s mental health. Mental health professionals must acknowledge and address these fears to help ease clients’ anxiety and improve their overall wellbeing.

Financial security can be achieved by creating a budget, saving for emergencies, and investing in a retirement plan. Mental health professionals can help their clients by providing resources and guidance on financial planning and management.

2. Health and Wellness

The global health landscape has undergone significant changes in recent decades, with shifts in food security, conflicts, water access, and pandemics reshaping societal norms and medical practices. Mental health professionals must stay up-to-date with these changes to provide effective care.

Mental health professionals must also address the growing awareness of mental health issues, environmental health movements, and rapid medical innovations. This has led to new cultural and healthcare paradigms worldwide. Mental health professionals must incorporate these changes into their practice to provide comprehensive care.

3. Digital Safety

The rise of the digital age has brought about new safety concerns, including privacy, data security, identity theft, fraud, and online harassment. Mental health professionals must understand the psychological impact of these issues to provide effective therapy.

Mental health professionals can help their clients by educating them on safe online practices, such as using strong passwords, avoiding phishing scams, and being cautious when sharing personal information online. Additionally, mental health professionals must be aware of the potential for online harassment and provide support to their clients who have experienced it.

In conclusion, mental health professionals must understand and address the expanded safety needs of their clients, including financial security, health and wellness, and digital safety. By providing comprehensive care, mental health professionals can help their clients achieve a sense of safety and wellbeing.

Need for Belonging

In today’s fast-paced world, the need for love and belonging is as crucial as ever. Humans are social beings, and the ways in which we form and maintain relationships have drastically changed. This section will explore the importance of social connections, family dynamics, and romantic relationships in contemporary therapy.

1. Social Connections

The digital age has revolutionized the way clients build and maintain relationships. Online communities can provide valuable support, but they can also lead to feelings of isolation and comparison. Therapists must explore how clients navigate the complexities of social media and online communities to foster meaningful connections and combat social isolation.

2. Family Dynamics

The concept of family has evolved, and with it, the dynamics within. Diverse family structures have a significant impact on an individual’s sense of belonging. It is crucial for therapists to understand and acknowledge the diversity of family structures to provide effective therapy.

3. Romantic Relationships

The world of dating and marriage has undergone significant changes, and discussions about intimacy, trust, and commitment are nuanced by the vast array of experiences and expectations in today’s society. Therapists must help clients navigate the complexities of modern romantic relationships to foster healthy and fulfilling connections. There are 7 types of love, romantic being eros.

The Need for Esteem

Esteem needs have become increasingly complex in a world where external validation is easily accessible through social media. The desire for recognition must be balanced with the need for authentic self-esteem. Here are three critical challenges to consider:

1. Self-esteem and Social Media

Social media has a significant impact on self-esteem and self-image. It is essential to help individuals navigate the pressures of online personas and find genuine self-worth. Some strategies include:

  • Encouraging self-reflection and self-compassion
  • Limiting social media use
  • Challenging negative self-talk and comparing oneself to others
  • Focusing on personal growth and values, rather than external validation

2. Achievement and Recognition

In a highly competitive world, the drive for achievement can lead to burnout and a sense of inadequacy. Encouraging healthy ambition while fostering a sense of internal validation is key. Some strategies include:

  • Setting realistic goals and celebrating progress
  • Encouraging self-care and work-life balance
  • Recognizing and celebrating personal strengths and accomplishments
  • Fostering a growth mindset and embracing challenges as opportunities for growth

3. Respect and Freedom

Respect and personal freedom are critical needs that interact with societal structures and personal relationships. It is vital to understand how these needs interact and support healthy self-esteem. Some strategies include:

  • Setting healthy boundaries and advocating for oneself
  • Building supportive relationships and communities
  • Challenging societal norms and expectations that may limit personal freedom and respect
  • Embracing diversity and promoting inclusivity in all aspects of life

Overall, fostering healthy self-esteem requires a balance between external validation and internal validation. By addressing these critical challenges, individuals can cultivate a sense of authentic self-worth and resilience in the face of societal pressures.


Self-actualization, the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is a continuous journey of growth, learning, and adaptation. Encouraging clients to pursue their true potential involves understanding the unique challenges and opportunities of the modern world.

1. Lifelong Learning

In the fast-paced world of today, an attitude of lifelong learning is essential. Encouraging this mindset can help clients adapt and thrive in an ever-changing environment. To facilitate this, therapists can encourage clients to take courses, attend workshops, or read books that align with their interests and goals.

2. Creativity and Fulfillment

Exploring avenues for creative expression and personal fulfillment is vital for self-actualization. As therapists, facilitating these explorations can lead to profound growth and satisfaction. Clients can be encouraged to engage in activities such as painting, writing, or music, or to pursue a hobby that brings them joy.

3. Meaning and Purpose

In an increasingly complex world, finding meaning and purpose can be challenging. Helping clients explore what truly matters to them can guide them toward self-actualization. Therapists can encourage clients to reflect on their values, beliefs, and goals, and to identify activities or pursuits that align with their sense of purpose. This can help clients find a greater sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in their lives.


Self-transcendence is a level introduced by Maslow in his later work that goes beyond self-actualization. It involves shifting focus from oneself to higher goals and purposes, fostering deep connections with others, nature, or the cosmos, often through spiritual experiences or a sense of unity with a larger whole. This level of self-transcendence involves contributing to causes greater than personal interests, like altruism, spirituality, or dedicated causes.

Modern therapy recognizes self-transcendence as a valuable tool for helping clients discover deeper life meanings and satisfaction. Therapists encourage clients to engage in activities beyond personal gain, such as community service or environmental stewardship, and facilitate discussions on legacy and the impact on the broader world.

Embracing self-transcendence in therapy can significantly aid personal growth, especially during significant life changes, and contribute to a more empathetic and interconnected society. This focus on self-transcendence aids clients in navigating life’s challenges, enhancing resilience, and offering a perspective shift from inward to outward, leading to greater peace, interconnectedness, and a sense of purpose.

Self-transcendence has a fascinating and significant link to the concept of post-traumatic growth (PTG). PTG refers to the positive psychological change experienced because of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances and often severe trauma. This growth isn’t about returning to the same life as it was, but instead involves undergoing profound transformations in thinking and relating to the world, often leading to a new appreciation of life, a felt sense of personal strength, and a redefined understanding of priorities and relationships.

In conclusion, self-transcendence is a powerful tool for personal growth and societal interconnectedness. By shifting focus from personal interests to higher goals and purposes, individuals can find deeper meaning and satisfaction in life. Embracing self-transcendence in therapy can aid in navigating life’s challenges and enhance resilience, leading to a more empathetic and interconnected society.

Additional Levels and Needs

1. Creativity and Evolution

According to Kenrick et al. (2010), the traditional Maslow’s pyramid of needs should be updated to include contemporary elements that better illustrate how basic human motives interact with the immediate challenges and prospects of our environment. Scholars propose that while self-actualization is significant, it doesn’t represent a fundamental evolutionary need. Instead, many behaviors categorized as self-actualizing, such as artistic creativity, align more closely with deep-rooted biological drives aimed at enhancing status, building close relationships, and thereby improving chances of being selected for an intimate partnership.

It is important to note that these researchers are not suggesting that artists or poets are consciously focused on enhancing their reproductive success when they engage in their creative work. Instead, they are adding to the benefits of creative work, noting that inspirational activities may also be subconsciously driven by underlying evolutionary strategies, even if they manifest in culturally sophisticated and seemingly distinct pursuits.

The desire to reproduce is seen as the primary motivator not only for sexual activities, but also for many positive aspects of human behavior (Griskevicius et al., 2006). This includes the creation of music and poetry, engagement in charitable activities, and efforts to enhance the world for future generations.

2. Relationships and Mating

Kenrick et al. (2010) suggest that the hierarchy of needs should be updated to include aspects fundamental to human evolution and societal continuity: mate acquisition, mate retention, and parenting. Human beings invest significant effort into extended courtship periods, which typically entail more time spent in nonsexual activities than in sexual ones, regardless of attractiveness. After the initial courtship phase, considerable energy is spent in nurturing a relationship and raising offspring.

Mate acquisition — attracting and choosing a partner — is a significant aspect of human behavior and can be seen as a prerequisite for the family structure and societal development. Recognizing mate acquisition as a fundamental human need acknowledges the depth of social, emotional, and intellectual resources individuals invest in finding a partner.

Mate retention involves the strategies and behaviors individuals employ to maintain their relationships. It’s not just about sustaining a romantic partnership, but ensuring the quality and stability of the relationship, which impacts psychological wellbeing and social harmony. Incorporating mate retention into the hierarchy underscores the importance of relationship maintenance as a continuous need, driving behaviors from conflict resolution and mutual growth to the expression of love and commitment. It acknowledges that lasting partnerships contribute significantly to individual fulfillment and social stability.

Finally, parenting is proposed as a fundamental need, reflecting the innate drive to nurture and raise offspring. This stage goes beyond the biological act of procreation, encompassing the emotional, cognitive, and social aspects of raising children. By recognizing parenting as a fundamental need, the updated hierarchy highlights the role of child rearing in personal development, the continuation of cultural and ethical values, and the long-term wellbeing of communities.

3. Self-Transcendence and Future Generations

Transpersonal psychology has a deep and intrinsic relationship with the concept of what Maslow would call “self-transcendence.” At the core of transpersonal psychology is the exploration of consciousness and the potential for individuals to transcend beyond the limits of their personal identity and ego (Akyalcin et al., 2008).

Achieving self-transcendence can have profound implications for parenting and nurturing future generations. When individuals overcome trauma and reach a state of self-transcendence, they often develop a deeper sense of empathy, resilience, and a desire to contribute positively to the lives of others (Collier, 2016).

As parents embody and impart the values associated with self-transcendence — such as altruism, compassion, and a commitment to the greater good — they lay the groundwork for a more empathetic and conscientious next generation. These children are more likely to grow into adults who value and contribute to their communities and the world at large. In this way, the ripple effects of post-traumatic growth and self-transcendence can extend far beyond the individual, influencing families and communities for generations to come, creating a legacy of strength, understanding, and connectedness that is invaluable to societal progress and wellbeing.

A Take-Home Message

Abraham Maslow’s original hierarchy of human needs has profoundly influenced the behavioral sciences, becoming a seminal concept in understanding human motivation. However, over time, there have been revisions and expansions to his initial theory. Let’s explore these changes:

Additional Levels and Needs:

  • Maslow’s original hierarchy included five levels:
    1. Physiological needs: Basic requirements for survival (food, water, shelter, sleep).
    2. Safety needs: Security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health, and property.
    3. Love and belonging needs: Friendship, family, intimacy, and a sense of connection.
    4. Esteem needs: Respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, and freedom.
    5. Self-actualization: The desire to become the best one can be.
  • However, Maslow later proposed that three more levels could be added:
    • Cognitive needs: Intellectual curiosity, exploration, and learning.
    • Aesthetic needs: Appreciation of beauty, art, and creativity.
    • Transcendence needs: Experiences beyond the self, such as mystical, aesthetic, or sexual experiences¹.

Contemporary Relevance:

  • The rapid evolution of society, technology, and our understanding of human psychology calls for a fresh examination of this timeless framework.
  • Integrating contemporary research and practical insights provides a nuanced understanding of human needs in the 21st century

The updated recommendations and considerations for Maslow’s hierarchy of needs reflect a deeper understanding of human behavior and the complexities of modern life. Mental health professionals aim to guide clients towards a fulfilling and psychologically healthy life. By revisiting and revitalizing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with a modern lens, they can better understand and address the complex, dynamic nature of human motivation and wellbeing.

To apply Maslow’s enduring insights in a way that meets the challenges of the 21st century, mental health professionals integrate updated research and maintain a flexible, culturally sensitive approach. Embracing the complexity of human needs is crucial to continue the journey towards more effective and compassionate care.


In conclusion, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a valuable framework for understanding human motivation and wellbeing. By applying updated research and maintaining a flexible approach, mental health professionals can help clients navigate the complexities of modern life and achieve a fulfilling and psychologically healthy life.

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Created by Martin Hamilton