Purpose of the page.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Abraham Maslow created his famous "Hierarchy of Needs" theory in his article titled Theory of Human Motivation in 1943. The basic concept of Maslow's Hierarchy is that people are motivated to satisfy needs. He outlines four basic needs: "physiological, safety, love, 'esteem, and self-actualization". These needs exist in a hierarchy where, at the lowest level, people are motivated to satisfy physiological needs and, at the highest level, people are motivated by self-actualization. He contends that people must first satisfy lower level needs before moving up the hierarchy and satisfying higher level needs. Maslow suggests that we are motivated "by the desire to achieve or maintain the various conditions upon which these basic satisfactions rest". The most common depiction of Maslow's Hierarchy is in the form of a pyramid like the one illustrated below:
Types of Needs [1]

At the bottom of the pyramid are what Maslow called deficiency needs including:
  • Pysiological Needs: basic needs that are vital to survival, such as the need for water, air, food and sleep.
  • Safetey Needs: safety and security.
  • Social Needs: needs for belonging, love and affection.

At the top of the pyramid are growth needs including:
  • Internal and External Esteem Needs: need for things that reflect on self-esteem, personal worth, social recognition and accomplishment.
  • Self-Actualization Needs: concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others and interested fulfilling their potential.

Maslow is an important theory in the psychology of motivation because much of the subsequent work on developing motivational theory is built on Maslow's theories. However, the theory is not without its criticisms. First, there "is little evidence to support the hierarchical aspect"[2] Secondly, evidence suggests that more than one need can be in play at the same time.

ERG Theory

Clayton Alderfer added to Maslow's work in his 1969 article "An Empirical Test of a New Theory of Human Need". He attempted to address some of the shortcomings of Maslow's theory and align it more with emperical evidence and research. First he grouped Maslow's needs into just three categories: Existence, Relatedness, and Growth. Second, he suggested that more than one need may be motivating behaviour at one time and that the hierarchy may be different for different people. Finally, he added the notions of progressoin and regression. Alderfer suggested "that if a higher-order need is frustrated, an individual may regress to increase the satisfaction of a lower-order need which appears easier to satisfy" .
Types of Needs [3]

Alderfer classifies needs into three categories, also ordered hierarchically:
  • Growth Needs: (development of competence and realization of potential)
  • Relatedness Needs: (satisfactory relations with others)
  • Existence Needs: (physical well-being)

Classroom Application

Maslow's Hierarchy

Maslow's Hierarchy can be applied in classroom in several ways. First, understanding that students in the class may be motivated by a number of different types of needs is important. This suggests that one type of motivational strategy will not likely work for all students. For example, Steere suggests that "a hungry child will not be motivated toward learning long division because his or her mind focused on food"[4] Following the theory, students will first need to satisfy the lower level needs of safety, social, and internal esteem, before they can be truely motivated to learn. It is then the role of the instructor to provide an environment that students are able to achieve these needs for them to be motivated to grow and learn in the classroom.

ERG Theory

The most important outcome from ERG theory for the classroom is the need to understand that each student is motivated to satisfy several needs at the same time. Classroom management techniques that focus only on one need will not be successful. The frustration regression principal suggests that if students are not provided with sufficient opportunities for growth in the classroom they may regress to increase satisfaction in relatedness needs, such as socializing with classmates.


A Theory of Human Motivation
Maslow's Hierarchy
Hierarchy of Needs
ERG Theory
Alderfer's ERG Theory

  1. ^ Cherry, K. (n.d.). Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved 04 12, 2011, from About.com Psychology: http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/hierarchyneeds.htm
  2. ^ NetMBA.com. (2002). Maslow's Hierarchy. Retrieved 04 11, 2011, from NetMBA.com: http://www.netmba.com/mgmt/ob/motivation/maslow/
  3. ^ Motivation Centre. (2006, 03). Alderfer's ERG theory. Retrieved 04 12, 2011, from Motivation Peak: http://motivationcentre.blogspot.com/2006/03/alderfers-erg-theory.html
  4. ^ Steere, B. F. (1988). Becoming an Effictive Classroom Manager. In B. F. Steere, Becoming an Effictive Classroom Manager (pp. 21-23). Albany: State University of New York Press.