Theory of Human Motivation: What Maslow’s misses

If you are a psychology geek like me (okay, that is a lie), you will try your best to keep up to the psychology world as well, not only inside the classroom, but also outside. That’s why I started following Psychology Today on Twitter and on Facebook.

This morning after I woke up, brew some water in order to make hot chocolate milk (yum) on a gloomy morning, I scrolled through my Twitter updates and see this article: Social Network: What Maslow Misses.

If you don’t know who Maslow is, let me give you a brief background knowledge.

Maslow proposed the Theory of Human Motivation in 1943, which tells the hierarchy of the fundamental needs of humans. It is suggested that there are 5 human fundamental needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualisation. Plus, they are of increasing order. Here’s the diagram to illustrate the theory further:

And here’s the weird part: the article claims that what Maslow misses in this theory is that actually, it is indeed not hierarchical, but all the other four needs revolves around love and belonging (social need) as the centre. Here’s the illustration:

So what’s so weird about that?

I made a paper about this when I was in the first year university, second semester.

I thought it was logical, but the fact that this article is just published on the November 8, 2011 makes me… wondering.

Well, at the very least, it justifies two things: one, that I can amend one of the most influential theories in psychology (and that some PhD students are thinking the same thing), and two, that I actually thought of this before the article comes out (I have no idea if there’s another article somewhere that talks about this).

To make things sound ‘true’ (for the evidence that I’m not making this up), I’ll attach some paragraphs of my 2,000 words essay… I don’t know why I feel bothered to do this post, but I guess it’s just some ways to motivate and reassure myself that I can actually do psychology.

(Note that I was still a first year when this essay is submitted).

“Maslow (1943) introduces human fundamental needs in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”, which he classifies further into five categories: the physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation needs. Physiological needs refer to the literal requirements for human survival, such as breathing, food, water, sleep, and metabolic activities. Safety needs are categorised into the personal, health, or financial safety, providing humans with a sense of security. Furthermore, love and belonging refers to the interpersonal relationship, in which relationships with family, friends, lovers, and others are drawn, providing humans with a sense of acceptance and attachments. Esteem refers to the need to be respected and accepted by others and most importantly, the need of self-respect. People develop their esteem as they are recognised by others, gaining a certain level of social status and thus build their own self-respect. The last part is about the self-actualisation, in which an individual realises his or her potentials and becomes what that person is capable to become. This need is crucial to discover a person’s true interests and talents, or as Maslow (1943) puts it, “What a man can be, he must be” to gain the ultimate happiness in life (pg. 378). These human fundamental needs give humans a sense of living wholly and worthily, which are crucial to develop a high quality of life (Maslow, 1943). However, the other four needs: the physiological, safety, esteem, and self-actualisation needs, are significantly affected by the social needs of love and belonging. They revolve around the social needs as the core, as the absence of interpersonal relationship may drastically overcome the other fundamental needs.

The social needs are really vital and essential, as they provide humans with a sense of belonging. These social needs refer to the relationship with other people, in which a sense of belonging in family, friends, and other social groups are defined (Maslow, 1943). Human belongingness concept says that it is fundamental for human beings to develop a need to belong, forming long-lasting and significant interpersonal relationships (Baumeister and Leary, 1995). These interpersonal relationships will then affect humans’ ability to pursue their goals, do their activities, and cognitively think about their everyday life, thus influencing their quality of life (Baumeister and Leary, 1995). Furthermore, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) state that having social relationship is directly linked to happiness and positive life outcomes, affirming the need for humans to develop positive relationships with others even more. They also argue that interpersonal relationship is a major factor that will prevent people to think that life is meaningless, thus enabling them to be more productive and have a higher quality of life (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). In contrast, the lack of social relationship may cause anxiety, depression, as well as feelings of rejection, in which are greatly associated with crime and antisocial behaviour (Baumeister and Twenge, 2003). Supporting that statement, Leary and colleagues (2003) point out that at least 12 out of the 15 school shooting cases happened in the past decade are mainly caused of rejection from their peers, in which the shooters’ needs to belong are not met. The majority of students who conduct this crime are lonely, rejected, bullied, and mistreated with some kind of injustices among their social groups (Leary et al., 2003). Other than that, adolescent suicide attempts study also conveys that the two crucial factors affecting their behaviours are the relationships with their family and peers, in which the adolescents are unable to have an intimate relationship with their parents and excluded from their peers (Kidd et al., 2006). Recent studies have confirmed that the adolescents’ suicide risk elevates as the level of social isolation increases (Kidd et al., 2006). Thus, social needs are really vital in humans, as people who have good relationships with others are both mentally and physically healthier than the ones who have not, enabling them to maximise their potentials as individuals (Carvallo and Gabriel, 2006).

The other fundamental need is the physiological needs, which refer to the basic human needs in order to survive physically. In this case, the social needs are really vital for humans to reach their physiological needs, as social influence may cause people to neglect their needs to eat, drink, or even sleep. Hesse-Biber et al. (2006) confirm that social problems will result in eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. The feeling of rejection that mainly women have from their social groups cause them to overcome their fundamental physiological need to eat, as they are caught up with the image of thinness and perfect body shape in their socio-cultural group (Hesse-Biber et al., 2006). Furthermore, recent study also conveys that adolescents’ sleep cycle is heavily influenced by their social context, in which sleep deprivation that occurred associates with lower school performance (Louzada and Menna-Bareto, 2003; Shin et al., 2003). Thus, although these physiological needs are crucial, they nevertheless are heavily influenced by the social context, overcoming humans’ foremost and basic physical needs.

Furthermore, social relationship may also affect the safety needs, as people tend to neglect their health, personal, or even financial safety in order to belong in a particular group. Lewis et al. (1984) claim that children are more likely to take risk if confronted with peer pressure, as they willingly do problem behaviours such as drug and alcohol use, violence, stealing, and permissive sexuality that cause higher chance of premature death and disabilities in their adulthood lives. These behaviours are associated to health problems such as cancer, and may even risking them to go into jail as offences are done, discarding their health and personal safety needs. Simons-Morton et al. (2001) also affirm that adolescents are heavily influenced by their parents and problem-behaving friends upon their smoking and drinking behaviour, which directly associated to their health status. Moreover, Shaffor et al. (1994) state that adolescents are greatly affected by their social relationships to gamble heavily, which will gradually decline their sense of financial security. Hence, it is highlighted that humans may discard their health, personal, or financial safety in order to feel belong in their social groups.

Social needs also affect esteem in a crucial way, as it provides a more complete view of the self (Carvallo and Gabriel, 2009; Stets and Burke, 2000). Leary et al. (2009) also reinforce the point that fear of a lonely life may result in low self-esteem, in which causes individuals to focus on their failures and not success, increasing the likelihood of having less quality of life (Schlenker et al., 1990). In addition, Walker and Greene (1985) states that the quality of interpersonal relationship defines humans’ self-esteem, which is further confirmed by the high relation of adolescents’ self-esteem with their relationship with parents and peers. Adolescents’ attachments with their parents and their exposure to school popularity and performance heavily influence their sense of acceptance and respect, both socially and individually (Walker and Greene, 1985). Hence, esteem is crucially linked with social factors, as the environment develops an individual’s sense of social esteem, and at the same time develops the individual’s own self-esteem as well.

Moreover, social needs will also directly affect the self-actualisation of humans, as people who are accepted by others will see themselves positively and thus are further motivated in striving to be better, maximising their potentials (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Haslam and colleagues (2000) highlight that social relationship plays an important role to employee’s motivation to work, which results in a higher productivity rate of the employees. They argue that instead of pursuing achievements personally, employees are better motivated in group basis, thus reconfirms the point that self-actualisation is greatly influenced by social network (Haslam et al., 2000). Moreover, the study about how parenting style affects adolescents’ school performance also conveys the same thing, as negative parenting style with less bond formed between parents and children reflects to lower school performance, hindering children’s potentials (Dornbusch et al., 1987). These social influences may enhance or inhibit an individual’s ability to maximise one’s capable of becoming, which indeed affects the humans fundamental needs of self-actualisation (Maslow, 1943). Conclusively, by having good relationships with others and a secure sense of belonging, humans will feel more confident and accepted, therefore results in a high degree of self-actualisation, enabling them to be what they are capable of becoming.”

(some of the reference below is not used in the extract above, as it is the reference of the whole essay)

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Adults: A Test of Four-Category Model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61 (2), 226-244.

Baumeister, R. F., Catanese, K. R., & Twenge, J. M. (2003). Social Exclusion and the

Deconstructed State: Time Perception, Meaningless, Lethargy, Lack of Emotion, and Self-Awareness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85 (3), 409–423.

Baumeister, R. F. & Leary, M. R. (1995). The Need to Belong: Desire for

Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117 (3), 497-529.

Carvallo, M. & Gabriel, S. (2006). No Man Is an Island: The Need to Belong and

Dismissing Avoidant Attachment Style. Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 32 (5), 697-709.

Dombusch, S. M., Ritter, P. L., Leiderman, H., Roberts, D. F., & Fraleigh, M. J.

(1987). The relation of Parenting Style to Adolescent School Performance. The Society for Research in Child Development, 58, 1244-1257.

Haslam, S. A., Powell, C., & Turner, J. C. (2000). Social Identity, Self-categorization,

and Work Motivation: Rethinking the Contribution of the Group to Positive and Sustainable Organisational Outcomes, Applied Psychology: An International Review, 49 (3), 319-339.

Hesse-Biber, S., Leavy, P., Quinn, C. E., & Zoino, J. (2006). The mass marketing

disordered eating and Eating Disorders: The social psychology of women, thinness, and culture. Women’s Studies International Forum, 29, 208-224.

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Relationships and Activities with Mortality: Prospective Evidence From The Tecumseh Community Health Study. American Journal of Epidemology, 116 (1), 123-140.


Kidd, S., Henrich, C. C., Brookmeyer, K. A., Davidson, L., King, R. A., & Shahar,

G. (2006). The Social Context of Adolescent Suicide Attempts: Interactive Effects of Parent, Peer, and School Social Relations, Suicide and Life Threatening Behaviour. The American Association of Sucidology, 36 (4), 386-395.

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and Violence: Case Studies of the School Shootings. Wiley InterScience, 29, 202-214.

Lewis, C. E. & Lewis, M. A. (1984). Peer Pressure and Risk-Taking Behaviors in

Children. American Journal of Public Health, 74 (6), 580-584.

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Adolescence: Influences of Social Context. Biological Rhythm Research, 34 (2), 129-136.

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in Social Context: Effects of Self-Esteem and Social Pressure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,     58 (5), 855-863.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive Psychology: An

Introduction. American Psychologist, 55 (1), 5-14.

Shin, C., Kim, J., Lee, S., Ahn, Y., Joo, S. (2003). Sleep Habits, excessive daytime

sleepiness and school performance in high school students. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 57, 451-453.

Simons-Morton, B., Haynie, D. L., Crump, A. D., Eitel, P., & Saylor, K. E. (2001).

Peer and Parent Influences on Smoking and Drinking Among Early Adolescents, Health Education & Behavior, 28 (1), 95-107.

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Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 15 (4), 315-322.

copyright by Marcella Purnama, submitted on 17 September 2010


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