Abraham Maslow, in his influential paper of 1943, ‘A theory of human motivation’ proposed a motivational theory of human beings. This theory  stated that humans were motivated by needs, or urges to satisfy a biological or social drive.

These needs are arranged in a hierarchy with the lowest being basic physiological needs to the the highest being self actualization.


Self actualization is the highest state and refers to the fulfillment of humankind’s potential.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs easily became popular in the 1960s and 1970s due to it’s simple approach for explaining a wide range of causes of motivation. However, this theory fell short after many attempts to apply it in the real world.

After all people like Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allen Poe both suffering from bipolar mood disorder which causes periods of severe depression and insecurity should have been focused on need for safety and need for love and belonging. Instead they realized their potential and are responsible for the most memorable deeds and works in history.

So Why?

Where did Abraham Maslow go wrong?

Maslow developed his theory based on his own personal observations of people rather than any empirically gathered observations or research[Ciccarelli & Meyer (2006)Psychology ,Pearson Education] and not on experimental testing.

The thing is, perception of each need may differ from person to person, hence some people may not perceive safety or food as important as their self esteem or the need to realize their fullest potential. Also as each individual has a different perception their very perception of what self actualization is also different. So for one man, seeing respect in the eyes of his father could be his self actualization whereas for another man getting love and acceptance from the society could be his self actualization.

Hence, I conclude that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs should be considered as a prototype for many other theories that paved the way for many more dynamic motivational theories.