Abraham Harold Maslow and His Theory

Biography of Abraham Maslow

Any person needs to have an aim to develop and move in the direction of progress, which is the basic idea presented by most psychologists. This idea seems quite sensible, but not everyone feels free to set this aim and begin to improve. Abraham Maslow was not the first to present his point of view on the topic of personal philosophy and mechanism of development.

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According to his holistic-dynamic theory, there is a specific hierarchy of needs that are connected and depend on each other. He presented the idea of 5 basic categories of needs: physiological needs, safety needs, belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs (Goud, 2008). One category could be changed to another only in the case if previous needs are satisfied. This theory is quite logical as it shows a possible course of action that could lead to the highest aim of a person, which is self-understanding and formation of the highest value.

Abraham Harold Maslow was born in 1908 in Brooklyn.  He was one of the oldest children of his parents, who were in fact badly-educated immigrants from Russia. His mother and father cared a lot about the future of their children; that is why they changed the place of living and tried hard to provide their children with good education. Abraham spent a lot of time studying and finally this made him lonely in his life. Books became the only thing he was interested in.

He was a good son and tried to please his parents, thus he was studying law at the City College of New York and later went on to the Cornell. Then he decided to continue his studying in New York. After graduating from university, he married his cousin, Berta Goodman, and that was the idea that his parents did not support at all. However, it is worth noticing that they succeeded in their life and had two daughters (Peterson, 2009).

After some period of time, Abraham with his wife went to Wisconsin, as he wanted to attend university there. This was his first chance to develop his knowledge in psychology. Also, this was the first stage in his scientific carrier, and, thus, he spent hours with books to achieve at least some positive result. At the time, he was also lucky to meet Harry Harlow, who was a significant figure in psychology, especially for his idea of attachment behavior.

He obtained degrees in the same university – the University of Wisconsin—and in the same specialty. Abraham got a PhD degree in 1934 in this university, but decided to come back to New York for his further scientific development. There he began to show interest in research of human nature, in particular, the sexuality of a person.


At the same time, he also practiced teaching at Brooklyn College. He widened his professional horizons and established contacts that were needed for his carrier; thus, this period was a significant part of his life. Then he met such people as Fromm, Horney, and others who formed his psychological view in the future. This was the period of self-organization and research in his life; he tried to realize his further development in the psychological area. He did a lot for science; for example, he wrote some scientific works that have had a very important impact on the practical aspect of the human development. He devoted his life to the psychology and specific features of the human development. His last years were spent in semi-retirement in California and his death was not a sudden event, as he had been ill for some years and died on June, 8, 1970 from a heart attack.

The Essence of the Holistic-Dynamic Theory Presented by Maslow

His first psychological practice dealt with monkeys and their behavior. However, during his research, Maslow noticed that some needs are more important than others. There was a specific hierarchy of needs which was based on the chain principle, which means that one comes from another (Miles, 2008). Only if one need is satisfied, another one begins to attract a person. There is some structure due to which both people and monkeys (as they were originally taken for this research) could live without food for a rather long period of time, while the lack of water could lead to death much earlier. These facts seem to be evident, but for years they were not organized into some scientific opinion. As it has been mentioned above, Maslow used to carry out some researches in the field of the human sexuality; that is why he also included the need for sex into the main human physiological priorities. Furthermore, he figured out that this type of physiological need stands lower than others, as a person could live without it; this is considered to be a type of specific natural benefit that brings joy only after all other physiological needs are satisfied (Rennie, 2008).

Below his hierarchy of needs is presented in Table 1. These needs are typical and they are considered common among all people.

Table 1 (Maslow, 1967)

Harold Maslow and His Theory

After analyzing the main human needs such as natural needs to eat, drink, have sex, and defend oneself, he built a structure that presented their hierarchy. Maslow divided these needs into several groups depending on the criteria that were taken for research: the physiological needs, the need for safety and security, the need for love and belonging, the need for esteem, and the need for actualization. These needs are presented in the same order as it was said before. This is the actual structure of physiological needs presented by Maslow and his holistic-dynamic theory. Now it is necessary to analyze every group of needs presented in this structure for a better understanding of the essence of this theory ( Hoffman, 2008).

Physiological needs. This group includes needs that are natural for people and are required to be satisfied for the survival and future life. Here we speak about needs for water, air, food, minerals, and vitamins that are required for a healthy development. Moreover, this group also includes the need to have a normal pH balance, which means that a person can die in case of having a wrong one. However, there is a range of other needs that are also connected with the physiological nature of people. Here we can also mention needs for regular activity, rest, normal and healthy sleep; sex is also included into this group of human needs.

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Safety and security needs.  After all the physiological needs mentioned above are satisfied, then another group of human needs appears. This means that every human needs to feel safe and protected. It is also a natural need that was of prior importance even in prehistoric society.

Nowadays this group of needs has broadened the range of issues it actually deals with. It is important to note that people are in the habit of thinking about their personal interests. However, first of all, any person takes care of having food and water, but these needs are impossible to satisfy and have less importance in case of the absence of security and a strong need in the protection from the environment. Furthermore, in the today’s reality we also understand security and safety in the meaning of social security and guarantees. In this case, it is worth mentioning work as a guarantee for every person of economic well-being and different types of insurance. All these aspects provide a person with a stable future and further development (Rice, 2012).

Love and belonging needs. After the previous physiological and security needs are satisfied, a person feels more secured and at this stage emotions begin to play a substantial role in their life. However, every human is a social being, therefore, everyone needs to interact with other people and feel part of society. Strong social relations provide stability and effective grounds for healthy society as the final result of such interaction. Friends and sweethearts are a source of positive emotions and attitudes to the environment. Everyone needs to feel important and be somebody’s source of happiness.

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It is natural for every human to consider the most important values in life to be family, friends, and their nearest and dearest. People need to interact with society and be active in this process. Today the success of a person depends much on their social status and position in society.

 Esteem needs. The next stage in the hierarchal structure can be presented as esteem needs. Maslow divided them into two separate categories, which he described as lower and higher esteem needs. In the first category, he used to include such needs as the need for respect, glory, recognition, fame, and reputation. The other category includes self-respect, independence, and confidence. The first group considers presenting a more egocentric attitude than the other one. That is why higher esteem needs show the real development of a personality in the attitude to themselves and people around them. One should mention the real importance of higher esteem needs; thus, once people get self-respect, it is rather difficult to lose it. Moreover, nobody is able to make you forget about dignity; thus this is an inner feeling (Greening, 2008).

There are some data in different types of scientific works that show that Maslow considered this hierarchy of needs as the deficit needs. In other words, if you do not have enough of what you feel a strong need for, you will try to correct this and not feel such a need anymore, as it makes you feel discomfort (Wilson, 1972).


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Maslow developed his theory as an instinctive aspect of the human development and included into it needs that are natural and considered to be common for every representative of society. His view was focused on separate stages of the needs that are logically connected to each another; moreover, a previous need has a strong impact on the next one. This theory was based on the research that analyzes human behavior in different time periods and different conditions of life. However, these basic needs were the same one thousand years ago. The human nature does not change; people may want to have more power, money, influence, but in their life, they are directed to act instinctively to satisfy their natural needs first of all. This is the reason why people are willing to develop the industrial and economic spheres of life; this will contribute to people’s safety and well-being (Sommers & Satel, 2006).

This also shows that if people live under certain negative or stressful conditions, they may come back to the lower stage of this hierarchy of needs. Of course, the main aim of the development is to make progress, but sometimes there are some negative aspects that are impossible to avoid. This process of regression shows that a person may face again, for example, problems associated with protection and secure. For instance, in times of economic crisis, the risk of losing social security and main economic guarantees increases. For this reason, people may feel unsafe again and concentrate their efforts on the previous stage again. In reality, such a situation is considered to be a normal, natural one. Our life is dynamic, which means that everything changes. No one promises changes only for the better, as problems are an inseparable part of life and they form our personality even better than some of the benefits presented above. The most important thing one should keep in mind is that there is nothing impossible and after coping with safety problems, a person should return to the previous stage. Only in this case it would be possible to say that this individual develops and gets through all the stages of needs, as according to Maslow’s theory, everyone should satisfy each group of needs presented in his theory during their life.

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Self-actualization needs. This is the last level of needs in the hierarchy that Maslow presented. It is different from previous ones and more oriented towards the social part of human life than the natural one. Maslow also called this level as the period of growth motivation. He described this stage as the period of self-organization and most productive development. This is the time when all previous needs are already satisfied and the person can think about the growth of their potential, identify their talents and develop them; this is the time to feel one’s strengths that are above natural needs that are instinctive. This is the other side of the human nature. At this level, people think about some higher aims in life and their own place in society. Moreover, it is possible to say that if someone gets to this stage of needs, it means that this person has achieved success in life and found stability. In addition, it means that now this person does not want to be limited by stability and needs to continue the development of intellectual and moral aspects. Previous needs belong to the type of needs that have been common among people from ancient times, but the stage of self-actualization underlines the importance of human personality.


The understanding of the theory presented by Maslow gives an idea that every person should try to gain more success in satisfying their personal needs. Thus, at the top of this hierarchy, one will be able to find a way to organize themselves and move in the direction of moral and intellectual growth. Therefore, to go further in this chain of needs, one should complete previous levels. It is necessary to determine priorities and move in the way that would give benefits, either physical or spiritual. This makes sense, as to create themselves, a person needs to fight with the problems they face and learn only positive lessons from them. This will bring efficient results (Carlson, 2007). That is not an easy thing to do, but a more difficult aim one sets, more success one is likely to achieve. This is an evident fact that has been proved by centuries.


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