Some practical reflections:


Hierarchy of Needs: what to start with?


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper   ”A Theory of Human Motivation”. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans’ innate curiosity. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, all of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans.

Each of us is motivated by needs. Our most basic needs are inborn, having evolved over tens of thousands of years. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs helps to explain how these needs motivate us all.

The Hierarchy of Needs states, that we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the first, which deals with the most obvious needs for survival itself.

Only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied are we concerned with the higher order needs of influence and personal development.

Conversely, if the things that satisfy our lower order needs are swept away, we are no longer concerned about the maintenance of our higher order needs.

1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.

3. Belongingness and Love needs – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.

4. Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.

5. Self-Actualization needs – realising personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

This is the definitive and original Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.


 the hierarchy has been criticized, as the major extensive researches, based on Maslow’s theory, revealed little evidence for the ranking of needs Maslow described, or even for the existence of a definite hierarchy at all.

 Chilean economist and philosopher Manfred Max-Neef has argued fundamental human needs are non-hierarchical, and are ontologically universal and invariant in nature. Apart of the condition of being human, poverty, he argues, may result from any one of these needs being frustrated, denied or unfulfilled.

 The order in which the hierarchy is arranged (with self-actualization as the highest order need) has been criticised as being ethnocentric by Geert Hofstede.

Hofstede’s criticism of Maslow’s pyramid as ethnocentric may stem from the fact that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs neglects to illustrate and expand upon the difference between the social and intellectual needs of those raised in individualistic societies and those raised in collectivist societies. Maslow created his hierarchy of needs from an individualistic perspective, being that he was from the United States, a highly individualistic nation.

The needs and drives of those in individualistic societies tend to be more self-centred than those in collectivist societies, focusing on improvement of the self, with self-actualization being the apex of self-improvement. Since the hierarchy was written from the perspective of an individualist, the order of needs in the hierarchy with self actualization at the top is not representative of the needs of those in collectivist cultures. In collectivist societies, the needs of acceptance and community will outweigh the needs for freedom and individuality.

Maslow’s hierarchy has also been criticized as being individualistic because of the position and value of sex on the pyramid. Maslow’s pyramid puts sex on the bottom rung of physiological needs, along with breathing and food. It views sex from an individualistic and not collectivist perspective: i.e., as an individualistic physiological need that must be satisfied before one moves on to higher pursuits. This view of sex neglects the emotional, familial and evolutionary implications of sex within the community.

The hierarchy has been also criticized because of the obvious exceptions to the unidirectional nature of the sets of needs (the idea of prepotency).

For example, some individuals in concentration camps who were deprived of almost all of the lower needs were still pursuing truth, beauty, creativity, and morality. Individuals who go on hunger strikes deprive themselves of physiological needs in order to achieve higher needs.

In addition, there has been no systematic empirical support for prepotency.

Although there is no denying that humans are motivated by all of the needs he listed in the hierarchy (there is empirical support for this), one need not be satisfied within a lower need before moving on to being motivated by the next.




Can a truly good person turn evil?

“The line between good and evil lies at the centre of every human heart.”

The core claim is that if you put good people in a bad situation, bad things will happen.

It is the power of social situation rather than dispositions of people, that leads to evil behaviour.

Normal, healthy people, start to behave according to the social roles assigned to them

Although many people do underestimate the power of situations in driving behaviour, more recent evidence shows that individual differences matter far more than we thought.

Professor Philip Zimbardo set out to discover how people behave if they were put into position of authority with unimpeded power.

His Stanford prison experiment revealed how social roles can influence our behaviour.


“ Our study.. reveals the power of social forces to make good men engage in evil deeds.”

The experiment was conducted in 1972. It was  a landmark psychological study of the human response to captivity, in particular, to the real-world circumstances of prison life. Zimbardo randomly assigned participants to play the roles of prisoners and prison guards.

Participants were not the psychologically unstable people, but ordinary college students, who displayed no signs of emotional disturbance or psychopathology.

One Sunday morning the prisoners were arrested at their homes. They were booked at a real police station and then transferred to the psychology department of Stanford University, which had been converted into a mock prison. The prisoners were, stripped, searched, deloused and forced to wear prison garments, they were addressed only by their given numbers, each had a chain around one ankle, to serve as reminder of their lack of freedom

Those assigned to play the role of guards were given sticks and sunglasses (to make eye contact impossible), carried keys, whistles, handcuffs. They were on duty 24 hours and were given complete control over the prisoners, with permission to employ whatever tactics they saw fit to maintain order.

To the researchers’ amazement, the environment quickly became so threatening to participants that the study had to be ended after only six days (of a planned two weeks). Every guard became abusive and authoritarian; prisoners were denied food, hooded, chained and made to clean toilet bowls with their hands. With increased boredom, they used the prisoners as the playthings in their degrading games. After just 36 hours, one prisoner had to be released because of uncontrolled crying and severe depression. When other prisoners showed similar symptoms, Zimbardo realized the situation had become dangerous and ended the experiment

Professor Zimbardo admits that he was not simply an observer in the experiment but an active participant and in some cases, he was clearly influencing the path of the experiment. He justifies this by asserting that prison is a confusing and dehumanizing experience and it was necessary to endorse these procedures to put the “prisoners” in the proper frame of mind.

Although the experiment was aimed at studying captivity, its result has been used to manifest the manipulability and obedience of people when provided with a legitimizing ideology and social and institutional support. It is also used to illustrate the power of seniority/authority.

In the prison demonstration, Zimbardo claimed that ordinary people underwent a transformation.

The implications are vast, as Zimbardo explains:

“Any deed that any human being has ever done, however horrible, is possible for any of us to do – under the right or wrong situational pressures.”