Theory of human motivation


Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow is considered one of the most influential psychologists of 19th century, and one of the leading authorities in humanistic psychology. Humanistic Psychology is a branch of psychology with focus on human behavior. Besides the Theory of Human Motivation work that put him in limelight, he had authored other famous work in the field of psychology. Some of his other writings are, Eupsychian Management, psychology of science and Motivation and Personality (Hoffman, 1990).

In 1967 due to the influence that his work on "theory of human motivation" had in the field of psychology he was awarded the title "Humanist of the Year" by the American Humanist Association (Hoffman, 1990). At the height of his career Abraham Maslow served in various professional capacities. He was a senior lecturer at Brooklyn College in the faculty of psychology. He was a professor and the chairman at Brandeis University in the department of psychology for almost two decades since 1951. At the time of his death in 1970 he was a fellow at the Laughlin Institute (Hoffman, 1990).

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But the legacy that Abraham Maslow left behind will certainly outlive him. Today his work on Hierarchy of Needs as contained in theory of human motivation is taught worldwide in classrooms and his name is synonymous with Hierarchy of Needs. Indeed the concepts on Theory of Human Motivation and hierarchy of needs as he defined them are no longer limited to the field of psychology but are increasingly being included in many other varied disciplines.

During the time that he was a lecturer at Brooklyn College Abraham Maslow ideas on human behaviors were influenced by fellow psychologist in the same college (Hoffman, 1990).

But it was not until when he become the professor at Brandeis University that Abraham Maslow finally was able to draft the idea behind theory of human motivation. It was while at Brandeis University that Abraham Maslow met Kurt Goldstein. Kurt Goldstein had advanced the concept of self actualization which he had earlier published in a book called "Organism" (Hoffman, 1990). It is this concept that had formed the framework of theory of motivation that Abraham Maslow was researching on (Hoffman, 1990).

In 1943 Theory of Human Motivation was first published in the Psychological review journal. Later he would write several other books based on the theory such as, Towards a Psychological of Being and the Further Reaches of Human Nature (Hoffman, 1990).. Abraham Maslow's Theory of Motivation provided a valuable insight to human needs requirement level that had previously not been studied. More importantly his research work was on psychology field of human behavior that over the years had not generated new ideas. The Theory of Human Motivation presented a fresh approach on which human behavior was studied.

The power of Maslow's Theory of Human Motivation was its simplicity and relevance. Maslow used a diagram to demonstrate the various levels of human needs that was explained in his theory which he referred as 'hierarchy of needs' (Hoffman, 1990). The result was a concise framework that outlined a person's need and importance at each stage of life. These needs are defined as, Physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs and self-actualization (Hoffman, 1990).

Physiological needs are the first and the most important that a person requires such as food, shelter and clothes but are not limited to this. They are those needs that must be met for life to be bearable.

Safety needs are those that come after physiological needs. They include such requirements such as job satisfaction, security and financial freedom. The safety needs are in two parts that which satisfy the physical and which satisfy emotional needs (Hoffman, 1990). After safety needs comes social needs which are entirely emotional. In this category a person needs are friendships, love among others, and for some reason at this level these needs are important to a person.

Then esteem needs comes thereafter, they are the likes of social status, self respect, recognition, and accomplishment, this category too serves to fulfill the emotional requirements. The last level in hierarchy of need is self-actualization which comes after all the other needs have been met. In this level a person seeks to have wisdom instead of knowledge, questions the meaning of life and values such as truth and justice are central to his life. This is the highest and the last category of emotional needs (Hoffman, 1990).

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That is all there is to it to the theory of motivation as researched and advanced by Abraham Maslow in summary. However the impact and implications of Maslow's theory of human motivation were far and wide. Today theory of Human motivations is applied in so many sectors and disciplines worldwide to influence human behavior (Deckers, 2009). Not to mention that it is now a major discipline and an area of study used by teachers to impart skills to future professionals so that they can use the same theory in order to better manage people. The beauty behind theory of human motivation is in its ability to clearly articulate the various level of human need with key specific needs at each level. This way the ability to influence behavior, through motivation for instance has been simplified to a great deal

Motivational speakers use this concept to change organizational behavior in a work place. A motivational talk is a profession that has recently come up to address the challenges faced by modern day organizations. The purpose of a motivation speaker in an organization is to motivate positive behavior change among the employees. The need to motivate and positively change employee behavior has increasingly becoming an issue of interest to the organizational leaders for two important reasons.

Foremost employee motivation will increase work productivity and therefore overall organization productivity, besides a motivated employee achieves job satisfaction and is likely to stay on the job for long time. This is important for the organization since it reduces the recruitment and training costs that are usually associated with high rate of employee turnover. Number two, motivation talks is important in changing the organization culture. In order to change organizational culture employee behavior must be influenced positively.

Maslow theory of motivation has enabled these requirements to be met in a work place (Deckers, 2009). This is because a motivational speaker is able to use the hierarchy of needs to determine which needs are key to influencing positive behavior change. Since motivation is rooted to a person requirement change in personal needs will also result in change of motivation levels. Therefore an organization is able to achieve it needs and the need of employee at the same time.

Another area that Maslow's theory of human motivation is applied is in leadership management. An organizational leader needs to be able to effectively motivate employees at work place beside directing and managing the employee. Indeed employee motivation is now central to organization success and leadership roles.

The need of having motivated employee at work place is one of paramount importance. In modern day organization setup employee motivation is an achievement that organization actively supports for it to remain competitive and productive. Managers are aware of this and use the Maslow theory of human motivation, indeed numerous management books has been written on motivation at workplace. The organizational motivation publications authors interpret Maslow's human motivation theory in context of work place environment (Deckers, 2009).

But Maslow's theory for human motivation is not only limited in organizations employees motivation. In psychology the idea of human motivation has been advanced by several other psychologists using the theory as a baseline to their studies. One such study was done by Carl Rogers, a psychologist who developed a therapeutic psychological process of treating mentally disturbed persons. The ideology behind the "Client-centered Therapy" was borrowed from the human motivation concept (Hoffman, 1990). Treatment is enabled through a process that guides the patients to identify important personal requirement by removing mental obstacles that prevent this achievement.

Hierarchy of needs is an important tool that a person can use to assess the point at which a person's life has reached. This is important in guiding an individual to the path of happiness and satisfaction since a person will be able to assess the needs that are most important at each level (Valdez, 1998). Maslow's other works on field of humanistic psychology actually touches on personal happiness. In his description of Peak Experiences Maslow explains that for this to occur a person must achieve the self-actualization stage of life (Valdez, 1998).

Peak Experiences refers to particular moments of time when a person experiences extraordinary sense of happiness, peace, fulfillment and satisfaction in life.

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For years basic needs have been defined in three levels only but now after Maslow's' hierarchy of needs the correct context in which a person needs occurs have finally been discovered. Other new publications and research on human motivations have improved upon the concepts on which Maslow based his publications. As years go by Maslow theory of human Motivation will continue to be widely read and adopted in a range of other new upcoming disciplines.

Maslow theory of human motivations like other scientific research inventions did not escape criticism from fellow scholars. Indeed it is more likely that theory of human motivations had it limitations, as Abraham Maslow once concurred that the theory was only meant to form a framework for which other studies should be done to improve upon it (Hoffman, 1990). Among the criticism that is had been directed to this theory is its inability to explain and define hierarchy of needs for particular religious believers. They have no material wealth, no sense of security and esteem needs, or social needs yet they are able to attain the self-conceptualization level (Hoffman, 1990).

Maslow's theory is certainly not able to address this concern. Another criticism also directed towards the theory is one that concerned the research procedure that Maslow used to arrive at the ideology. Most scientists agree that Maslow used a proportionally small case numbers to generate the research model that he later applied to a whole race of people worldwide. Having said that for the most part Maslow's theory is effective and certainly relates to most people and there are very few instances that are exceptional


  • Deckers, L. (2009). Motivation. Washington, DC: Lambert Deckers Publishers.
  • Hoffman, E. (1990). The Right to be Human: a Biography of Abraham Maslow. Florida: John
  • Wiley & Sons Inc
  • Valdez, J. (1998). Self Actualization Through Humanistic Theories. Virginia: Penguin Publishers.