An Evolutionary Hierarchy of Needs

Parts of Abraham Maslow‘s famous 1940s hierarchy of needs are outdated and thought of as quaint by the scientific community, according to a team who have revised the hierarchy to take into consideration scientific findings from the last 60+ years.

Maslow’s pyramid is used to represent the hierarchy of basic human motivations, from basic physical needs up to self-actualisation. Now, addressing many of the criticisms of the original, the updated hierarchy of needs (which isn’t really a hierarchy at all) places evolutionary motivations toward the top:

The revamp of Maslow’s pyramid reflects new findings and theory from fields like neuroscience, developmental psychology and evolutionary psychology […]

The research team […] restructured the famous pyramid after observing how psychological processes radically change in response to evolutionarily fundamental motives, such as self-protection, mating or status concerns.

The bottom four levels of the new pyramid are highly compatible with Maslow’s, but big changes are at the top. Perhaps the most controversial modification is that self-actualization no longer appears on the pyramid at all. At the top of the new pyramid are three evolutionarily critical motives that Maslow overlooked — mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting.

The researchers state in the article that while self-actualization is interesting and important, it isn’t an evolutionarily fundamental need. Instead, many of the activities that Maslow labeled as self-actualizing (artistic creativity, for example) reflect more biologically basic drives to gain status, which in turn serves the goal of attracting mates. […]

For humans reproduction is not just about sex and producing children. It’s also about raising those children to the age at which they can reproduce as well. Consequently, parenting sits atop the revamped pyramid.

There are other distinctions as well. For Maslow, once a need was met, it disappeared as the individual moved on to the next level. In the reworked pyramid, needs overlap one another and coexist, instead of completely replacing each other. For example, certain environmental cues can make them come back. If you are walking down the street thinking about love, art or the meaning of life, you will revert quickly to the self-protection level if you see an ominous-looking gang of young men headed your way.

via @sandygautam



One response to “An Evolutionary Hierarchy of Needs”

  1. Interesting, though I agree that making parenting the pinnacle is problematic. It ignores non-parents who feel fulfilled and successful parents who feel something lacking. Also, art/creativity seems to fulfill other needs than just status and mate seeking.

    I think looking at human motivations through an evolutionary lens is interesting but incomplete. It ignores culture and how good humans have become at subverting raw evolutionary directives (e.g. contraception).