New Research Explores Accuracy of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Apparently, Abraham Maslow was right, according to a new study. University of Illinois researchers tested Maslow’s theory and discovered that people actually do feel happier when their basic needs are met. “Anyone who has ever completed a psychology class has heard of Abraham Maslow and his theory of needs,” said professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Illinois, Ed Diener, and lead author of the study. “But the nagging question has always been: Where is the proof? Students learn the theory, but scientific research backing this theory is rarely mentioned.” The researchers used data collected over five years from over 150 countries. The information gathered pertained to positive and negative emotions resulting from various basic needs, including food, shelter, money, safety, respect, social relations, and autonomy.

The study revealed that the happiest people were those who reported feeling fulfilled in most of those areas. But, contrary to Maslow, the sequence in which their “higher” and “lower” needs were met did not influence their sense of satisfaction or joy. The researchers also discovered that those who felt their life was positive did so more when their most basic needs of food, shelter, and money were met. The higher needs, autonomy, respect, and social support, were linked to a feeling of joy. “Thus life satisfaction is not just an individual affair, but depends substantially also on the quality of life of one’s fellow citizens,” Diener said.

“Our findings suggest that Maslow’s theory is largely correct. In cultures all over the world the fulfillment of his proposed needs correlates with happiness,” said Diener. “However, an important departure from Maslow’s theory is that we found that a person can report having good social relationships and self-actualization even if their basic needs and safety needs are not completely fulfilled.” He added, “Another revision of his theory is that we found that different needs produce different types of well-being.”


Yates, D. (2011, June 30). Researchers look around the world for ingredients of happiness. Medical News Today. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • kayleigh wade

    July 9th, 2011 at 9:50 PM

    I honestly don’t get why sex would be so important on the list. Wouldn’t that be higher on the pyramid and be up there with things like relationships and the like? If anyone can enlighten me I’d be happy to hear it.

  • mikecassidy

    July 9th, 2011 at 10:47 PM

    @kayleigh- You need to remember the Four F’s of evolution: Fighting, Fleeing, Feeding, and F… fornication. Those are primal instincts. Society is to blame for everything else that’s attached to sex that’s beyond reproduction.

    That’s my point of view anyway. If it had remained a reproductive act and nothing more, there would be a lot less hand-wringing over sex and relationships. We sure made it more complicated than it ever had to be.

  • Ted

    July 9th, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    Gimme my basic needs and I have energy left to concentrate on better things and thereby be more productive and also have time for leisure.This definitely means a happier ME!

  • CeCe

    July 10th, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    This is the first time that I have ever seen something that I learned about in the college classroom be proven to be true in real life! Lots of money to spend to finally see it but it happened! ;)

  • j.anderson

    July 10th, 2011 at 11:45 PM

    luxuries may nit give you the best of feelings but to survive and to feel containment te basic things are necessary or you will definitely feel like you’re missing out on things,thereby breeding negativity and maybe even jealousy.

  • Mason

    July 11th, 2011 at 4:38 AM

    I have always found this to be so interesting. There is only so much happiness and joy that you can get out of life when you are hungry or in need of shelter. It goes without saying that the better you are provided for in this manner then the more meaningful that your life will and can be. Where the items fall in the hierarchy are inconsequential. When you are fed and provided for both physically and mentally, your life is sure to be a higher quality then it would be if these needs were being ignored and not met.

  • harold K

    July 11th, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    the availability of basic things definitely makes life easier and less things to worry about.and less of worrying most often leads to happiness because we are that much more able to concentrate on and achieve things.


    July 11th, 2011 at 11:56 PM

    I fully agree with this theory.Your mind is free,you’re not struggling for smaller(basic) things and can invest energy to further improve your life and living standards.

  • Y. Knowles

    July 12th, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    The hierarchy is just a guideline really. It’s not biological-it’s psychological. Human beings don’t vary an awful lot in terms of their biology, but in psychology, some will take that triangle and turn it nothing more than an abstract art piece. They will see the priorities completely differently from Maslow or these researchers.

    Observations are opinions of one man or woman and one only, based upon their own interpretation of the data before them.

  • U.J.

    July 12th, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    The hierarchy reflects our core and where the most basic of instincts and needs lie for us. Because of that it applies quite accurately to the majority and those it won’t apply to are a very small number indeed. It details what we need to survive and what degree of importance we align with each need. Its usability is timeless, as those researchers discovered.

  • Huey Gossford

    July 14th, 2011 at 1:52 AM

    I think that achieving satisfaction levels of the ones higher than basic needs-and maintaining that-is impossible. We can be satisfied with a job and a roof over their heads. Our happiness however with our lives encompasses many more wants and desires. Those are very difficult to juggle simultaneously without at least one falling into disarray.

    I feel the best we can do is accept we have to neglect one aspect of our needs while we nurture another.

  • JCee

    March 23rd, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    @Kayleigh if you don’t understand why sex is so high on the list, you’re doing it wrong ;) Pleasure, affection, and being needed/wanted are basic human needs. Have you never felt like your skin was screaming for a little touch?

  • Sydney

    August 7th, 2019 at 4:53 AM

    I would be intrigued to look directly into the lowest levels of the hierarchy of needs, specifically in third world countries and impoverished areas. Even more specifically in children! I wouldn’t be surprised to see love and belonging bringing more satisfaction then meeting physiological and safety needs. For instance, the love that a mother gives to her child (I’m speaking generally here) could provide security for that child. What are other people’s thoughts?

  • Dr. G

    April 3rd, 2022 at 6:34 PM

    There is a difference between the physical release involved in consensual sex and the deep feeling of intimacy that two people can share during a physical relationship. Humans are social beings – just look at their participation in all the social media platforms – and we long for meaningful relationships. Intimate sex helps relationships meaningfully grow; whereas, a casual sexual relationship only meets a short-term physical release and leaves your intimacy bucket empty. Note: this phenomenon applies to healthy mental conditions and often does not apply to those with mental illnesses.

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