Oh... So you’re still using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Awkward...

Psychologists have moved on to a new model, and it’s all about fundamental motives.

3 min read


By Sonja Sarah Porter


December 4, 2019

Way back in 1943, Abraham Maslow published his “Hierarchy of Needs” – a pyramid describing the forces that motivate us, and the order in which we strive to meet them. For many designers, this 76-year-old model still informs the design decisions we make every day. But did you know that Maslow moved on to an updated model only a few years later? Or that psychologists stopped using Maslow’s pyramid years ago?

In the past few decades, advancements in evolutionary biology have shown that while the pyramid we all know and love was definitely on to something, the model sorely needed an update. Fundamental Motives, a framework developed by Vlad Griskevicius and Douglas Kendrik, is a better reflection of psychologists’ current understanding of what motivates human behavior.

This new model includes 7 “motives” (rather than 5 needs):

Diagram explaining the Fundamental Motives

Human beings are driven by the motivation to…

...evade physical danger to remain safe. (Self-Protection)\ ...avoid infections to stay healthy. (Disease Avoidance)\ ...form and maintain cooperative alliances. (Affiliation)\ ...gain and maintain prestige and respect. (Status)\ ...acquire a desirable romantic partner. (Mate Acquisition)\ ...foster a long-term mating bond. (Mate Retention)\ ...invest in, and care for, offspring and family. (Kin Care)

Additionally, this new framework does away with the concept that one “need” or “motive” has to be met before the next can be achieved. In fact, this new understanding tells us that our motivations are often in conflict with one another. The order is simply determined by age. An infant starts their life with only the motivation of their immediate physiological needs, but quickly incorporates new motivators into the balance as they develop.

Say you landed a date with someone you met online. The date is tonight, but at the last moment they warn you that they are coming down with something and are not well... but they are willing if you are. Do you go? According to the Hierarchy of Needs, your personal safety would need to be secured before taking the risk of reaching for love and belonging. But according to the Fundamental Motives, these motivations are caught in a headlock. The motivation from childhood to avoid disease is battling it out against the newer, but just as strong, motivation to acquire a mate. Subtle details in context will determine whether you will choose a night out or another at home in front of the TV, not a predefined ranking.

So when it comes to our motivations, think of seven motives in conflict with one another rather than a hierarchy of five needs. And the next time you look to psychology to back up your design decisions, make sure you pull out the latest and greatest that the psychologist today use. 😉