The Alternative to Maslow’s Hierarchy

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In the realm of motivation, Maslow’s pyramid is probably the first thing to come into mind. The well-structured diagram offers a clear perspective on what its creator believes to drive human behavior. That perspective is not unreasonable: hardly anyone would argue that, for instance, extreme hunger does not outweigh career ambitions. A human being will only be able to focus on self-actualization when they are full and have tents. Nevertheless, some people, not excluding myself, find Maslow’s view on motivation too generalized as it does not presuppose different personal backgrounds.

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One of the most debatable points in Maslow’s hierarchy is a reproduction, which the author reckons among physiological needs. In the vast majority of biological species, it is one, however, humans as a biosocial species are not purely driven by instincts and do not even have them in a complete form. Intelligence allows what Elgar (2015) calls “fertility decisions”: humans can choose whether they want to reproduce and when exactly if yes. In developed as well as developing countries, more and more people opt for family planning and become parents no earlier than they can provide children with appropriate quality of life. In modern society, reproduction is a sort of self-actualization rather than a physiological need.

It is worth noting that Maslow does not highlight the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as if people only did what appealed to them. Meanwhile, even such an essential act as eating is not necessarily biology-driven because what, when, and in what amounts one consumes may depend on the culture they live in (Coon & Mitterer, 2012). Actually, a decision to become a parent may depend on sociocultural factors as well since reproductive pressure is widespread in conservative families and societies. I regularly engage as much as anyone else in certain activities to get a reward or avoid punishment rather than because of interest, which is known as extrinsic motivation (Legault, 2016). Nevertheless, Maslow’s perspective does not contain a hint of the difference between free will and pressure.

The generality of Maslow’s hierarchy inspired me to look for a motivation theory that would suit me better. I stopped at ERG theory by Alderfer, who agrees with Maslow overall but offers a broader view. Specifically, he emphasizes that human needs can change throughout life and are partly interdependent. The abbreviation ERG stands for existence, relatedness, and growth, which corresponds to Maslow’s physiological needs, esteem, and self-actualization. According to Alderfer, frustration at a certain level escalates the needs at other levels (Caulton, 2012). For example, the less time and effort one spends on personal advancement, the stronger one demand for social contacts and recognition grows.

I have experienced relations between the levels of needs first-hand. I used to have social integration issues or relatedness in my childhood and compensate for that by binge eating resulting from increased existence needs. Now, I forget to call or text even my nearest when working thoroughly to improve myself and getting visual feedback but contact them several times a day on a streak of bad luck. These examples illustrate how ERG theory works and why I chose it as the most suitable one.

To summarize, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs does give a general view of various conditions a human being may have but is too generalized to be commonly applicable. Alderfer’s ERG (existence, relatedness, growth) theory adds to Maslow’s perspective, making it more flexible and individualistic. The way I am motivated matches ERG theory ideally, on which account I find it preferable.

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Caulton, J. R. (2012). The development and use of the theory of ERG: A literature review. Emerging Leadership Journeys, 5(1), pp. 2-8.

Coon, D., & Mitterer, J. O. (2012). Psychology: A journey. Cengage Learning.

Elgar, M. (2015). Maternal instinct and biology: Evolution ensures we want sex, not babies. The Conversation. Web.

Legault, L. (2016). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, 1-4.

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Appendix 1

Dreams can't be too many

The collage is titled with my motto and comprises the images I associate with my current motivations. They are divided into three levels, resembling both Maslow’s and Alderfer’s hierarchies of needs. The lowest level represents physiological and safety, or intrinsic existence needs. Recognition can be identified with relatedness or love and belonging and, as a type of moral reward I get from society, is extrinsic. Finally, the highest level expresses my personal view on self-actualization and growth. Here, I receive an honorable reward from myself, not society, which marks intrinsic motivation. Font size shows how strong I estimate a particular need to be.

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PsychologyWriting. (2022, June 24). The Alternative to Maslow’s Hierarchy. Retrieved from


PsychologyWriting. (2022, June 24). The Alternative to Maslow’s Hierarchy.

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"The Alternative to Maslow’s Hierarchy." PsychologyWriting, 24 June 2022,


PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'The Alternative to Maslow’s Hierarchy'. 24 June.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "The Alternative to Maslow’s Hierarchy." June 24, 2022.

1. PsychologyWriting. "The Alternative to Maslow’s Hierarchy." June 24, 2022.


PsychologyWriting. "The Alternative to Maslow’s Hierarchy." June 24, 2022.