toolkit: maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Abraham Maslow described a model of behaviour based on a humanist point of view and was innovative in that it was one of the first models for positive mental health rather than for ill or aberrant personalities. This hierarchy of needs is prioritised by five levels of need.

  1. Physiological (breathing, food/drink, environmental comfort, sex)
  2. Safety (body, family, health, morality, property, resources)
  3. Belonging/Love (family, friendship, intimacy)
  4. Esteem (achievement, confidence, respect, self-esteem)
  5. Self-Actualisation (acceptance, creativity, morality, problem solving, spontaneity)

People put things at the top of the hierarchy at a greater priority to the ones below. Also note the presence of morality in both self-actualisation and safety. The former shows a proactive approach, the latter more reactive and in context dealing with a situation where that morality comes under threat. his model can be applied into two obvious areas:

  • Character Motive – These needs feature significantly in human behaviour and can be applied to your character (writing from an alien or non-humanist perspective can skew these priorities) and why they do what they do. It takes some significant threats for enemies to work together; any/all of the physiological needs will do so.
  • Plot Hooks – Attracting the interest of your audience (who are usually human) means giving them something they can relate to. These hooks can prioritise perspective and even colour participation. The safety of family can cause someone to turn against a lover, especially if they’re the ones threatening them.

The interface between plot and character can lead to that sweet spot of engagement with both character and plot. The hierarchy of needs provides a handy point of reference if you wonder if something is going to matter. Obviously like all tools, there are things it’s good at and things where other methodologies apply. That said, most people work from a humanist perspective.

(Inspired by this blog post.)


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