Needs and Subjective Well-Being Across the World

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Most people with an interest in psychology have heard of Maslow’s theory of motivation and hierarchy of needs, which suggest that we’re driven to satisfy basic physiological needs (such as for food and shelter) first, then to satisfy our needs for safety, love and belonging, self-esteem and lastly self-actualization.

For those interested in positive psychology, there are many unanswered questions about the link between such needs and subjective well-being (SWB) which is why this new research by Louis Tay and Ed Diener* caught my eye today.  Some of the questions tackled in the study include whether needs really are universal and if so whether they are related to subjective well-being (SWB) in all cultures, and whether needs are individually required or influence well-being synergistically.

As this is a pretty complex piece of research, containing multiple studies, there isn’t space here to present the findings in detail, so the focus is on the things that stand out most.

Tay and Diener investigated  six types of needs (i.e. basic, safety, social support, respect, mastery and autonomy). When combined, the fulfillment of  these six needs explained between 10% and 23% of the total variance in SWB, depending on which aspect of SWB we’re referring to.  In terms of life evaluation, having needs met explained 13% of the variance; in terms of positive emotions, 23% of the variance; in terms of negative emotions, 10%. Tay and Diener refer to these percentages as substantial. I’m not sure I agree.

In order to understand which of the six needs is most important, these percentages have been broken down even further;  we’re told that

* basic needs were the strongest predictor of life evaluations (8%)

* respect and social needs were the important predictors of positive emotions  (8% and 5.5% respectively), and

* respect, basic and autonomy  needs were the important predictors of negative emotions (2.5%,  2.3% and 2.2%  respectively).

I don’t know about you, but I thought these percentages were surprisingly small.

To read the full article in Positive Psychology News, click here.

* Tay, L. & Diener, E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.


Maslow hierarchy from creative chaos, Conversations with Dina

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