Maslow’s Motivation and Personality introduces us to a theory called the Hierarchy of Needs. Although Maslow, himself, didn’t use graphics, modern-day lecturers and textbooks commonly illustrate the Hierarchy of Needs using a pyramid like this:
Maslow’s basic premise is that lower-level psychological needs, which are directly linked to physiology and biology, must be met before an individual is motivated to meet higher level needs. Brent G. Goff and H. Wallace Goddard published a study, “Terminal Core Values Associated with Adolescent Problem Behaviors,” that examines why some teenagers engage in delinquent behaviors and others do not. Goff and Goddard used Kahle's List of Values, rearranged “so as to be congruent with Maslow's hierarchy of needs”. These values include: sense of belonging, excitement, warm relationships with others, self-fulfillment, being well-respected, fun and enjoyment, security, self-respect, and sense of accomplishment.
At the lowest level of Maslow’s pyramid, Maslow asserts that the struggle to meet unmet basic biological needs (for air, water, food, clothing, shelter, sleep, etc.) is all-consuming. At the next level, safety, the individual needs to feel (whether or not she actually is) safe from personal and/or financial insecurity – and from biological risks, such as accidents or illness. Taken together, these levels of psychological function (physiological and safety) may correlate to the security value in Kahle’s List of Values.
It makes a certain sense that unmet physiological needs may drive delinquent behaviors. Goff and Goddard found that security is one of two values that strongly encourage delinquent behavior. Four primary delinquent acts (breaking and entering, violence involving weapons, extortion, and being arrested on other serious charges) correlate to security.
A sympathetic observer might draw a correlation between these delinquent behaviors and physiological/biological needs. A youth who is caught breaking and entering may be looking for food or shelter. Another who engages in violence involving a weapon may be protecting him/herself, others, or property.
The other value that strongly encourages delinquent behaviors in Goff and Goddard’s study is “fun and enjoyment”. These delinquent behaviors, particularly inappropriate sexual activity and substance abuse, are also strongly correlated to biological, physiological, and psychological risk. Goff and Goddard say that “[a] link between fun and enjoyment (positive consequence) and delinquency implies a lack of social control”. That implication insinuates that the average teenager in public school has not had access to information on, and/or listened to lessons and lectures about, the risks of engaging these behaviors. We know that s/he has.
Maslow doesn’t include fun and enjoyment in his Hierarchy of Needs. It is here, where adolescents – and many adults -- defy their most basic psychological needs and social controls to engage in risky behavior, that Maslow’s pyramid breaks. Hedonism, as Goff and Goddard call it, isn’t an element of love and belonging, esteem, or self-actualization. But perhaps hedonism is reflective of another set of unmet psychological, physiological, and/or biological needs.