Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Physiological needs

Physiological needs:
How do human's physiological needs affect motivation?


The term motivation is derived from the word "motive" (Chaudhary & Sharma, 2012), which means desires, needs, emotions, or impulses that drive behaviours (Juneja, 2015). Motivation is the process of energising people to take action in order to achieve a goal. Humans' physiological needs are biological requirements for human survival, such as air, food and water. Physiological needs are explained by Maslow's hierarchy theory as the base human needs that motivate humans to achieve them (McLeod, 2007). The need to satisfy physiological needs is essential for human survival, and there are many internal and external triggers that motivate humans to achieve these.

Focus questions:

  • What is motivation?
  • What are human's physiological needs?
  • What do different motivational theories tell us about motivation towards physiological needs?
  • How do physiological needs affect motivation?

What is motivation?Edit

Motivation is the reason that humans and animals initiate, continue or terminate a behaviour. The study of motivation within the field of Psychology examines how biological (physiological), psychological, and environmental variables contribute to motivation. Motivation can be divided into three subcategories: the process of generating motivation, maintaining motivation, and regulating motivation. There are four forms identified of motivation: Extrinsic, Identified motivation, Intrinsic, & Introjected motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

What is motivation?

Being excited to do something
Desires, needs, emotions, or impulses that drive behaviours
Having no interest or enthusiasm
Existence, reproductive and goal realisation

What are physiological needs?Edit

Physiological needs are biological requirements essential for human survival. Physiological needs are at the base of Maslow's Hierarchy Theory, and within this theory, it is posited that if these needs are not satisfied, the human body cannot function optimally (McLeod, 2007). As physiological needs are at the base of the hierarchy, Maslow considered physiological needs as the most fundamental, as all the other needs are secondary to satisfying these (Maslow & Lewis, 1987).

Physiological needs include (Maslow & Lewis, 1987):

•               Food

•               Water

•               Shelter

•               Breathing

•               Clothing

•               Sleep

•               Overall health and

•               Reproduction/sex

According to Maslow, these lower-level needs must be met in order for the human body to remain in homeostasis (Maslow & Lewis, 1987). Homeostasis is derived from the Greek words for "same" and "steady. It refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain stable conditions necessary for survival. The state of balance within all physical systems needed for a body to function properly and survive is homeostasis. In a state of homeostasis, body levels are constantly adjusting in response to changes outside and inside the body (Harris-Ray, 2022).

Choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

What are humans' physiological needs?

The actions taken to ensure physical safety
Needing to be physically active
Things people want in their life
Biological requirements for human survival

Theories of motivationEdit

There are many theories that describe human behaviour and motivations, however, no single theory fully explains humans' motivations. Each of the following theories contribute to a framework and broad understanding of how motivation may affect physiological needs in different ways.

Maslow's hierarchy of needsEdit

Figure 1. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory comprising a five-tier hierarchy detailing human’s fundamental requirements (McLeod, 2007). This hierarchy is portrayed in the shape of a pyramid, with the most basic needs at the bottom (Figure 1) (Poston, 2009). The theory works on the premise that the more basic needs, at the bottom of the pyramid, must be met before a person becomes motivated to achieve the next level (McLeod, 2007). Starting from the bottom, with the most basic human needs, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is: Physiological (food and clothing), Safety (job security), Love and Belonging (friendship), Esteem (self-esteem), and Self-Actualisation (desire to become the best self, self-growth). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs has been revised multiple times to include new stages, although the original hierarchy still prevails (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). One of the amendments was adding Transcendence at the top of the hierarchy (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). Cognitive needs and aesthetic needs were also added (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs can be separated into two types of needs: deficiency needs and growth needs (Huitt, 2007). Physiological, security, social, and esteem needs are deficiency needs that arise due to deprivation. Maslow called the needs at the top of the pyramid growth needs. These needs do not stem from a lack of something but rather from a desire to grow as a person.

When describing human needs and motivation, Maslow's hierarchy of needs is the leading theory, although it has garnered some criticism. The point in the theory is that people are only motivated to achieve one level at a time which must be 100% satisfied before moving on to the next level of the hierarchy. Once a level has been met, it no longer affects behaviour and what we are motivated by. Instead, all levels of Maslow's hierarchy of motivation theory affect individuals' behaviour and motivation and need continual satisfaction, for example when you’re starving your next meal becomes your primary focus. (Kaufman, 2019).

Alderfer's ERG theoryEdit

Figure 2. Alderfer's ERG Theory

Clayton Alderfer's ERG theory is a modification of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Figure 2) (Caulton, 2012). Alderfer modified Maslow's hierarchy of needs into three categories: existence, relatedness, and growth (ERG) (Acquah et al., 2021). Existence corresponds to physiological and safety needs and is the need to provide the basic material requirements of humans. Relatedness corresponds to social and is concerned with the desire to maintain important interpersonal relationships. Self-esteem needs and growth correspond to self-actualisation needs and is concerned with the desire for personal development (Caulton, 2012).

Alderfer also proposed a progression and regression theory to go along with the ERG theory: he said that when needs in a lower category are satisfied, an individual will invest more efforts in the higher category, and when needs in a higher category are frustrated, an individual will invest more efforts in the lower category.

ERG Theory is mostly applied to the study of human motivation in the workplace as a tool for increasing morale and productivity. It has helped researchers to understand what constitutes job satisfaction and to identify incentives (Snow, 2019).

In alignment with Maslow's basic needs, which Alderfer categorised as existence needs, he called them physiological needs. Maslow's physiological needs stage concerns itself with basic human needs such as air, water, food, and shelter, while Alderfer includes all material and physiological desires (e.g., food, water, air, clothing, safety, physical love and affection), (Acquah et al., 2021).

Choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

ERG theory condenses Maslow's hierarchy of needs into three distinct levels:

Existence, relatedness and growth
Elementary, reproductive and goal realisation
Elementary, relatedness and growth
Existence, reproductive and goal realisation

Drive theoryEdit

According to the drive theory of motivation, people are motivated to take specific actions to reduce the internal tension caused by unmet needs (Hull, 1943). For example, you might be motivated to drink a glass of water in order to reduce the internal state of thirst.

Hull theory posits that there are two types of drive, primary and secondary. Primary drives are associated with innate need states, such as food, water, oxygen, urination, etc. which are needed to survive. These are physiological needs. Secondary drives are learned, and through their association with the reduction of primary drives, become drives themselves (Peskin, 1997).

The drive theory is based on the concept of homeostasis, or the idea that the body actively works to maintain a certain state of balance or equilibrium. This theory helps explain behaviours with strong biological or physiological components, such as hunger or thirst, which are physiological needs. (Remley, 1980)

The problem with the drive theory of motivation is that these behaviours are not always motivated purely by drive or the state of tension or arousal caused by biological or physiological needs. For example, people often eat even when they are not really hungry.

Arousal theoryEdit

The arousal theory of motivation suggests that people take certain actions to either decrease or increase levels of arousal.

Arousal can be both a physiological need and a psychological need. The physiological aspects of arousal include an increase in blood pressure, a change of rate of respiration, decreased activity of the gastrointestinal tract, and also includes sexual arousal (Apter, 1976)

For example, when arousal levels get too low, a person might be motivated to watch an exciting movie or go for a jog. When arousal levels get too high, on the other hand, a person would be motivated to look for ways to relax, such as meditating or reading a book.

According to this theory, we are motivated to maintain an optimal level of arousal, although this level can vary based on the individual or the situation (Reisenzein, 1994).

Incentive theoryEdit

The incentive theory of motivation was developed by Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-1990). The incentive theory suggests that external rewards motivate people to act (Laffont et al., 2009). For example, you eat healthy food, so you do not gain weight.

Behavioural learning concepts such as association and reinforcement play an important role in this theory of motivation. This theory shares some similarities with the behaviourist concept of operant conditioning. In operant conditioning, behaviours are learned by forming associations with outcomes. Reinforcement strengthens a behaviour, while punishment weakens it (Cherry, 2020).

While incentive theory is similar to behaviourist theory, it instead proposes that people intentionally pursue certain courses of action in order to gain rewards. The greater the perceived rewards, the more strongly people are motivated to pursue those reinforcements.  

Incentives can arise from the outside (extrinsic) or inside (intrinsic) an individual (Nickerson, 2021). Intrinsic motivation involves doing something because it is personally rewarding to you. Extrinsic motivation involves doing something because you want to earn a reward or avoid punishment.

Intrinsic motivation theoryEdit

The most recognised theory of intrinsic motivation was first based on people's physiological needs and drives; hunger, thirst, and sex which humans are driven to pursue in order to live and be healthy. According to instinct theories, people are motivated to behave in specific ways such as fulfilling all of the physiological needs such as food, water and air because they are evolutionarily programmed to do so (Nickerson, 2021).

William James identified a list of human instincts that he believed were essential to survival, including fear, anger, love, shame, and modesty (Ryan, 2020). The main problem with intrinsic motivation theory is that it does not really explain behaviour; it just describes it. James presumed that we act on impulse, but that leaves out all the learning/conditioning that shapes behaviour.

By the 1920s, instinct theories were pushed aside in favour of other motivational theories, but contemporary evolutionary psychologists still study the influence of genetics and heredity on human behaviour (Ryan, 2020).

Choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

An external stimulus or reward that can have motivational consequences is most commonly described as a:


Summary of theoriesEdit

There are multiple theories explaining motivation and how the human body is motivated to fulfil the physiological needs such as air, food and water. Each of the theories provide different explanations and motives towards achieving this, whether it be biological signals to motivate us to do things, or reward based. Although the various motivational theories explain different ways humans are motivated to do things, our motivation may come from all of the different motivational theories for different reasons.

Motivation on physiological needsEdit

The physiological approach to explaining motivation is the earliest attempt to understand the causes of behaviour (Sanford, 1961). The requirement for these physiological needs have internal and external triggers that inform the body of the requirement (Taormina, 2013).


The need for air and breathing is the most fundamental and basic physiological need for human life. Your brain constantly gets signals from your body that detect the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood (Novotny, 2019). The autonomic nervous system will send signals to the muscles involved in breathing and adjust your breathing rate depending on how active you are. When you're active, your breathing can increase up to about 40-60 times a minute to cope with the extra demand. The delivery of oxygen to your muscles also speeds up, so they can do their job efficiently. The increase in your breathing also makes sure there's no build-up of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream (Novotny, 2019).

Case study:

World health organisation estimates that 4.2 million people die per year due to air population. So, the need for air and breathing is an essential human need along with the quality of the air (World Health Organisation, 2020).


The need to eat and provide your body with food and fuel is a basic physiological need which is motivated through both internal biological signals from the body and external signals such as seeing a nice piece of food or smelling food that may arouse you. The stimuli for hunger include stomach contractions, which signify that the stomach is empty, a low concentration of glucose in the blood, a low level of protein and the number of fats stored in the body. The liver also responds to the lack of bodily fuel by sending nerve impulses to the brain (Logue, 2014).


Water and thirst is a physiological need essential to human survival. There are a number of things that happen to the body when it is running low on water, such as the volume of blood decreases due to a lack of water within the cells (Frank, 2019). A highly specialised part of the brain called the lamina terminalis is responsible for guiding many of these thirst responses. Brain cells within the lamina terminalis can sense when the body is running low on water and whether you have had anything to drink recently (Frank, 2019). Another way the body will motivate us to drink more water is by creating dryness in the throat. The urge to drink water is driven by the central regulation of extracellular tonicity, termed osmotic thirst, and by the need to replace fluid deficits, termed hypovolemic thirst (Arai, 2013). Osmotic thirst is what we feel when we need more water. Hypovolaemic thirst is what we feel when we need minerals and water to replenish blood supplies.

Summary of physiological needsEdit

Human survival depends on the satisfying of physiological needs.  The motivation to achieve these needs are somewhat innate but can be driven by internal and external factors. Whilst the different theories explain the drivers and motivation to satisfy physiological needs differently, they all agree on the requirement to do so, and the role which motivation plays in this undertaking. The are many theories regarding motivation and at the basic level of all these, there is a component of physiological or biological needs.  


Each physiological need references an internal biological process of motivation that is used to achieve the need, as well as a psychological motivation. There are many processes and cues that go into each physiological need to reach satisfaction of the need. Physiological needs are presented in each of the motivational theories and consistently refer to those aspects of human survival such as air, water, food, shelter and then sex / arousal. Whilst the specifics of the way in which the physiological needs affect motivation differ depending on the particular theory, the relationship between the need and motivation remain somewhat consistent. Humans’ physiological needs must be satisfied for survival and therefore the motivation to satisfy is essential.  Internal and external triggers provide the impotence which have an effect on motivation by way of striving to achieve physiological needs.

Choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

How do physiological needs affect motivation?

Motivation plays no part in satisfying physiological needs
There are both internal and external processes and triggers that inform the body of biological requirement
Your want for something is what motivates you

See alsoEdit


Acquah, A., Nsiah, T. K., Antie, E. N. A., & Otoo, B. (2021). Literature Review on Theories of Motivation. EPRA International Journal of Economic and Business Review, 9(5), 25-29.

Anderson, A. K., & Sobel, N. (2003). Dissociating intensity from valence as sensory inputs to emotion. Neuron, 39(4), 581-583.

Apter, M. J. (1976). Some data inconsistent with the optimal arousal theory of motivation. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 43(3_suppl), 1209-1210.

Bush, G., Luu, P., & Posner, M. I. (2000). Cognitive and emotional influences in anterior cingulate cortex. Trends in cognitive sciences, 4(6), 215-222.

Carrol, E. N., Zuckerman, M., & Vogel, W. H. (1982). A test of the optimal level of arousal theory of sensation seeking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42(3), 572–575.

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

Chaudhary, N. and Sharma, B. (2012) Impact of Employee Motivation on Performance (Productivity) In Private Organization. International Journal of Business Trends and Technology- volume 2. Issue 4.

Cherry, K. (2020). The Incentive Theory of Motivation Explains How Rewards Drive Actions. Verywell Mind.

Cole, M. W., & Schneider, W. (2007). The cognitive control network: Integrated cortical regions with dissociable functions. Neuroimage, 37(1), 343-360.

Floyd, D. L., Prentice‐Dunn, S., & Rogers, R. W. (2000). A meta‐analysis of research on protection motivation theory. Journal of applied social psychology, 30(2), 407-429.

Frank, M. (2019). The Neuroscience of Thirst: How your brain tells you to look for water. Science in the News.

Gianotti, L. R., Figner, B., Ebstein, R. P., & Knoch, D. (2012). Why some people discount more than others: baseline activation in the dorsal PFC mediates the link between COMT genotype and impatient choice. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 6, 54.

Holroyd, C. B., & Coles, M. G. (2002). The neural basis of human error processing: reinforcement learning, dopamine, and the error-related negativity. Psychological review, 109(4), 679.

Huitt, W. (2007). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Educational psychology interactive, 23.

Hull, C. L. (1943). Principles of behavior: An introduction to behavior theory. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Izuma, K., Saito, D. N., & Sadato, N. (2008). Processing of social and monetary rewards in the human striatum. Neuron, 58(2), 284-294

Koltko-Rivera, M. E. (2006). Rediscovering the later version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: Self-transcendence and opportunities for theory, research, and unification. Review of general psychology, 10(4), 302-317.

Laffont, J. J., & Martimort, D. (2009). The theory of incentives. In The Theory of Incentives. Princeton university press.

Logue, A. W. (2014). The psychology of eating and drinking. Routledge.

Maslow, A., & Lewis, K. J. (1987). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Salenger Incorporated, 14(17), 987-990.

McLeod, S. (2007). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Simply psychology, 1(1-18).

Mischel, W., & Gilligan, C. (1964). Delay of gratification, motivation for the prohibited gratification, and responses to temptation. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69(4), 411–417.

Nickerson, C. (2021). Differences of Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation - Simply Psychology.

Norman, P., Boer, H., Seydel, E. R., & Mullan, B. (2015). Protection motivation theory. Predicting and changing health behaviour: Research and practice with social cognition models, 3, 70-106.

Peskin, M. M. (1997). Drive theory revisited. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 66(3), 377-402.

Poston, B. (2009). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The surgical technologist, 41(8), 347-353.

Rachlin, H. (1995). Self-control: Beyond commitment. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 18(1), 109–159.

Reisenzein, R. (2017). Varieties of cognition-arousal theory. Emotion Review, 9(1), 17-26.

Remley, N. R. (1980). JB Watson and JJB Morgan: The original drive theory of motivation. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 16(4), 314-316.

Rogers, R. W. (1975). A protection motivation theory of fear appeals and attitude change. The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 91(1), 93–114.

Rogers, R. W., & Prentice-Dunn, S. (1997). Protection motivation theory.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 54-67.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2020). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation from a self-determination theory perspective: Definitions, theory, practices, and future directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 61(1), 1–11.

Sanford, F. H. (1961). Physiological Motives. In F. H. Sanford, Psychology: A scientific study of man (pp. 168–189). Wadsworth Publishing Company. (physiological motives)

Scott Barry Kaufman. (2019). Who created Maslow's iconic pyramid? Scott Barry Kaufman. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from's%20iconic%20pyramid%20of,belonging%2C%20love%2C%20and%20esteem.

Shamosh, N. A., DeYoung, C. G., Green, A. E., Reis, D. L., Johnson, M. R., Conway, A. R., ... & Gray, J. R. (2008). Individual differences in delay discounting: relation to intelligence, working memory, and anterior prefrontal cortex. Psychological science, 19(9), 904-911.

Sheldon, K. M., & Gunz, A. (2009). Psychological needs as basic motives, not just experiential requirements. Journal of personality, 77(5), 1467-1492.

Snow, D. (2019). The Big Picture: How the New Use of an Old Theory will Enhance Leaders' Perspective on Management. Journal of Applied Business & Economics, 21(1).

Taormina, R. J., & Gao, J. H. (2013). Maslow and the motivation hierarchy: Measuring satisfaction of the needs. The American journal of psychology, 126(2), 155-177.

World Health Organization. (2022). Air pollution.; World Health Organization: WHO.

External linksEdit