Psychologists from all branches of the discipline study the topic of motivation, an inner state that moves an organism toward the fulfillment of some goal. Over the years, different theories of motivation have been proposed. Some theories state that people are motivated by the need to satisfy physiological needs, whereas others state that people seek to maintain an optimum level of bodily arousal (not too little and not too much). Still other theories focus on the ways in which people respond to external incentives such as money, grades in school, and recognition. Motivation researchers study a wide range of topics, including hunger and obesity, sexual desire, the effects of reward and punishment, and the needs for power, achievement, social acceptance, love, and self-esteem.
In 1954 American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that all people are motivated to fulfill a hierarchical pyramid of needs. At the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid are needs essential to survival, such as the needs for food, water, and sleep. The need for safety follows these physiological needs. According to Maslow, higher-level needs become important to us only after our more basic needs are satisfied. These higher needs include the need for love and belongingness, the need for esteem, and the need for self-actualization (in Maslow’s theory, a state in which people realize their greatest potential).