Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Social needs 2

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Social needs: How do basic social needs enhance well-being and self-improvement

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What are needs?[edit | edit source]

There are three basic types of needs which need to be satisfied in order for a person to function and survive. These are physiological needs, psychological needs and social needs. The difference between physiological and psychological needs is quite distinct. The difference between psychological and social needs however, are a little less obvious.

A physiological need is required for an organism to survive and involve our biological systems such as our brain and other organs within the body. These systems contribute to the process of maintaining homeostasis, which is discussed in more detail below. Physiological needs include the following:

  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Sex
  • Pain Avoidance

Our bodies are designed to inform us when any of these needs are not being met, which is a form of physical deprivation. For example, if you haven’t eaten for a prolonged period, your body instigates a feeling of hunger. This is a physiological response informing us that we require food and ensuring that this basic need is met [1].

A psychological need is inherent in individuals and it generates a desire to behave in a manner to ensure that our needs are met [2]. These include:

  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Relatedness

An interesting point of difference between physiological and psychological needs is that psychological needs are not necessarily based on deprivation. If you have been successful previously, this does not necessarily reduce your desire to achieve success in the future [1].

We define social needs as a person's desire to be accepted and have a sense of belonging, similar to psychological needs but with more of an interactive aspect and include the following themes:

  • Achievement
  • Affiliation
  • Intimacy
  • Power

Theoretical Background[edit | edit source]

There are a number of theories which attempt to explain how an individual ensures that their needs are met and have been built on over many decades based on continued research in the area of needs and motivated behaviour.

Murray’s Need-Press Theory[edit | edit source]

In 1938, Henry Murray proposed one of the first theories of needs, called the need-press theory, in which he composed a list of psychological needs which were thought to impact on human behaviour [3]. Needs referred to a person’s behaviour, feelings or reactions, while press referred to the environment surrounding the individual and how this either hindered or supported the fulfilment of these psychological needs [3]. The focus of this theory appeared to be on psychological needs and an individual’s interaction with the environment. However, this theory does not take into account the importance of satisfying physiological needs.

Hull’s Drive Theory[edit | edit source]

According to Clark Hull, all human behaviour is driven by four main drives which are sex, hunger, thirst and pain avoidance [4]. This theory, referred to as Drive Theory or Drive-Reduction Theory, describes these drives as the basis for all human behaviour as we strive to reduce the drives by seeking out remedies [5] ie. driven to seek out water to quench our thirst. While this theory generated a lot of research in order to elaborate on what appeared to be quite a basic explanation of drive reduction principles, there were several animal studies conducted in which brought to light some of the limitations of Hull’s drive proposal. Berlyne, D. E. (1955). The Arousal and Satiation of Perceptual Curiosity in the Rat. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 48(4), 238-246.

A study conducted by Deci and Ryan[5] demonstrated that monkeys would perform puzzle tasks for prolonged periods of time, simply for the enjoyment of doing them. Similar results were found in a later study conducted by Berlyne [4] on rats, which when placed in a maze would continue to explore spaces until they were no longer novel to the rat. These results indicated that behaviours were not solely caused by an intention to reduce the four drives that Hull had suggested were the basis for all behaviour.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs[edit | edit source]

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

One of the more popular and well-known theories of needs is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow [6] suggested that a person must satisfy the below needs, referred to as basic needs, in their hierarchical order which is as follows:

  1. Physiological Needs eg. breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis and excretion
  2. Safety Needs eg. Security of body, employment, resources, mortality, family, health and property
  3. Love/Belonging Needs eg. Friendships, family and sexual intimacy
  4. Esteem Needs eg. Self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others and respect by others
  5. The Need for Self-Actualization eg. Morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice and acceptance of facts.

Maslow [7] states that his theory is not supposed to be a rigid example of how one should live their life, however it does seek to provide a logical order in which needs are satisfied by an individual. Research has also shown that this theory provides a good basis for predicting quality of life based on the hierarchy across different countries [8].

Self-Determination Theory[edit | edit source]

Aspects of Self-Determination Theory

The most recent theory to emerge in regards to need motivation is the Self-determination Theory proposed by Deci and Ryan [5]. This theory integrates previous theories in that it focuses on both an individual’s inherent tendency to grow and their innate psychological needs. This theory proposes that there are three main needs that a person requires in order to be wholly satisfied:

  • Autonomy

Psychological need to experience self-direction. The urge to be in charge of the initiation of one’s own behaviour.

  • Competence

Psychological need to effectively interact with the surrounding environment

  • Relatedness

Psychological need to interact with, and establish relationships with, other people. Includes desire to be emotionally linked to others.

When these needs are met, the result is an increase in growth and integration. If they are not met, non-optimal outcomes are sometimes achieved such as grief, anxiety and other similar negative emotions [9]. These negative outcomes are thought to have a detrimental effect on an individual’s need fulfilment.

Needs, Wants and Likes[edit | edit source]

A need can be distinguished from a want/like easily by remembering that a deficit in what a person wants or likes is not likely to cause serious harm. A deficit in a psychological need however, such as water, food or sleep can cause serious psychological and physical harm [1].

Eg. It was a very hot day and Susan was thirsty. She turned to her mother and said that she needs a drink (or else she runs the risk of becoming dehydrated). She said that she wants a bottle of soft drink (the type of drink is a preference, not a requirement)

Monitoring and Satisfying Needs[edit | edit source]

ho•me•o•sta•sisPsychology. a state of psychological equilibrium obtained when tension or a drive has been reduced or eliminated “[10].

Homeostasis regulates our bodies and is designed to keep us in a state of equilibrium. Homeostatic drives, such as thirst and hunger, are triggered by internal process. Non-homeostatic drives are triggered due to external events rather than internal processes [11]. For example, sexual arousal and emotional activation are triggered by environmental factors and only become active once the appropriate environmental cues are presented [11].

Advantages and Disadvantages of Needs[edit | edit source]

"When needs are nurtured and satisfied, we live, grow, and thrive; when needs are neglected and thwarted, we are damaged, regress and suffer”[2]

Advantages[edit | edit source]

When a person's needs are met, they are no longer motivated by a driver to fulfil them, however there will always be another need which will take its place [12]. One of the advantages of fulfilling one's needs is a high feeling of self-worth, self-esteem and achievement [2].

Together, these needs serve to contribute positively overall to a person's growth and well-being. As an example, after having a glass of water or consuming breakfast, a person will experience a certain level of satisfaction. As the day continues and the effects of their consumption wears off (such as the calories get expended or the water evaporates from their system)deprivation begins to set in again [2]. It is an advantage of our bodies that we have a regulatory system that allows us to notice, on a physical level when our needs are not being met.

Disadvantages[edit | edit source]

So what happens when psychological, physiological or social needs are not fulfilled? If physiological needs, such as eating, sleeping or drinking, are not met. This can result in serious physical injury to an individual and in serious cases of deprivation, may result in death. Psychological damage can also occur if psychological and social needs are not met, as well as damage to one's social world and an individual's interpersonal relationships [2].

Deficiency needs is the collective term given to basic needs such as safety, belonging and self-esteem [2]. If a deficiency need is not fulfilled, this can lead to negative feelings and emotions and in terms of Maslow's hierarchy, can create a failure to achieve higher levels of growth toward reaching self-actualisation [2]. It has also been commented on that modern society has become too materialistic and as such, there is potential for discordance between individual needs structures and the environment as our psychological needs have evolved place [13].

Reeve also tells us that humanistic theorists, such as Maslow, use ill-defined constructs to describe aspects of their theories. This is a disadvantage as it makes it difficult to quantify, and in turn to test these theories extensively.

Current Research[edit | edit source]

Hagerty, M. R. (1999). Testing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: National Quality-of-Life Across Time. Social Indicators Research, 46, 249-271.

This study focuses on using Maslow's theory or hierarchical needs to predict the development of Quality of Life over time and across several different countries. Results agreed with aspects of Maslow's theories, especially in respect to need achievement.

Ryan, R. M. (1995). Psychological Needs and the Facilitation of Integrative Processes. Journal of Personality, 63(3), 397-427.

In this study, Ryan seeks to explain that basic human psychological needs cannot simply be defined as either non-existent or automatic, but rather as dynamic and dependent on social contexts and cues. Ryan's definitions of needs also takes into account the concept of "wants" as a separate concept.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The Darker and Brighter Side of Human Existence: Basic Psychological Needs as a Unifying Concept. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 319-339.

A response to commentaries published on Ryan and Deci's "Self-Determination" theory (SDT) framework. This article explores the comments made by fellow scientist in the field of psychology and addresses them in relation to their theory of Self-determination.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On Happiness and Human Potentials: A Review of Research on Hedonic and Eudaimonic Well-Being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 141-166.

This article examines the concept of "well-being" and what actually contributes to an individual's sense of well-being in regards to fulfilling of one's needs. It also discusses the underlying causes of well-being and its stability over time.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Which of the following is not a psychological need?


2 In what year did Clark Hull propose his Drive Theory?


3 A person's need to experience self-direction and be in charge of their own behaviour is described as competence.


4 Complete this sentence:

drives, such as thirst and hunger, are triggered by internal events.

5 Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs consists of 5 stages, the final stage being self-actualisation.


References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 [Rathus, S. A., Maheu, S. J., & Veenvliet, S. G. (2012). Psych. United States of America: Nelson Education Ltd.],
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 [Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding Motivation and Emotion: Fifth Edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.],
  3. 3.0 3.1 [Rounds, J. B., & Armstrong, P. I. (2005). Assessment of Needs and Values. In S. D. Brown, & R. W. Lent, Career Development and Counseling: Putting Theory and Research to Work (pp. 305-329). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.],
  4. 4.0 4.1 [ Harlow, H. F., Harlow, M. K., & Meyer, D. R. (1950). Learning Motivated by a Manipulation Drive. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 40(2), 228-234.], Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "test5" defined multiple times with different content
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 1.[Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behaviour. New York, NY: Plenum Press.],
  6. [Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.],
  7. [Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and Personality. New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.],
  8. [Hagerty, M. R. (1999). Testing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: National Quality-of-Life Across Time. Social Indicators Research, 46, 249-271.],
  9. [Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The Darker and Brighter Side of Human Existence: Basic Psychological Needs as a Unifying Concept. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 319-339.],
  10. [],
  11. 11.0 11.1 [ Hayes, N. (2000). Foundations of Psychology, 3rd Ed. London, UK: Thomson Learning.],
  12. [ Statt, D. A. (2000). Using Psychology in Management Training: The Psychological Foundations of Management Skills. London, UK: Routledge.],
  13. [ Loney, T., & Standage, M. (2007). A Motivational and Evolutionary Perspective of the Self in Exercise and Health. In A. M. Columbus, Advances in Psychology Research, Volume 50 (pp. 75-98). New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.],