Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Growth needs

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Growth needs
What are growth needs and how do they influence behaviour?
Figure 1. Growth needs drive and guide individuals towards their ultimate potential (Rogers, 1980)

Overview[edit | edit source]

Growth needs refer to the needs that surface after basic physiological (i.e., biological disturbances such as hunger and thirst) and psychological (i.e., mental requirements such as esteem and belonging) needs are satisfied (Maslow, 1943). These growth needs function to drive and guide individuals towards their ultimate potential - a process called self-actualisation (Maslow, 1971).

When an individual pursues growth needs, they are subscribing (consciously or unconsciously) to a growth mindset have a phenomenal influence on behaviour (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Individuals who pursue growth needs embrace challenges, striving towards personal development through effort (Mueller & Dweck, 1998), which positively affects their psychological health (Miu & Yeager, 2015) and performance (O'Rouke et al., 2014).

The following unpacks and analyses the relevant psychological theory and research evidence to provide a comprehensive explanation of growth needs, their influence on behaviour, and how this information can be helpful for improving one's quality of life (see Figure 1).

Mindset exercise
  1. Observe the following attitudes:
    • Intelligence is dynamic and something one can greatly improve.
    • Effort drives improvement
    • Intelligence is a generally fixed value determined by genetics/upbringing and can only be marginally improved.
    • Effort implies a lack of talent/ability.
  2. Reflect:
    • Which statements resonate with you the most?
    • Do your feelings towards intelligence or effort extend to other areas of your life (e.g., physical ability, career, finances)?
    • Consider that the latter attitudes reflect a fixed mindset, whereas the first two reflect a growth one.
    • After reading through the chapter, return to this section to see if your mindset has shifted.
Focus questions
  • What are growth needs?
  • What is a growth mindset?
  • How does the behaviour of those who pursue growth needs differ from those who don't?

Needs[edit | edit source]

A need is an essential condition within an individual (Cannon, 1932). Supporting or undermining needs promotes or halts growth, well-being, and life respectively. All needs generate energised, goal-directed, and persistent action (i.e., motivated behaviour; see Figure 2). How they differ from one another is through their influence on the direction of said behaviour (Murray, 1937). Needs can thus be categorised on the basis of the sort of behaviour they motivate. Consider that the source of motivation (the need) that encourages eating and drinking is logically distinguishable from the need that drives mastery of a hobby, for example.

Deficiency needs[edit | edit source]

Case study

It's a typical for Friday night in for Jane, who lives alone after moving away from home for university. Jane logs on to Facebook to check on what her friends are up to and see if anyone is online to chat. In this instance, the deficiency need for relatedness prompted Jane to seek out supportive interpersonal relationships via Facebook (Sheldon et al., 2011; Sheldon & Schuler, 2011).

Figure 2. Needs are one component of the three-factor model of internal motivation

Deficiency needs render an individual deprived in some way. This state of deprivation may loosely involve or directly pertain to a plethora of subjects including food, job security, group membership, or social status (Maslow, 1971). In the seminal paper A theory of human motivation (Maslow, 1943), Abraham Maslow posited a wildly popular, graded categorisation of needs: the hierarchy of human needs (see Figure 3). In this model, the more urgently a needs is felt (i.e., the more essential it is for sustaining life), the lower it appears on the pyramid. Physiological needs like oxygen, water, food, sex, sleep, and shelter form the foundation of the structure as crucial requirements for life. These are homeostatic sources of motivation towards the behaviour necessary to avoid bodily damage that would otherwise result in biological decay, pathology, and death (Cannon, 1932).

Each need presents itself sequentially. That is, each level of need generally arises after the previous demand is fulfilled. Table 1 depicts the order in which these deficiency needs typically present, as well as some of their common manifestations. It is important to note that the hierarchies are not strictly separate, but rather are closely interrelated (Maslow, 1954). As such, there is often overlap between the sections. Moreover, while recent research continues to empirically support much of Maslow's needs postulation (Noltemeyer et al., 2020), copious other research finds clear shortcomings (Goebel & Brown, 1981; Alderfer, C. P. 1969).

Table 1.

Psychological Deficiency Needs and Respective Examples (adapted from Maslow, 1971).

Deficiency Need Examples
Safety Mental heath, personal security, emotional security, financial security
Love and Belonging Affiliation, family, friendship, intimacy
Esteem Needs Respect, freedom/autonomy, status, self-esteem

Deficiency needs are like vitamins; they are essential because their absence impedes physical and psychological development.

Figure 3. Growth needs surface after deficiency needs are satisfied (Maslow, 1943).

Growth needs[edit | edit source]

Growth needs - or self-actualisation needs - are the impetus and compass which drive and guide individuals towards their ultimate potential (Rogers, 1980). While identifying previous needs is a relatively simple task (i.e., deficiency needs are the motivational force to combat a given deficiency), growth needs are a more obscure concept. In contrast to deficiency need's emergency-like motives, growth needs generate subtle feelings of restlessness, disconnectedness, and yearning (Maslow, 1943). These motives are felt less intensely within the individual but lead to outcomes infinitely more profound: to self-actualisation.

Growth needs motivate individuals towards self-actualisation (see Figure 4). However, without an accurate understanding of exactly what is meant by "self-actualisation", this explanation is insufficient. Self-actualisation can be understood as the overarching control motive that combines the following 14 "meta-needs": wholeness, truth, beauty, spontaneity, justice, simplicity, humour, transcendence, uniqueness, perfection, completion, richness or totality, effortlessness, and autonomy (Maslow,1971).

As displayed by Table 2, self-actualisation is a developmental striving process consisting of two key directions: autonomy, and openness to experience. Early humanistic work (Rogers, 1959) posited two concepts pertaining to self-actualisation: the actualising tendency and organismic valuing process, which provide impetus (or "foward thrust of life") and direction respectively. In other words, the actualising tendency fuels a persons desire to grow, and the organismic valuing process provides the person with an innate ability to discern whether certain experiences promote or hinder that growth (Rogers, 1964; Sheldon et al., 2003). In essence, self-actualisation is about leaving behind timidity, defensiveness, and a dependence. It necessitates the courageous venturing towards creation, mastery, objective understanding, and self-regulation (Rogers, 1980).

Table 2.

Trajectory and Consequences of Self-actualisation (adapted from Deci & Ryan, 1991; Mittelman, 1991).

Direction Implication
Autonomy Moving away from heteronomy and towards self-sufficiency. Independent regulation of thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
Openness to experience Development of the ability to receive any information (e.g., facts, perceptual information, and/or feelings) without repressing, ignoring, filtering, or distorting it due to any source of bias (e.g., desires, fears, or past experience).
Figure 4. Growth needs lead to self-actualisation

One method of identifying growth needs is to note the pathological states that arises from their absence (Maslow, 1971). Table 3 provides some examples of growth needs and the negative psychological effects their absence may have on on a person's affect. Observing pathology is useful because it can simplify the challenging task of identifying growth needs by addressing symptoms like disintegration, dishonesty and humourlessness, rather than the more obscure sentiments of growth, development and potential.

Table 3.

Absence of Growth Needs and Resultant Pathological States (adapted from Maslow, 1971).

Absent need Pathological state
Wholeness Disarray, confusion, overwhelming sense of chaos and disintegration
Aliveness Apathy, disinterest, emotional detachment, humourlessness
Individuality Low self-esteem, negative self-schema, insecurity

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1 Which of the following best exemplifies a growth need?

The desire to succeed academically
The desire to learn

2 Self-actualisation refers to:

The developmental striving whereby an individual seeks to achieve their ultimate abilities, capacities, and potentialities
The developmental striving whereby an individual makes peace with their shortcomings
A fixed psychological phenomenon whereby individuals overestimate their potential
An out-of-body experience. Individuals believe that their "self" has materially "actualized"

Growth needs on behaviour[edit | edit source]

Mindsets are mental frameworks used to interpret information and guide cognition (i.e., perception, attention, knowledge formation, working memory, etc.). Growth needs motivate people towards growth behaviours (e.g., skill mastery, challenging tasks, and deep learning). When they pursue this growth, they are nurturing what is called a growth mindset (Mueller & Dweck, 1998).

Mindsets[edit | edit source]

Figure 5. Fixed-minded individuals react poorly to challenging situations compared to growth-seekers.

A common reason people do not pursue growth needs is due harboring a fixed, not growth mindset (Dweck, 1999). The difference between the two (see Figure. 5) comes down to opposing belief sets. Those that possess growth mindsets consider ability as subject to improvement through effort (see Table 4), whereas those with a fixed mindset believe the inverse: that those same qualities are predetermined by some external force (e.g., genetics, environment, opportunity, etc.).

Table 4.

Growth versus Fixed Attitudes Towards Development (adapted from Mueller & Dweck, 1998).

Metric Growth Mindset Fixed Mindset
Intelligence Is readily developed through effort. Is determined by genetics.
Effort Is the main driver of development. Is a last resort for those without natural ability and should be avoided.
Challenge Is an opportunity to learn. Represents an opportunity for incompetence and should be avoided.

A fixed mindset is incredibly limiting. If one believes that they have a set value for intelligence for example, then every interaction with a problem becomes an extrinsically motivated demonstration to prove one's innate ability (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Those with a fixed mindset become consumed by the need to prove themselves and avoid a negative self-concept (Wilson & Ross, 2001). In contrast, the growth-seeking individual sees problems as an opportunity to improve; positive self-concept is sustained through intrinsically motivated behaviour, learning, and reaching their ultimate potential. One study (Moser et al., 2011) comparing children who displayed growth-seeking behaviour with children who displayed the opposite revealed a clear distinction in brain activity between the two groups. While the brains of growth-seekers lit up with electrical activity (see Figure. 6), their counterparts saw very little activity, adding neurophysiological evidence to the growing body of empirical support in favor of Dweck's theory.

Behaviour and outcomes[edit | edit source]

Validation-seeking behaviour (i.e., trying to meet societal conditions of worth) represents another common reason for not pursuing growth needs (Mueller & Dweck, 1998), and leads to worse psychological outcomes. When validation-seeking people pursue external rewards like money, fame, and popularity, they suffer more psychological distress (anxiety, depression, and narcissism) than growth-seekers even if/when they actually attain those things (Kasser, 2002). An unfortunate example of this occurs with profession fashion models. Despite immense wealth, fame, and popularity, they tend to suffer from psychological ill-being, personality maladjustment, and superficial relationships (Meyer et al, 2007). In contrast, growth mindset interventions have been shown to reduce the onset of depression (Miu & Yeager, 2015), and help alleviate depression and anxiety in adolescence (Schleider & Weisz, 2016).

Figure 6. Higher electrical activity within the brains of growth-seeking children during problem solving (adapted from Moser et al., 2011)

Another difference between fixed and growth outcomes stems from goal setting strategy. A growth mindset positively correlates with the adoption of mastery goals, which lead individuals to work harder, persist longer, and perform better cognitively (Elliot & Dweck, 1988; Spence, 1983). In contrast, people with fixed mindset are more likely to resort to cheating (Blackwell et al., 2007), coping (e.g., by finding someone worse at the task than them; Nussbaum & Dweck, 2008), or avoidance (Moser et al., 2011). Growth-seekers set goals around effort, process, and learning, while those with a fixed mindset set goals centered around results (Mueller & Dweck, 1998).

Cultivating a growth mindset[edit | edit source]

Mindsets and patterns of behaviour are malleable (Dweck, 2008). Simply learning this fact can help those with a fixed mindset cultivate a growth one (Yeager et al., 2013). Adolescents who were taught that their intelligence, thoughts, and feelings came from their brains - and could all be changed - more strongly endorsed a growth mindset and increased prosocial behaviour compared to the control group (Yeager et al., 2013). Blackwell et al., (2007) echo these findings; when researches told kids that difficult problems create new neuron connections which make you smarter, they increased grades. This worked especially well for kids who were already struggling (likely fostering fixed mindset; Yeager et al, 2016).

Praise and rewards play a huge role in mindset development (Rogers, 1959; Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Praising wisely (i.e., praising process elements like effort, strategies, focus, perseverance and improvement, rather than talent or intelligence), leads to growth-mindset-fostering students who are hardy and resilient (Gunderson et al., 2013). Similarly, rewarding effort, strategy, and progress, rather than correct answers, leads to more effort, diverse strategies, engagement, and perseverance in student when dealing with difficult math problems (O'Rouke et al., 2014).

Criticisms/limitations[edit | edit source]

Humanism[edit | edit source]

Much of this chapter was grounded in early humanistic psychological theory, which isn't without its flaws. For example, despite its popularity, there's little empirical research supporting Maslow's needs hierarchy (Wahba & Bridwell, 1976), and a great deal that rejects it in its original state (Goebel & Brown, 1981). Though the hierarchy does fit the data well when the rigid separations are broken so that it becomes a two-part model, with deficit needs below and self-actualisation needs on the top (Wahba & Bridwell, 1976). As such, care was taken to only use such concepts that were relevant, have stood up to scientific scrutiny, and helped frame the topic so that the contemporary research could be best understood.

Mindsets[edit | edit source]

Mindset research has been criticised for being difficult to replicate (Li & Bates, 2019). However, Bryan et al., (2019) note that the research aimed at replication was poorly constructed and that research with sound validity has replicated the findings surrounding mindsets and their benefits (Bryan et al., 2019).

Another common criticism comes from psychologists who believe that growth mindsets as a concept flies in the face of over one-hundred years of intelligence research. This usually stems from the misinterpretation mindsets are entirely responsible for intelligence. Genetics certainly play a large role in determining intelligence (Byrne, 2009). A growth mindset simply facilitates the realisation of a person's intelligence, which is likely why it works so well on when an individual is struggling (Yeager et al., 2016).

An important limitation concerns the small effect size of much of the mindset research. Dweck (2019) addressed this, stating that while psychologists are used to Cohen's guidelines, smaller effect sizes in education research are the norm.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

A great deal of potentially new information has been presented over the course of the chapter. This concluding section presents the reader with the answers to the focus questions, and provides the key "take-home" messages, as well as how to implement them in one's life (see Table 5).

Focus question answers
  • Growth needs refer to psychological needs which guide one towards a path of intrinsic development (Maslow, 1971).
  • A Growth mindset is one that sees abilities as greatly improvable through effort, and views challenges as an opportunity to do so (Mueller & Dweck, 1998).
  • Those who pursue growth engage in tasks that revolve around enjoyment, skill mastery, learning, and personal development. Those who don't, typically pursue validation or other extrinsic rewards, to their detriment (Kasser, 2002).

Table 5.

Key Points and How to Implement Them

Take-away Implementation
Individuals are motivated to satisfy their needs (Maslow, 1987). Observe the pull of needs in your life and try to be conscious of why you're pursuing certain behaviours (Maslow, 1971). Remember that pursuing deficiency needs is not inherently bad, but essential (Cannon, 1932).
Self-actualisation describes an individual pursuing their ultimate potential (Rogers, 1980). As part of his suggestions for self-actualisation, Maslow (1971) invites one to view life as a series of choices between growth and regression. Choose growth (e.g., sign up for that challenging skill-building class you've been thinking about, rather than binge watch that series you've already seen a thousand times).
The intrinsically motivated pursuit of growth leads to better psychological health (Miu & Yeager, 2015; Schleider & Weisz, 2016) and performance (Spence, 1983;) than pursuing extrinsic rewards, even if one attains those rewards (Kasser, 2002). Set goals centered around activity enjoyment, mastery, and learning. See difficult tasks as an opportunity for growth, not as an indicator of your ability.
How and what we praise and reward influences mindset development (Rogers, 1959; Mueller & Dweck, 1998; O'Rouke et al., 2014). Praise and reward yourself and others for process (i.e., effort, strategies, focus, perseverance and improvement) rather than descriptive characteristics like talent or intelligence.

Finally, remember that your mindsets and patterns of behaviour are malleable (Dweck, 2008). Just by reading this chapter, you've likely begun to cultivate a growth mindset (Yeager et al., 2013).

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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Byrne, B., Coventry, W. L., Olson, R. K., Samuelsson, S., Corley, R., Willcutt, E. G., Wadsworth, S., & DeFries, J. C. (2009). Genetic and environmental influences on aspects of literacy and language in early childhood: Continuity and change from preschool to grade 2. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 22(3), 219–236.

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External links[edit | edit source]