How many needs?

i want softness by By the|G|™ (Paul G)

Why is softness not on any of these lists?

According to Maslow we have five (or is it eight?). However, many other people have thought about what human beings need to be happy and fulfilled, what we strive for and what motivates us, they have come up with some different numbers.

ERG Theory (3 needs)

Clayton Alderfer (1969) set about rearranging Maslow’s needs. Rather than Maslow’s traditional hierarchy, he suggested that human needs were made up of three relatively independent factors and the order may vary between individuals.

  • Existence — made up of Maslow’s Physiological and Safety needs.
  • Relatedness — made up of the Social need and externally-sourced Esteem.
  • Growth — made up of internally-sourced Esteem and Self-actualisation.

Acquired Needs Theory (3 needs)

David McClelland (1985) proposed that, rather than being born with them, we acquire needs over time. They may vary considerably according to the different experiences we have, but most of them tend to fall into three main categories. Each of these categories is associated with appropriate approach and avoidance behaviours.

  • Achievement. People who are primarily driven by this need seek to excel and to gain recognition for their success. They will try to avoid situations where they cannot see a chance to gain or where there is a strong possibility of failure.
  • Affiliation. People primarily driven by this need are drawn towards the achievement of harmonious relationships with other people and will seek approval. They will try to avoid confrontation or standing out from the crowd.
  • Power. People driven by this need are drawn towards control of other people (either for selfish or selfless reasons) and seek compliance. They will try to avoid situations where they are powerless or dependent.

Self-Determination Theory (3 needs)

Self-Determination Theory is a complex set of inter-related theories about human motivation and personality mainly developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. One aspect of SDT is a triplet of basic psychological human needs proposed as essential for human well-being.

  • Competence — feelings of capability and mastery over one’s environment
  • Relatedness — feelings of caring and connectedness to others
  • Autonomy — feelings control, choice and the freedom to act

PERMA (5 needs)

Martin Seligman (of learned helplessness and positive psychology fame) has recently (2011) proposed a model for well-being or ‘flourishing’ based on five pillars.

  • Positive emotions — experiencing joy and contentment, minimising the impact of negative emotions of stress, guilt, etc.
  • Engagement — experiencing a sense of flow or absorption in what you are doing
  • Relationships — experiencing a sense of connectedness and belonging
  • Meaning — experiencing a sense of purpose and understanding
  • Accomplishment/achievement — experiencing a sense of progress and success

Ryff facets of psychological well-being (6 needs)

Carol Ryff and Cora Lee Keyes (1995) have developed a set of scales which they use to assess psychological well-being.

  • Self-Acceptance — someone high in this factor possesses a positive attitude toward the self; acknowledges and accepts multiple aspects of self, including good and bad qualities; feels positive about past life experiences.
  • Positive Relations With Others — someone high in this factor has warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others; is concerned about the welfare of others; is capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy; understands give and take of human relationships.
  • Autonomy — someone high in this factor is self-determining and independent; able to resist social pressures to think and act in certain ways; regulates their behaviour from within; evaluates self by personal standards.
  • Environmental Mastery — someone high in this factor has a sense of mastery and competence in managing the environment; controls complex array of external activities; makes effective use of surrounding opportunities; is able to choose or create contexts suitable to personal needs and values.
  • Purpose in Life — someone high in this factor has goals in life and a sense of directedness; feels there is meaning to present and past life; holds beliefs that give life purpose; has aims and objectives for living.
  • Personal Growth — someone high in this factor has a feeling of continued development; sees self as growing and expanding; is open to new experiences; has sense of realising his or her potential; sees improvement in self and behaviour over time; is changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness.

Taxonomy of Human Goals (24 needs)

Martin Ford and C.W. Nichols seem to have gone a bit overboard. Their taxonomy of human goals has two dozen separate factors.

Within person

Affective goals

  • Entertainment — experiencing excitement, avoiding boredom
  • Tranquillity — feeling relaxed, avoiding stress
  • Happiness — experiencing joy, avoiding distress
  • Bodily sensation — experiencing pleasurable bodily sensations, avoiding pain or discomfort
  • Physical well-being — feeling healthy, avoiding illness

Cognitive goals

  • Exploration — satisfying curiosity, avoiding ignorance
  • Understanding — gaining knowledge and making sense, avoiding misconceptions, errors and confusions
  • Intellectual creativity — engaging in original thinking and novelty, avoiding familiarity
  • Positive self-evaluation — maintaining self-confidence or self-worth, avoiding feelings of failure and guilt

Subjective organisation goals

  • Unity — experiencing connectedness or harmony with people, nature or a greater power, avoiding feelings of psychological disunity
  • Transcendence — experiencing peak states of functioning, avoiding feelings of ordinariness


Self-assertive social relationship goals

  • Individuality — Feeling unique or special, avoiding conformity
  • Self-determination — experiencing freedom to act or choose, avoiding feelings of pressure or coercion
  • Superiority — winning status or success compared to others, avoiding unfavourable comparisons
  • Resource acquisition — obtaining support and approval from others, avoiding social rejection

Integrative social relationship goals

  • Belongingness — building and maintaining attachments and intimacy, avoiding isolation
  • Social responsibility — meeting social obligations and conforming to moral conventions, avoiding unethical social conduct
  • Equity — promoting fairness and justice, avoiding inequality or injustice
  • Resource provision — giving approval or support to others, avoiding selfish or uncaring behaviour

Task goals

  • Mastery — meeting challenging standards for achievement, avoiding incompetence or performance drops
  • Task creativity — engaging in tasks involving artistry or creative expression, avoiding mundane or repetitive tasks
  • Management — maintaining order or productivity, avoiding inefficiency or chaos
  • Material gain — increasing possession of money or material goods, avoiding poverty or material loss
  • Safety — being physically secure, avoiding threat or harm


How many needs do you have?

Further reading

  • Alderfer, C. P. (1969). An empirical test of a new theory of human needs. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 4, 142–175.
  • McClelland, D.C. (1985). Human motivation. Glenview, BL Scott, Foresman.
  • Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268. DOI: 10.1207/S15327965PLI1104_01 (More resources on SDT are available here.)
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (2011) Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being — and How to Achieve Them. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  • Ryff, C.D. & Keyes, C.L. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 719–727.
  • Ford, M. (1992). Motivating Humans: Goals, Emotions and Personal Agency Beliefs. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Gordon Rouse, K.A. (2004). Beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs what do people strive for? Performance Improvement, 43(10), 27-31. DOI: 10.1002/pfi.4140431008

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  1. #1 by London Counselling on 8 October 2011 - 19:18

    Multiple ways of expressing the same basic ideas. Is it possible that some of the needs listed may vary in intensity for some people (creativity, etc.) or perhaps some of these needs may not apply to everybody?

    • #2 by David Winter on 13 October 2011 - 06:52

      Many of these theories assume that people tend to differ in which needs are more salient. However, they also say that different circumstances will tend to trigger awareness of different needs.

      Maslow assumed that ‘higher’ needs would only be triggered when more fundamental needs were satisfied. However, quite a bit of research seems to show that the different needs are triggered independently of each other.

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