This well-known psychologist proposed a theory about three universal human needs.
David McClelland’s theory of motivations is one of the best-known psychological models of human needs, especially in business and organizations.
In this article we will analyze McClelland’s theory of the three needs and the most significant antecedents for its emergence. We will focus mainly on detailing their contributions on the three types of motivation: affiliation, achievement and power.
Introduction to the psychology of motivation
In 1943 the American psychologist Abraham Maslow published an article in the journal Psychological Review in which he presented his hierarchical theory of needs. This model, popularly known as “ Maslow’s pyramid ”, was a fundamental milestone in the evolution of motivation psychology.
Maslow defined five categories of needs; from more to less basic, it is about physiological needs (nutrition, sleep, sex, etc.), security (housing, employment, health), love and belonging (friendship, sexual intimacy), recognition (self-confidence, professional success) and self – fulfillment (creativity, spontaneity, morality).
In the years that followed the popularization of Maslow’s model, many similar approaches appeared, such as McClelland’s three needs theory, which we will describe below. Many of these models are framed in humanistic psychology, which claimed the tendency to personal growth of human beings.
Motivation has been a subject little studied by behaviorism and the orientations that followed it, since they focus on observable behavior; From this perspective, the most common is that motivation is conceptualized as the incentive value given to a reinforcement, although sometimes ambiguous concepts such as “impulse” are included.
McClelland’s Three Needs Theory
In the early sixties, David McClelland described in his book The Achieving Society ( ” the Society Filmmaker “) his theory of three needs. In it, it defines three types of motivations shared by all people, regardless of their culture, their sex and any other variable, although these can influence the preponderance of one or other needs.
According to this author, motivations should be understood as unconscious processes, in a similar way to psychoanalytic approaches. This is why McClelland recommends the use of the Henry A. Murray thematic apperception test, which belongs to the category of projective psychological assessment tests, in order to assess needs.
1. Need for affiliation
People with a high motivation to join have strong desires to belong to social groups. They also seek to like others, so they tend to accept the opinions and preferences of others. They prefer collaboration to competition, and are uncomfortable in situations that involve risks and lack of certainty.
According to McClelland, these people tend to be better as employees than leaders because of their greater difficulty in giving orders or prioritizing organizational objectives. However, it is worth mentioning that two types of leader have been described : the task leader, associated with high productivity, and the socio-emotional, specialist in maintaining group motivation.
The importance of the need for affiliation had previously been highlighted by Henry Murray, creator of the thematic apperception test. The same can be said of the needs for achievement and power, which served as the basis for McClelland’s proposal.
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2. Need for achievement
Those who score high on the need to achieve have strong drives to achieve challenging goals, and are not averse to taking risks to achieve it, provided it is calculated. In general, they prefer to work alone than in the company of other people and they like to receive feedback on the tasks they perform.
McClelland and other authors state that the need for achievement is influenced by personal abilities to set goals, by the presence of an internal locus of control (perception of self-responsibility about life events) and by the promotion of independence on the part of individuals. parents during childhood.
3. Need for power
Unlike the more affiliative people, those in whom power motivation predominates enjoy competing with others – for the sake of winning, of course. Those with a high need for power highly value social recognition and seek to control other people and influence their behavior, often for selfish reasons .
McClelland distinguishes two types of need for power: that of socialized power and that of personal power. People who are closer to the first type tend to care more about others, while those with a high motivation for personal power want above all to gain power for their own benefit.
People with high power motivation who do not simultaneously have a high level of personal responsibility are more likely to engage in externalizing psychopathological behaviors, such as physical assaults and excessive substance use.
- Maslow, AH (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50 (4): pp. 370-396.
- McClelland, DC (1961). The Achieving Society. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.