Murray’s Theory of Psychogenic Needs

Henry Murray and Psychogenic Needs

American psychologist Henry Murray (1893-1988) developed a theory of personality that was organized in terms of motives, presses, and needs. Murray described a needs as a, “potentiality or readiness to respond in a certain way under certain given circumstances” (1938).

Theories of personality based upon needs and motives suggest that our personalities are a reflection of behaviors controlled by needs. While some needs are temporary and changing, other needs are more deeply seated in our nature. According to Murray, these psychogenic needs function mostly on the unconscious level, but play a major role in our personality.

Murray’s Types of Needs

Murray identified needs as one of two types:

    1. Primary Needs
      Primary needs are based upon biological demands, such as the need for oxygen, food, and water.
  1. Secondary Needs
    Secondary needs are generally psychological, such as the need for nurturing, independence, and achievement.

List of Psychogenic Needs

The following is a partial list of 24 needs identified by Murray and his colleagues. According to Murray, all people have these needs, but each individual tends to have a certain level of each need.

1. Ambition Needs

    • Achievement: Success, accomplishment, and overcoming obstacles.
    • Exhibition: Shocking or thrilling other people.
  • Recognition: Displaying achievements and gaining social status.

2. Materialistic Needs

  • Acquisition: Obtaining things.
  • Construction: Creating things.
  • Order: Making things neat and organized.
  • Retention: Keeping things.

3. Power Needs

  • Abasement: Confessing and apologizing.
  • Autonomy: Independence and resistance.
  • Aggression: Attacking or ridiculing others.
  • Blame Avoidance: Following the rules and avoiding blame.
  • Deference: Obeying and cooperating with others.
  • Dominance: Controlling others.

4. Affection Needs

  • Affiliation: Spending time with other people.
  • Nurturance: Taking care of another person.
  • Play: Having fun with others.
  • Rejection: Rejecting other people.
  • Succorance: Being helped or protected by others.

5. Information Needs

  • Cognizance: Seeking knowledge and asking questions.
  • Exposition: Education others.

Influences on Psychogenic Needs

Each need is important in and of itself, but Murray also believed that needs can be interrelated, can support other needs, and can conflict with other needs. For example, the need for dominance may conflict with the need for affiliation when overly controlling behavior drives away friends, family, and romantic partners. Murray also believed that environmental factors play a role in how these psychogenic needs are displayed in behavior. Murray called these environmental forces “presses.”

Research on Psychogenic Needs

Other psychologists have subjected Murray’s psychogenic needs to considerable research. For example, research on the need for achievement has revealed that people with a high need for achievement tend to select more challenging tasks. Studies on the need for affiliation have found that people who rate high on affiliation needs tend to have larger social groups, spend more time in social interaction, and more likely to suffer loneliness when faced with little social contact.


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