Born in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, Alderfer obtained his BA in psychology in 1962 at Yale University, where he also obtained his PhD in psychology 1966. In 1977 he also obtained a degree by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).
After graduation Alderfer started his academic career at the University of Cornwell in 1966. In 1968 he returned to Yale, where he was researcher, lecturer and program director until 1992. In 1992 he moved to Rutgers University, where he acted as program director for another 12 years. In the new millennium he started his own consultancy firm.
Alderfer further developed Maslow's hierarchy of needs by categorizing the hierarchy into his ERG theory (Existence, Relatedness and Growth). The existence group is concerned with providing the basic material existence requirements of humans. They include the items that Maslow considered to be physiological and safety needs. The second group of needs is those of relatedness – the desire people have for maintaining important interpersonal relationships. These social and status desires require interaction with others if they are to be satisfied, and they align with Maslow's social need and the external component of Maslow's esteem classification. Finally, Alderfer isolates growth needs: an intrinsic desire for personal development. These include the intrinsic component from Maslow's esteem category and the characteristics included under self-actualization.
Alderfer categorized the lower order needs (Physiological and Safety) into the Existence category. He fit Maslow's interpersonal love and esteem needs into the Relatedness category. The Growth category contained the self-actualization and self-esteem needs. Alderfer also proposed a regression theory to go along with the ERG theory. He said that when needs in a higher category are not met then individuals redouble the efforts invested in a lower category need. For example if self-actualization or self-esteem is not met then individuals will invest more effort in the relatedness category in the hopes of achieving the higher need.
- Alderfer, Clayton P., An Empirical Test of a New Theory of Human Needs; Organizational Behaviour and Human Performance, volume 4, issue 2, pp. 142–175, May 1969
- Alderfer, C. P., Existence, Relatedness, and Growth; Human Needs in Organizational Settings, New York: Free Press, 1972
- Alderfer, C. P., "A critique of Salancik and Pfeffer's examination of need-satisfaction theories, Administrative Science Quarterly, 22 (1977), 658-669
- Alderfer, C. P. The Methodology of Organizational Diagnosis, Professional Psychology, 1980, 11, 459-468.
- Alderfer, C. P. An Intergroup Perspective on Group Dynamics. In J. W. Lorsch (editor), Handbook of Organizational Behavior, 1987, 190-222.
- Alderfer, C. P. Consulting to Underbounded Systems, C. P. Alderfer and C. L. Cooper (editors), Advances in Experiential Social Processes, 1980, 2, 267-295.
- Alderfer, C. P. Improving organizational communication through long-term intergroup intervention, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 1977, 13, 193-210.
- Alderfer, C. P. and Brown, L. D. Learning from changing, 47-56,129-141.
- Alderfer, C.P. (2005). The Five Laws of Group and Intergroup Dynamics.
- (Dutch) Clayton Paul Alderfer