Murray's system of needs
In 1938 Henry Murray published Explorations in Personality, his system describing personality in terms of needs. For Murray, human nature involved a set of universal basic needs, with individual differences on these needs leading to the uniqueness of personality through varying dispositional tendencies for each need. In other words, specific needs are more important to some than to others. Frustration of these psychogenic (or psychological) needs plays a central role in the origin of psychological pain.
Murray differentiated each need as unique, but recognised commonalities among the needs. Behaviors may meet more than one need: for instance, performing a difficult task for your fraternity may meet the needs of both achievement and affiliation.
Explanation of Murray's system of needs
For Murray, human nature involves a set of universal basic needs. Individual differences of these needs lead to the uniqueness of a person's personality due to varying amounts of each need. In other words, specific needs are more important to some than to others. He believed that the study of personality should look at the entire person over the course of their lifespan (Flett, 2008). According to Murray, human psychogenic needs function on an unconscious level, but they can play a major role in our personality (Cherry, 2015). According to Murray, personality can be determined in four major ways. These include constitutional determinants, group membership determinants, life role determinants, and situational determinants (Flett, 2008).
He defines a need as a "potentiality or readiness to respond in a certain way under certain given circumstances" (1938). Murray defines needs in two ways- primary and secondary. Primary needs are any biological need, such as food, water, and oxygen and secondary needs as needs that are generally psychological- such as nurturing, achievement, and independence. Murray identified a total of seventeen needs- each belonging to one of five particular need categories. The five categories of needs that Murray identified are Ambition, Materialistic, Power, Affection, and Information.
While each need is important in and of itself, he also believed that needs can support other needs, conflict with one another, and can be interrelated. He coined the term subsidation of needs when two or more needs are combined in order to satisfy a more powerful need and fusion of needs when a single action satisfies more than one need (Flett, 2008). For example, the need for dominance may conflict the need with affiliation when overly controlling behavior drives away family, romantic partners, and friends. Environmental factors play a role in how these psychogenic needs are displayed in behavior.
List of psychogenic needs
This is a (partial) list of Murray's needs.
|Domain obstructive||Need for…||Representative behavior|
|Ambition||Achievement||To accomplish difficult tasks, overcoming obstacles and becoming expert|
|Ambition||Recognition *||Describing accomplishments|
|Ambition||Exhibition||To impress others through one's actions and words, even if these are shocking.|
|Materialism||Order||To make things clean, neat and tidy|
|Defense of status||Infavoidance||Concealing a handicap or a failing|
|Defense of status||Defendance||To defend oneself against attack or blame, hiding any failure of the self. Explain or excuse|
|Defense of status||Counteraction||To make up for failure by trying again, seeking pridefully to overcome obstacles.|
|Human power||Dominance||To control one's environment, controlling other people through command or persuasion|
|Human power||Deference||To admire a superior person, praising them and yielding to them and following their rules.|
|Human power||Autonomy||To break free from constraints, resisting coercion and dominating authority. To be irresponsible and independent|
|Human power||Contrariance||Being oppositional|
|Human power||Aggression||To forcefully overcome an opponent, controlling, taking revenge or punishing them|
|Human power||Abasement||To surrender and submit to others, accept blame and punishment. To enjoy pain and misfortune|
|Human power||Blame avoidance||Stifling blameworthy impulses|
|Human power||Harm avoidance||To escape or avoid pain, injury and death.|
|Human power||Infavoidance||To avoid being humiliated or embarrassed.|
|Affection between people||Affiliation||To be close and loyal to another person, pleasing them and winning their friendship and attention|
|Affection between people||Sex||To form relationships that lead to sexual intercourse.|
|Affection between people||Rejection||To separate oneself from a negatively viewed object or person, excluding or abandoning it.|
|Affection between people||Nurturance||To help the helpless, feeding them and keeping them from danger|
|Affection between people||Succorance||To have one's needs satisfied by someone or something. Includes being loved, nursed, helped, forgiven and consoled|
|Affection between people||Play||To have fun, laugh and relax, enjoying oneself|
|Exchange of information||Sentience||To seek out and enjoy sensual experiences.|
|Exchange of information||Cognizance||Understanding: To be curious, ask questions and find answers|
|Exchange of information||Exposition *||Delivering information to others|
Table of needs
|Achievement: Overcoming obstacles, success, and accomplishment||Acquisition: Acquiring things||Abasement: Apologizing and confessing||Nurturance: Taking care of another person||Exposition: Educating others|
|Exhibition: Thrilling or shocking other people||Construction: Producing things||Autonomy: Independence and resistance||Play: Having fun with others||Cognizance: Seeking knowledge and asking questions|
|Recognition: Gaining social status and displaying achievements||Order: Making things organized and neat||Aggression: Ridiculing or attacking others||Rejection: Refusing or declining others|
|Retention: Keeping things||Blame Avoidance: Following the rules and regulations in order to avoid blame||Succorance: Being protected or helped by others|
|Deference: Cooperating and obeying others|
|Dominance: Controlling others|
- Personality testing
Murray's system of needs has influenced the creation of personality testing. A personality test is a questionnaire or other standardized instrument designed to reveal aspects of an individual's character or psychological makeup. The first personality tests were developed in the 1920s and were intended to ease the process of personnel selection, particularly in the armed forces. The Personality Research Form and the Jackson Personality Inventory are two personality tests that Murray's system of needs directly influenced (Thematic apperception test, n.d.).
- Thematic Apperception Test
Henry Murray, along with Christina Morgan, developed the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) as a tool to assess personality. The Thematic Apperception Test is a test that is based on the main assumption that human unconscious needs are directed towards an external stimulus. Murray and Morgan created the TAT to evaluate “press” and “need”, which Murray emphasized in his theory of personality.
While implementing TAT, the assessor chooses a subset of a particular subject out of 30 cards. Each card features various ambiguous scenes, many relating to interpersonal situations. The scenes shown relate to each of Murrays theoretical needs. The individual is asked to give details about what they see on the card. Their explanation given may include what is happening in the scene, what they believe may happen next, what events may follow, and what the individual is feeling or thinking. From the stories presented by the individual, the assessor uses emerging themes to infer personality characteristics (Thematic apperception test, n.d.). The stories that the participants generate are thought to reflect their individual unconscious needs (Flett, 2008).
Although Murray's theory has had a substantial influence on further personality testing and research, critics say that his system of needs is too broad and rather subjective. When evaluating the Thematic Apperception Test, critics have claimed that the test has a low test-retest reliability and validity. This could possibly be due to contrasting instructions from the experimenters (Flett, 2008).
- Murray, H. A. (1938). Explorations in personality. New York: Oxford University Press
- Shneidman ES. The Suicidal Mind. Oxford University Press; 1996. .
- Cherry, K. (2015, January 1). Murray's Theory of Psychogenic Needs. Retrieved May 4, 2015, from http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/psychogenic.htm
- Explorations in personality. (n.d.). Retrieved May 4, 2015, from http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1938-15040-000
- Flett, G. (2008). Personality Theory and Research- An International Perspective.
- Murray, H. A. (1938). Explorations in Personality. New York: Oxford University Press
- Thematic Apperception Test. (n.d.). Retrieved May 4, 2015, from http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1944-01759-000
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