David McClelland’s Theory of Motivations is one of the best-known psychological models of human needs, especially in businesses and organizations.
In this article, we will analyze McClelland’s theory of the three needs and the most significant context of its emergence. We will focus mainly on the detail of their contributions on the three types of motivation: that of affiliation, that of accomplishment and that of power.
Introduction to motivational psychology
In 1943 American psychologist Abraham Maslow published in the journal Psychological Review an article in which he presents his hierarchical theory of needs. This model, popularly known as the “Maslow’s pyramid,” was a key step in the evolution of motivational psychology.
Maslow defined five categories of needs; from most to least elementary, these are physiological needs (nutrition, sleep, sex, etc.), security (housing, employment, health), love and belonging (friendship, sexual intimacy) , recognition (self-confidence, professional success) and self-realization (creativity, spontaneity, morality).
In the years since the popularization of Maslow’s model, many similar approaches have emerged, such as McClelland’s theory of three needs, which we will describe below. Many of these models they are framed in humanistic psychology, which justified the tendency to personal growth human being.
Motivation has been a little studied subject for behaviorism and the directions that have followed it, as they focus on observable behavior; From this perspective, the most common is to conceptualize motivation as the incentive value given to reinforcement, although sometimes ambiguous concepts such as “impulse” are included.
McClelland’s Theory of Three Needs
In the early sixties, David McClelland described in his book The company that realizes (“The Realizing Society”) his theory of the three needs. It defines three types of motivations shared by all people, regardless of their culture, gender and any other variable, although these can influence the preponderance of one or the other need.
According to this author, motivations should be understood as unconscious processes, similar to psychoanalytic approaches. that’s why McClelland recommends the use of Henry A. Murray’s Thematic Perception Test, Which belongs to the category of projective psychological assessment tests, to assess needs.
1. Need for affiliation
People who are highly motivated for membership have a strong desire to belong to social groups. They also seek to please others, so they tend to accept the opinions and preferences of others. They prefer collaboration to competition, And they are hampered by situations involving risk and lack of certainty.
According to McClelland, these people tend to be better as employees than as leaders because of their greater difficulty giving orders or prioritizing organizational goals. However, it should be mentioned that they have been described two types of leader: the head of mission, associated with high productivity, and the, Specialist in maintaining group motivation.
The importance of the need for affiliation had already been stressed by Henry Murray, creator of the thematic apperception test. The same can be said of the needs for success and power, which formed the basis of McClelland’s proposal.
2. Need for success
Those who score high in the need to succeed feel intense impulses to achieve. objectives that involve a high level of challenge, And don’t mind taking risks in order to get -, as long as it’s calculated. They generally prefer to work alone than in the company of other people and enjoy receiving feedback on the tasks they are performing.
McClelland and others argue that the need for achievement is influenced by personal ability to set goals, by the presence of an internal locus of control (perception of personal responsibility for life events) and by the promotion of independence by parents during childhood.
3. Need for power
Unlike most affiliates, those with a strong motivation for power like to compete with others – to win, of course. Those with a high need for power attach great importance to social recognition and they seek to control others and influence their behaviorOften for selfish reasons.
McClelland distinguishes two types of power need: 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 strong motivation for personal power mostly want to acquire power for their own benefit.
Highly motivated people who do not simultaneously have a high level of personal responsibility have it. a greater likelihood of engaging in the externalization of psychopathological behaviors, Such as physical assault and excessive substance use.
- Maslow, AH (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50 (4): pages 370-396.
- McClelland, DC (1961). The company that succeeds. Princeton, New Jersey: Van Nostrand.