Murray's Theory of Psychogenic Needs

Need for affection

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

Murray's Types of Needs

Theories of personality based on 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 identified needs as one of two types:

  • Primary needs: Primary needs are basic needs that are based upon biological demands, such as the need for oxygen, food, and water.
  • Secondary needs: Secondary needs are generally psychological, such as the need for nurturing, independence, and achievement. While these needs might not be fundamental for basic survival, they are essential for psychological well-being.

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. Each person's unique levels of needs play a role in shaping their individual personality.

Each need is important in and of itself, but Murray also believed that needs can be interrelated, support other needs, and 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."

Ambition Needs

Ambition needs are related to the need for achievement and recognition. The need for achievement is often expressed by succeeding, achieving goals, and overcoming obstacles. The need for recognition is met by gaining social status and displaying achievements. Sometimes the ambition needs even involve a need for exhibition, or the desire to shock and thrill other people.

Materialistic Needs

The materialistic needs center on the acquisition, construction, order, and retention. These needs often involve obtaining items, such as buying material objects that we desire. In other instances, these needs compel us to create new things. Obtaining and creating items are an important part of the materialistic needs, but keeping objects and organizing them is also important.

Power Needs

The power needs tend to center on our own independence as well as our need to control others. Murray believed that autonomy was a powerful need involving the desire for independence and resistance.

Other key power needs that he identified include abasement (confessing and apologizing), aggression (attacking or ridiculing others), blame avoidance (following the rules and avoiding blame), deference (obeying and cooperating with others), and dominance (controlling others).

Affection Needs

The affection needs are centered on our desire to love and be loved. We have a need for affiliation and seek out the company of other people. Nurturance, or taking care of other people, is also important for psychological well-being. The need for succorance involves being helped or protected by others. Murray also suggested that play and having fun with other people was also a critical affection need.

While most of the affection needs a center on building relationships and connections, Murray also recognized that rejection could also be a need. Sometimes, turning people away is an important part of maintaining mental wellness. Unhealthy relationships can be a major detriment to an individual's well-being, so sometimes knowing when to walk away can be important.

Information Needs

The information needs center around both gaining knowledge and sharing it with others. According to Murray, people have an innate need to learn more about the world around them. He referred to cognizance as the need to seek knowledge and ask questions.

In addition to gaining knowledge, he also believed that people have a need for what he referred to as exposition. Exposition is the desire to share what they have learned with other people.

Related Research

Murray's psychogenic needs have been researched extensively. For example, research on the need for achievement revealed that people with a need for achievement tend to select challenging tasks.

Studies also 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.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Xu X, Mellor D, Read SJ. Taxonomy of Psychogenic Needs (Murray). In: Zeigler-Hill V, Shackleford TK, editors. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer International Publishing; 2017.

  2. Hollenbeck JR, Williams CR, Klein HJ. An empirical examination of the antecedents of commitment to difficult goals. Journal of Applied Psychology. 1989;74(1):18.

  3. Hill CA. Affiliation motivation: People who need people… but in different ways. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1987;52(5):1008. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.5.1008

Additional Reading
  • Flett GL. Personality Theory & Research: an International Perspective. Mississauga, Ont.: J. Wiley and Sons Canada; 2008.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.