Motives and the “Big three”

Motives are internal states that arouse and direct our behaviour toward specific objects or goals. Motive can be caused by deficit, a lack of something (e.g. hunger -> food). They differ on intensity depending on person’s circumstances and are often based on needs, states of tension within a person. When the need is satisfied, tension is reduced. Motives cause people to perceive, think and act in the ways that satisfy the needs and people are not always aware of them.


Henry Murray (1938) thought that “a need refers to a potentiality or readiness to respond in a certain way under certain given circumstances”. Needs organise perception, guiding us to ‘see’ what we want (need) to see. For example if a person has not eaten, he has a need for food. The motive behind this need is hunger. In this point, an individual can have thoughts and fantasies about food (hamburgers, pizzas ice creams, just a mention a few :) ). Our behaviour guide us to satisfy the need we are going trough at the moment. When we are feeling hungry we might go to store, buy food, cook it and eat it.

Research of motives have concentrated on a small set of motives. These are need for achievement, power and intimacy which are described to be the most important motives for human behaviour, “Big three”.

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