Murray's Manifest Needs Theory

Understanding Murray's Manifest Needs Theory

Murray’s Manifest Needs theory was introduced first in his classic work ‘Explorations in Personality’ in 1938, where he argued that individuals can be classified according to the strengths of various personality need variables.

The essence of this theory owes much to the work of J. W. Atkinson (1964), who further translated Murray’s ideas from a rather abstract form into a more concrete, operational framework.

The Manifest Needs theory is similar to but more complex than Maslow’s.Opens in new window Murray proposed a greater variety of manifest needs believed to represent a central motivating force, both in terms of the intensity and the direction of goal directed behavior.

The Manifest Needs theory assumes that any number of needs might motivate behavior at the same time. The mechanisms of manifestation of needs are very complex. In such a domain of needs, several categories of needs are important to most people and a number of needs may operate in varying degrees at the same time. In addition, some motives are manifested through very complex and hidden sets of needs.

Murray has hypothesized nearly two dozen needs, each of which when activated can have an impact upon person’s behavior. He divided the needs into two categories:

  1. Psychogenic needs (which includes abasement, achievement, affiliation, and the likes); and
  2. Viscerogenic needs (which includes basic needs like food, water, etc.).

Psychogenic needs are those more closely identified with work motivation, and some of those needs are shown in the table below.

Murray's NeedsDescription
AbasementThe need to comply with or condescend to others.
AchievementThe need to succeed at challenging tasks.
AffiliationThe need for meaningful interpersonal relationships.
AggressionThe need to physically or emotionally injure another.
AutonomyThe need to be independent.
CounteractionThe need to defend oneself by retaliating to an attack.
DeferenceThe need to serve others by following their direction and guidance.
DefendanceThe need to defend oneself by excuses or plausible explanations.
DominanceThe need to direct or control others.
ExhibitionThe need to draw attention to oneself.
ImpulsivityThe need to act on impulse or on the spur of the moment.
InfavoidanceThe need to avoid failure, shame, or embarrassment.
NurturanceThe need to help those in need.
OrderThe need for organization, tidiness, and precision.
PlayThe need to relax, to have fun, and to enjoy.
PowerThe need to control the environment.
RejectionThe need to exclude others.
SentienceThe need for sensuous gratifications.
SexThe need for sexual or exotic experiences.
SuccoranceThe need to seek sympathy and assistance from others.
UnderstandingThe need to define relationships with abstractions.

Murray did not arrange the needs in any particular order of importance. He postulated that each need had two principal components: direction and intensity.

  1. Direction pertains to the object or person that is expected to satisfy the need.
  2. Intensity (also called strength) represents the relative importance of the need.

Needs are thus viewed as the central motivating force for people in terms of both direction and intensity. Individuals can be classified according to the strengths of various personality need variables.

Murray concluded that all manifested needs are learned in the course of life rather than inherited, and can be activated or made manifest by introducing appropriate cues in the environment.

For example, if an individual has a latent need for achievement, it could be aroused by assigning him a challenging job. The individual’s creativity Opens in new window and abilities are then afforded an opportunity to manifest themselves and the need is tapped. This is in contrast to the person who continues to feel ennui doing the same monotonous task. Thus, the proper environmental cues can awaken the latent needs that would then become manifest.

While the manifest needs theory encompasses fairly a big set of needs, most research in organizational settings has focused on the four needs of achievement, affiliation, autonomy Opens in new window and power.