The Big Three Motives Achievement Power and Intimacy

Although Murray proposed several dozen motives, researchers have focused most of their attention on a relatively small set. These motives are based on the needs for achievement, power, and intimacy. Research with the TAT, and on motives in general, has tended to focus on these three primary motives. Let' s review what we know about each of these fundamental human motives.

Need for Achievement

Behavior that is motivated by the need for achievement has long interested psychologists. Because it has received the most research attention we will begin with this motive.

Doing Things Better

Following Murray at Harvard, psychologist David McClelland carried on the tradition of motive research. McClelland was best known for his research on the need for achievement, defined as the desire to do bette , to be successful, and to feel competent. Like all motives, we assume that the need for achievement will energize behavior in certain (achievement-related) situations. It is energized by the incentives of challenge and variety, it is accompanied by feelings of interest and surprise, and it is associated with the subjective state of being curious and exploratory (McClelland, 1985). People motivated by a high need for achievement obtain satisfaction from accomplishing a task or from the anticipation of accomplishing a task.

They cherish the process of being engaged in challenging activities.

Many researchers have demonstrated that state need for achievement can be aroused and that stories written in these aroused conditions contain more achievement imagery. For example, in one experiment, subjects are led to believe that they are taking a test of general intelligence and leadership ability . After the test, some are told they scored very high, some are told they scored very low , and some are given no feedback whatsoever. The experimenters assume that success and failure feedback on a test of intelligence and ability would arouse state need for achievement. After a short period, the subjects complete the TAT. The stories written by the subjects who received feedback on the earlier test (either the success or the failure feedback) contain more achievement imagery than the stories written by the people who did not get any feedback.

The effect of achievement arousal on TAT scores has been successfully demonstrated on both men and women and on people from such diverse cultures as Germany, India, Japan, Poland, and Brazil (reviewed in Koestner & McClelland, 1990). An extensive study of racial influences on TAT scores found no dif ferences between African American and white subjects in their need for achievement (nAch) scores (Lefkowitz & Frazer, 1980). Neither the race of the TAT administrator nor the race of the figures in the TAT had an impact on nAch scores. These cross-cultural and cross-racial replications are important, because they demonstrate that the ef fects of arousing state achievement needs, as evidenced by the fantasy content provided by subjects, are the same for people from dif ferent cultures, despite dif ferences in the social, linguistic, or cultural definitions of the concepts of achievement and success This finding exemplifies the concept of generalizability discussed in Chapter

In terms of trait levels, high nAch individuals prefer moderate levels of challenge, neither too high nor too low . This preference makes sense, given that the high nAch person is motivated to do better than others. A task that is almost impossible to accomplish will not be attractive because it will not provide the opportunity to do better if everyone does poorly. A task that is too easy will be easy for everyone; the high nAch person will not do better if everyone is successful. Theoretically, we expect high nAch persons to have a preference for moderately challenging tasks. Dozens of studies have found support for this idea. One study examined children' s preference for challenge in a variety of games (e.g., the ring-toss game, in which children attempt to toss rings around sticks that are placed at varying distances). Children high in nAch preferred a moderate challenge (e.g., tossed their rings at the sticks in the middle), whereas children low in nAch tried either the very easy levels of the games (closer sticks) or the levels at which success was almost impossible (McClelland, 1958). This relationship has also been demonstrated outside the laboratory. Young adults high in nAch have been found to choose college majors that are of intermediate dif ficulty and to pursue career that are of moderate dif ficulty (reviewed in Koestner & McClelland, 1990)

To summarize the characteristics of persons high in nAch, (1) they prefer activities that provide some, but not too much, challenge, (2) they enjoy tasks in which they are personally responsible for the outcome, and (3) they prefer tasks for which feedback on their performance is available.

As the leader of two successful companies, Apple Computer and Pixar Animation, Steve Jobs is constantly striving to do things better. He is a good example of someone high in achievement motivation.

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