Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 79
  • Published : April 26, 2013
Open Document
Text Preview
Basic Human Needs



Basic Human Needs Thane S. Pittman and Kate R. Zeigler Colby College


Chapter to appear in Kruglanski, A., & Higgins, E. (2006), Social Psychology: A handbook of basic principles, 2nd Edition. New York: Guilford Publications

Thane S. Pittman and Kate R. Zeigler Department of Psychology 5550 Mayflower Hill Colby College Waterville, ME 04901 207-859-5557

Basic Human Needs Basic Human Needs "It is vain to do with more what can be done with less."


attributed to William of Occam (c. 1285–1349) "There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong." H. L. Mencken (1949), p. 443 It has been a long time since a chapter devoted to the subject of basic human needs appeared in a major handbook in social psychology; indeed, there has never been one (Gilbert, Fiske, & Lindzey, 1998; Higgins & Kruglanski, 1996; Lindzey, 1954; Lindzey & Aronson, 1968; 1985; Murchison, 1935). A search of chapter titles in the Annual Review of Psychology also came up empty. The discovery of these facts gave us considerable reason to pause. But as interest in using a motivational perspective for the generation of hypotheses and the interpretation of findings has increased (cf. Higgins & Kruglanski, 2000; Pittman, 1998; Pittman & Heller, 1987), theorists have begun to return to the question "What are the basic human needs?" It thus does seem to be an appropriate time to assess the ways in which ideas about basic human needs have been and are being used in social-psychological theories and research. Rather than providing a thorough literature review of all research using constructs proposed to represent the operation of basic human needs, we instead review much more selectively the current state of theories about basic human needs, with a little historical context. We have chosen six theories for comparison. All of these theories have been given extensive explication and review elsewhere, so we will focus particularly on how these theories are structured and at what level of analysis they are designed to apply. We will find a little agreement but perhaps considerable food for thought.

Basic Human Needs


Human Nature What is human nature? Is there such a thing? Although it is not the way that social psychologists have approached this question, an informal consideration of other species in comparison suggests that there must be such a thing as human nature. We know that dogs are different from cats in many ways, and that neither is the same as a horse, a rat, a dolphin, or an orangutan. These mammals are very different in size and shape, but we also sense from their behavior that the differences among them go beyond those obvious physical characteristics. Humans share many basic similarities with all of these animals but are also unlike any of them in many aspects of their physical construction and, we suspect, in their psychological processes. But what are those psychological differences, and to what extent are they simply differences in degree (for example, in the extent of information processing capability) versus qualitative differences (perhaps, for example, in ambition, or in the inclination and ability to construct symbolic meaning)? Such questions are not easy to answer, but it is also the case that most of our work in psychology has not been designed to address them. To pursue this line of thinking a bit further nevertheless, it is easy to distinguish a human from other animals based on physical appearance. Bipedal and relatively hairless would seem to do it. "Find the human" is not a common item on tests of intelligence. To make such distinctions based on behavior is also quite simple. A clue such as "makes automobiles" resolves all ambiguity as to which species we have in mind. Of course not all humans make automobiles, but archaeologists do not need to expend a great deal of energy answering the question...
tracking img