Henry Murray psychogenic needs


What is the depth of your knowledge in terms of your needs and those around you? Perhaps this is the question to which the answer reveals why and how people communicate. Our very existence is dependent on meeting certain needs. As for others, they come into perspective when our most vital needs are met and there is room for more. Many are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but it is not the only theory on psychological needs. This article is dedicated to Henry Murray’s theory of psychogenic needs. This theory can help us better understand what drives people to behave in certain ways as well.

Murray’s Theory of Psychogenic Needs

Murray’s theory of psychogenic needs suggests that personality can be described through basic needs that lead to its formation. These needs are considered to be innate or inborn. Yet, before we dive into Murray’s theory, we need to differentiate between two basic needs: biological needs and psychological needs. Biological needs, otherwise known as primary needs are those which are essential to the survival of an individual such as food, water, air, and more. Psychological needs, or secondary needs, are those which enable the individual to grow and flourish.


Even though most consider biological needs to be vital for survival, there are researches that explain how certain psychological needs are absolutely necessary for the survival of a being and how their lack of existence can affect their lives. These will be explained in detail in another article.

Henry Murray’s theory of psychogenic needs includes 27 needs that are important for any individual. Like Maslow, he suggests that all these needs exist in every person, though in different levels. These needs are what motivate the individual to behave in a particular manner. According to Paul Kleinman’s book “PSYCH101”, Allied forces asked for Murrays help in 1943 to better understand Adolf Hitler; his description of Hitler is provided in the book. As for you, you can better understand your needs by learning Murray’s psychogenic needs provided below; In order to simplify the understanding of needs, only the description of the classifications are provided here. You may refer to the sources at the end of the article or search this theory online to find the name of the psychogenic needs.

Henry Murray’s Psychogenic Needs

1. be unique
2. create and build
3. avoid pain
4. ask questions, seek knowledge, analyze, experience
5. organize, arrange, be particular
6. have fun, relax, relieve tension and stress
7. succeed and overcome obstacles
8. accept punishment and surrender
9. educate and give information
10. obey rules and avoid blame
11. attain possessions
12. justify one’s actions
13. defend one’s honor  

14. lead other people and control
15. serve and follow someone superior than oneself
16. make friendships and relations
17. protect those who are helpless
18. harm others
19. remain strong and resist others
20. obtain sympathy/protection
21. empathize with others
22. reject others
23. enjoy sensuous experiences
24. create and enjoy an erotic relationship
25. gain social status and approval by displaying achievements
26. hide weaknesses and avoid shame/failure
27. draw attraction

Meeting Our Needs

It is seldom easy to realize one’s own needs as the majority of them are not consciously recognized or they are sometimes suppressed. Due to the same reason and more, it becomes even more difficult and at times impossible to realize or understand other people’s needs. To make matters worse, as Murray maintains, sometimes certain needs may be in conflict with others, hence affecting behaviors and decisions. Such conflicts can affect workplace performance. These needs are introduced as competing commitments in an article written by Robert Reason and Lisa Laskow Lahey called “The Real Reason People Won’t Change”. As if that is not enough, the expression of these needs is likely to be affected by what Murray called presses, which are none other than environmental factors.

It is not lost on any of us that the environment, especially cultural values and social norms can impact how individuals see themselves considering their needs, as well as how they can express and meet their psychological needs. Contrary to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Murray’s theory of psychogenic needs has been introduced as a list consisting of needs, some of which can be met individually and some which can solely be met in the society or community. Nonetheless, they both depend on and are affected by the environment.

At times, individuals become so severely limited in meeting vital needs that they may experience what is called psychological famine. Cultural dimensions can determine whether there will be flood or famine, and there is an extent to which an individual can affect its environment or choose to take the road not taken. To learn more about cultural dimensions and how they affect individuals, read the links below.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

Hofstede’s long term orientation

Indulgence vs Restraint

Power Distance Index

Individualism vs Collectivism

Indulgence vs Restraint

Needs and Consumer Behavior

Recently, a research was conducted by Su-kyung Seo & Chunmin Lang using psychogenic needs to better understand consumption behavior. They concluded that the need to be unique and social identity strongly influence how individuals make purchases in the fashion industry. It is assumed that a lack of balance in one need leads to a behavior that strives to meet that particular need and achieve equilibrium. In this case, research has shown that both women and men assign value to uniqueness. However, social identity mostly drives men to make decisions while self-promotion motivates women in their fashion choices.

What does It All Mean?

From Murray’s psychogenic needs to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, these theories attempt to explain what is vital or important to a person, and why they do what they do. People’s behaviors are affected both by their needs and their environments. We need to keep in mind that behaviors are not shaped primarily based on moral values. Therefore, a person may resort to actions that are harmful to others, even their loved ones, to meet their needs. That is why the need to hurt others exists in Murray’s theory. What we can do is to review our actions and behaviors, and try to be more aware of how we affect others when we try to meet our needs.

sources and references

PSYCH101 by Paul Kleinman

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Change Management

Abnormal Psychology by Butcher et al



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