Needs, Values, and Motivation

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss the role of needs and values in motivation.

Motivational appeals are a type of psychological appeal used by speakers to inspire or encourage their audience to do something. Motivational appeals target an audience’s emotions, needs and values.

Reiss’s 16 Basic Desires

Psychology professor Steven Reiss developed a theory of sixteen needs and values that motivate human beings.[1]

  1. Thumbs up icon Acceptance, the need to be appreciated
  2. A curious person. Curiosity, the need to gain knowledge
  3. icon of bowl of soup Eating, the need for food
  4. Parent and childFamily, the need to take care of one’s offspring
  5. A medal of honor Honor, the need to be faithful to the customary values of an individual’s ethnic group, family, or clan
  6. Scales of justice Idealism, the need for social justice
  7. A paper airplane flying out of formation Independence, the need to be distinct and self-reliant
  8. A calendar and a clock Order, the need for prepared, established, and conventional environments
  9. person stretching Physical activity, the need for work out of the body
  10. Controller Power, the need for control of will
  11. hearts Romance, the need for mating or sex
  12. Piggy bank Saving, the need to accumulate something
  13. Two people talking Social contact, the need for relationship with others
  14. An important person Social status, the need for social significance
  15. person in hammock Tranquility, the need to be secure and protected
  16. A sword Vengeance, the need to confront or resist those who hurt or offend

With these motivators in mind, we can then proceed to think about ways to appeal to an audience’s emotions, needs, and values.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

One common approach when designing motivational appeals is to make use of Abraham Maslow’s model of human needs. Maslow arranged human needs into a hierarchy and he insisted higher-level needs on the hierarchy cannot be achieved before lower-level needs are met. What this means for persuasion is that you cannot motivate an audience to address a higher-level need until their lower-level needs are fulfilled.

Maslow’s model of needs in order from low to high level:

  • Physiological needs: Food, drink, sleep, shelter.
  • Safety needs: Personal protection and safety from threat, crime, dangerous weather, loss of property, etc.
  • Love and belonging needs: Love, affection, belonging.
  • Esteem needs: Desire for stable, high-evaluation of the self and acceptance by others.
  • Self-actualization needs: The need to achieve our highest sense of who we can become.
A triangle is divided vertically into five sections with corresponding labels inside and outside of the triangle for each section. From top to bottom, the triangle's sections are labeled: “self-actualization” corresponds to “Inner fulfillment”; “esteem” corresponds to “self-worth, accomplishment, confidence”; “social” corresponds to “family, friendship, intimacy, belonging”; “security” corresponds to “safety, employment, assets”; “physiological” corresponds to “food, water, shelter, warmth.”

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is illustrated here. In some versions of the pyramid, cognitive and aesthetic needs are also included between esteem and self-actualization. Others include another tier at the top of the pyramid for self-transcendence.

  1. Reiss, Steven. "Multifaceted nature of intrinsic motivation: The theory of 16 basic desires." Review of general psychology 8.3 (2004): 179–193, 187.