Human Need & Motivation

Human Need & Motivation

In life, emotions are often complex, which is why human behavior sometimes seems counterintuitive. Even the most level headed of persons defy predictability. The task to replicate the unusual movement of the human soul with any authenticity requires psychological acuity on the writer’s part. He or she must understand the roles of need and want, and how these driving forces translate into individual and circumstantial behavior.

The spectrum of human needs fall into one of four categories:

  • Physiology (hunger, thirst, sleep, etc.)
  • Safety/Security/Shelter/Health
  • Belongingness/Love/Friendship
  • Self-esteem/Recognition/Achievement/ Self actualization

Needs are distinguished from wants, as they consist of something necessary for a person to live a healthy life. If unfulfilled, a need’s lack will result in dysfunction or death.  Whether a need is physical (e.g., food) or psychological (e.g., self-esteem), it motivates the individual to act in a manner that he perceives will satisfy the void and arrest the need’s negative outcome. Sample needs include:

  • Acceptance, the need for approval
  • Curiosity, the need to learn
  • Eating, the need for food
  • Family, the need to raise children
  • Honor, the need to be loyal to the values of one’s clan/ethnic group
  • Idealism, the need for social justice
  • Independence, the need for individuality
  • Order, the need for organized, stable, predictable environments
  • Physical activity, the need for exercise
  • Power, the need for influence of will
  • Romance, the need for sex
  • Saving, the need to collect
  • Social contact, the need for friends (peer relationships)
  • Social status, the need for social standing/importance
  • Tranquility, the need to rest and be safe
  • Vengeance, the need to strike back/to win

Human Emotion

Humans, according to Robert Plutchik, are wired for eight primary bipolar emotions that incite behavior (e.g., fear instigates the fight-or-flight response).

Basic EmotionBasic Opposite

Plutchik proposes that, like colors, primary emotions can be expressed at varying intensities and mixed to form different emotions. To demonstrate the relationship beween these emotions, he formulated the wheel of emotions. emotions

EmotionsFeelings That ResultOppositeEmotion
Anticipation + JoyOptimismDisapproval
Joy + TrustLoveRemorse
Trust + FearSubmissionContempt
Fear + SurpriseAweAggression
Surprise + SadnessDisappointmentOptimism
Sadness + DisgustRemorseLove
Disgust + AngerContemptSubmission
Anger + AnticipationAggressionAwe

Like people, your hero won’t act unless he’s motivated to act. Need fuels motivation, driving both behavior and plot. What causes your protagonist to choose “A” versus “B”? Understanding his motivation—who he is and why he is the way he is—will help you portray a unique and multi-layered personality.

Written by The UnNovelist
The Unnovelist