Motivation Theory by Henry Murray and Abraham Maslow.


Motivation is the mixture of wants, needs and drives within the individual which seek gratification through the acquisition or object. Marketers continually ask what ultimately promotes the consumer to purchase their product. Clearly consumer motivations are complex, and marketers must work vigorously to uncover them. According to motivation theory, environmental stimuli may activate the drive to satisfy an underlying need. Theorists like Abraham Maslow and Henry Murray have elaborate models of the way physiological and social needs influence behavior. In this paper we will discuss the theories of Murray and Maslow and try to analyze how their theories facilitate our understanding of the consumer decision making process. The flow of the paper is first based on describing the theoretical aspects of the model and then doing a detailed analysis of its success in describing consumer decision making.

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Henry Murray


Henry Murray’s Theory was focused on 2 types of needs, which are physical needs and psychological needs. Physical needs aim to reach a satisfaction of basic physical processes, such as need for food, air, water, or sex. Psychological needs focus on emotional and mental satisfaction, for example, the need for social interaction or to achieve difficult goals. After researching this area, Murray narrowed all the psychological needs down to twenty seven areas. However, some of the list and names depends on the time frame and the author. The next section presents the list of 27 needs.

The need concept is one of the most useful concepts proposed by Murray. A need stands for a force in the brain. It organizes and directs perception, memory, thought, and action in such a way as to reduce dissatisfaction and increase satisfaction. Needs may be aroused by internal states, such as hunger, or they may be set in action by external stimulation, such as the sight of food (Murray’s theory of human personality, 1997).

To construct his theory Murray assumes that behavior is driven by an internal state of disequilibrium. In other words we have a lack of something and that becomes the key driver of our activities or needs. We are dissatisfied and we desire something. Murray classified needs as being either: Primary needs which are biologically based. Some examples of such needs are food, water, air, sex, avoidance of pain. Secondary needs which are either derive from our biological needs or are inherent in our psychological nature. Examples of such needs are achievement, recognition, acquisition, dominance, aggression, autonomy affiliation, rejection, nurturance, play, and cognizance. Murray believed that stronger needs are expressed more often over time and lead to more intense behavior. The main potent of Murray’s theory is that he believes that personality as being driven by the secondary needs such as Achievement, Dominance, Affiliation and Nurturance. The extent to which each of these needs was felt by an individual shaped their personality and behavior.

We now try to construct a practical aspect of the needs as proposed by Murray through practical example of a consumer. Today’s restaurant guests dine out to satisfy a variety of needs. Smith (1988, p. 12-13) explained that these needs can be classified in five basic categories.

Hunger Driven – Convenience is these guests’ priority, so this need is most easily satisfied at a convenient, fast-service facility.

Work Avoidance – Guests seek to avoid the work involved in shopping, food preparation, and cleaning-up. They seek a family restaurant, such as a coffee shop, or avail themselves of the growing number of home-delivered food services.

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Socially Driven – Guests seek friendly “Meeting, eating, and drinking places.” These usually include cocktail/ action lounges or casual restaurants.

Experience Driven – An entertainment-type operation, such as a bistro or one-of-a-kind establishment, is used to meet these guests’ needs through a unique food and beverage experience. These facilities are entrepreneurial in style and have a range of prices.

Investment Driven – Guests also need a place to conduct business or engage in a “courtship” for some future investment benefit. These restaurants often feature prestige and include hotel facilities, fine-dining establishments, and private clubs.


Needs-based motivation theories have been criticized in the consumer motivation literature. While they have been acknowledged as useful for drawing attention to the wide variety of different needs that can motivate human behavior (e.g., Witt & Wright 1992), predicting the effects of motivation on behavior requires more than an understanding of human needs, because, “a knowledge of people’s needs will not necessarily tell us what they will actually do to fulfill such needs, or indeed whether they will do anything at all” (p.44).

According to motive theorists, needs don’t operate on their own to influence behavior. Rather, needs operate through motives. In simple terms, motives are thoughts and feelings that direct you to enact behaviors that will satiate your need. To put it another way, motives take underlying needs and translate them into a subjective, “felt” experience that drive you to behave. For example, on a biological level, you may have a need for food, but on a subjective level, you would experience a hunger motive, which would ultimately direct you to find something to eat.

Theorists believe that in addition to internal forces, external forces in the environment exert motivational influence. Murray believed that although all people have these needs, everyone has a dispositional tendency toward having a certain level of each. For example, Jane might have a chronic tendency to be high in need for achievement, high in need for dominance, and low in need for affiliation, whereas John might have a tendency to be high in need for achievement, low in need for dominance, and high in need for affiliation.

Theories and empirical validation of these theories are vital to personality research. But when it comes to researching the role of motives in personality, the process is a little more difficult. Why? This is because people don’t always openly show their motives.

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Another argument against need theories that arises is what are the needs? Murray’s needs come under the criticism that inevitably for any need theories and i.e. why are Murray’s needs “basic”? And what about the needs which are not present in the list. For example the need for sleep, is it not a primary need? Shouldn’t needs for attachment and novelty be considered as secondary needs? The argument against the theory is not the presence or absence of a particular needs but the lack of a criterion to decide which needs should be included and which should be exclude. (Vittori and Cervone p. 348)

Another problem that is foreseen is the difficulty of explaining overt action in terms of the overwhelming taxonomy of needs. Vittori and Cervone points out that the problem with Murray’s theory for it posit a universal system of needs, motives, or tendencies but fail to specify the process that link elements of the system to particular acts or to provide methodological tools for unambiguously verifying the links (p. 348).

Other criticisms include that Murray’s theory is very vague (Child 1973). This implies that they are ambiguous and their interpretation is subject to individual differences. Another criticism argues that Murray’s theory is too much of “common sense” rather than science. Michael Wertheimer (1978) has argued that:

“it has the earmarks of a burgeoning religion…It is capturing the allegiance of many innocents who don’t have the sense to ask for evidence…Uncritical testimonials take the place of hard needed data.” (p. 744)

He postulated that Murray’s theory was more of a derivative of a naïve phenomenology, which translated means that there is more to understanding human behavior than a study of conscious process may allow us to observe. Further criticism by Child (1973) is that it is a “trend towards sentimentality”. The critic here implies that there is more to understanding human behavior than just positive thinking or stressing on the infinite capacity of human will to achieve good.

Murray (1938) insisted that no isolated piece of behavior could be understood without taking into account the fully functioning person. According to Murray, psychologists should concern themselves primarily with the study of individual lives. White (1993) expressed the view that “if we are to learn about our subjects’ significant thoughts, feelings, and conceptions of themselves, it is necessary to create conditions that will encourage affective involvement and willing self-disclosure” (p. 12).

Abraham Maslow


The most popular and well-known approach to human motivation is based on the research of the psychologist Abraham Maslow. He presented the idea that there is a hierarchy of needs in man, ranging from the lower-order physiological drives (e.g. thirst, hunger and rest), through safety needs (e.g. shelter, protection and security) and affective needs (e.g. affection, friendship, love and acceptance), to the higher-order needs for self-esteem (e.g. prestige, success and accomplishment) and self-actualization (e.g. self-fulfillment and enriching experiences). The lower-level needs are considered to dominate the higher-level needs. That is, consumers must satisfy lower-level needs first, before they begin to pursue higher-order needs. According to Maslow the highest level of need is related to self-actualization, i.e. the desire to live up one’s full potential and to maximize the use of skills and abilities. However, this need for self-actualization only becomes activated if all four of the lower-level needs have already been satisfied.

Maslow postulated that there exists a deprivation of soma human needs which induces the need to gratify it and that process of need gratification is activated to satisfies the hierarchical needs (Wahba & Bridwelt, p. 515)

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A lot of research conducted on the basis of Maslow’s theory show that there exists little empirical support for the theory and the hierarchy of needs cannot be proved. Further, it is also found that the argument of need gratification is a problem as it does not properly define the criteria and the need itself. There are many criticisms of Maslow’s theory. At one level, critics question the hierarchical organization of the basic need taxonomy, as many examples exists in which it seems as if higher-level needs won out over basic needs. In addition, Maslow’s concepts are considered as too general. To say that hunger and self-esteem are similar, in that both are needs, is to neglect the urgent, involuntary nature of the former and the largely conscious, voluntary nature of the latter. However, the major problem with Maslow’s theory is lack of empirical and theoretical evidence to support its basic assumptions (Wahba & Bridwelt, p.514).

Maslow’s need hierarchy has received wide acceptance in many social disciplines as it provides a useful tool for understanding human motivation. In addition, this basic taxonomy can also be useful for marketing practitioners who are interested in understanding the basic needs of their customers. Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs make us understand consumer motivation. It is useful for the marketer who can identify what generic level need this brand is capable fulfilling and accordingly position his brand up with relevant marketing inputs. Brands such as food and clothes are bought to fulfill psychological needs.


Specific criticisms of Maslow’s hierarchy theory include its acknowledged strength of being sufficiently generic to cover most lists of human needs, means that the concepts are too general. Whether needs conform with Maslow’s proposed prepotency hierarchy has been questioned and even Maslow questioned the hierarchy upon which his theory is based. Another hierarchy-related criticism is that it cannot be tested empirically as there is no way to measure precisely how satisfied one need is before the next higher need becomes operative. Furthermore, Maslow’s theory does not take into account heroic and altruistic behavior as other theories can do, nor incorporates other important needs such as dominance, abasement, play, and aggression (Witt & Wright 1992) that are included in Murray’s classification.

One way to look at the purchase behavior of an individual is through the needs and motivations that generated the decision using Maslow’s theory. In looking at a consumer’s purchases with respect to Maslow’s initial or basic need stage, physiological needs; one can see that her purchases of Bernard Seafood Entrees, Pop-Weavers Light Popcorn, and Tropicana Orange Juice all fall within these bounds. His/her purchases of Cortagen vitamins and rawhide chews for dogs (which shows that she has a dog) satisfy Maslow’s second tier of need hierarchy, safety and security needs. Her purchase of Cortagen vitamins satisfies the stability component of this need hierarchy, while the dog satisfies her protection component. Maslow’s next tier of need hierarchy is social needs. Her purchases of Tressemine Mousse, Pantene Pro-V Shampoo, and Secret deodorant all satisfy the affection and belonging component on this need hierarchy.

They accomplish this by making her hair look good and her body small nice, two qualities she eludes to in her product list. Her purchase of Pop-Weavers Light Popcorn also satisfies this component because she is more concerned with the fact that it is low in fat rather than the nourishment it provides. The purchases of Showbiz Videos and Almay Skin products fall under the belonging component of this need. Almay face and skin products also fall into Maslow’s fourth need hierarchy of ego needs. The reason for this is that she seems more concerned with the name Almay and the romantic image she associates with it. However, any of the personal hygiene products she listed could fall under this need due to the need for self-esteem and self-respect. This consumer is definitely rationally motivated with respect to her day to day purchases. She considers all of the alternatives and makes a well-informed decision relying quite a bit on value. However, when considering her purchase of Almay skin products, she is probably emotionally motivated because of her subjective criteria in purchase decision mentioned above.

Despite criticisms, Maslow’s hierarchy is considered a useful tool for understanding consumer motivations, developing marketing strategy, appropriate advertising appeals and as the basis for market segmentation and product positioning because consumer goods often serve to satisfy each of the need levels. Maslow’s need hierarchy has been called an ‘emotional trigger’ that enables marketers to communicate with their target audiences on a personal, meaningful level that goes beyond product benefits. Witt and Wright (1992) conclude that, “the study of needs can at best only provide a partial explanation of motivated behavior” (p.44). In particular, the way in which an individual’s needs may be translated into motivated behavior is necessary when researching tourist motivation and other such factors must be taken into consideration if the explanation of tourist motivation is to be of use in predicting behavior.


Witt and Wright (1992) suggest at the theoretical level expectancy theory enables many of the existing concepts in the study of consumer motivation to be incorporated within a single theoretical framework i.e., need theories such as Maslow and Murray but the emotional aspects of consumer motivation, for example as in case of tourist motivation, the needs which instigate the desire to travel in the first place, the decision making involved in choosing whether to do on holiday and, if so, where is not provided in the models provided by Maslow or Murray. So in conclusion it can be said that even if the need theories are highly criticized for lacking strong empirical support one should not forget that both the above theories were derived from clinical learning and practice. So they may not have correlations between each other as any study will look for, but are causal models. Moreover their validity lies in their acceptance in management practices especially is explaining consumer motivation and other allied areas of marketing like advertising and positioning of products. Hence these theories cannot be rejected for their lack of empirical support as they provide huge assistance to explain human personality and their behavior.


Smith, D.L. Service: Managing the guest experience. New York: Chain Store Publishin, 1998.

Witt, C. & Wright, P. Tourist Motivation: Life after Maslow. In P. Johnson and B. Thomas (eds.), Choice and Demand in Tourism, (pp. 33-55). London: Mansell, 1992.

Schrocer, R. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a Framework for Identifying Emotional Triggers. Marketing Review. 46(5), 1991, pp.26-28.

Wahba, A., & Bridgewell, L. “Maslow reconsidered: A review of research on the need hierarchy theory.” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 15, 1976, pp. 212-240.

Caprara, Gian Vittorio and Cervone, Daniel Personality: Determinants, Dynamics, and Potentials. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Child, I.L. Humanistic Psychology and the Research Tradition New York: Wiley, 1973.

Weitheimer, M. “Humanistic Psychology and the Human tough-minded Psychology.” American Psychologist, 33, 1978: 739-745.

Murray, H. A. Explorations in personality: A clinical and experimental study of fifty men of college age. New York: Oxford University Press, 1938.

White, K. R. Measurement and evaluation in the school. New York: Longman, 1993.

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