ArticlePDF Available

Toward a comprehensive taxonomy of human motives

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

A major success in personality has been the development of a consensual structure of traits. However, much less progress has been made on the structure of an equally important aspect of human psychology: motives. We present an empirically and theoretically structured hierarchical taxonomy of 161 motives gleaned from a literature review from McDougall to the present and based on the cluster analysis of similarity judgments among these 161 motives, a broader sampling of motives than previous work. At the broadest level were: Meaning, Communion, and Agency. These divided into nine clusters: Morality & Virtue, Religion & Spirituality, Self-Actualization, Avoidance, Social Relating, Family, Health, Mastery & Competence, and Financial & Occupational Success. Each divided into more concrete clusters to form 5 levels. We discuss contributions to research on motives, especially recent work on goal systems, and the aiding of communication and systematization of research. Finally, we compare the taxonomy to other motive organizations.
Content may be subject to copyright.
RESEARCH ARTICLE
Toward a comprehensive taxonomy of
human motives
Jennifer R. Talevich
1
, Stephen J. Read
1
*, David A. Walsh
1
, Ravi Iyer
2
, Gurveen Chopra
1
1Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, United States of America,
2Ranker, Los Angeles, CA, United States of America
*read@usc.edu
Abstract
A major success in personality has been the development of a consensual structure of traits.
However, much less progress has been made on the structure of an equally important aspect
of human psychology: motives. We present an empirically and theoretically structured hierar-
chical taxonomy of 161 motives gleaned from a literature review from McDougall to the pres-
ent and based on the cluster analysis of similarity judgments among these 161 motives, a
broader sampling of motives than previous work. At the broadest level were: Meaning, Com-
munion, and Agency. These divided into nine clusters: Morality & Virtue, Religion & Spiritual-
ity, Self-Actualization, Avoidance, Social Relating, Family, Health, Mastery & Competence,
and Financial & Occupational Success. Each divided into more concrete clusters to form 5
levels. We discuss contributions to research on motives, especially recent work on goal sys-
tems, and the aiding of communication and systematization of research. Finally, we compare
the taxonomy to other motive organizations.
Introduction
Goals and motives are fundamental to human behavior: they play a central role in its enactment
and in our understanding of why people do what they do. Moreover, they have long been con-
sidered essential aspects of human personality (e.g., [112]). Yet despite their essential role in
human behavior, we have only an incomplete idea of how human motives are structured and
organized [13]. Although a variety of different motive lists and small-scale taxonomies have
been proposed, psychologists have not yet developed a comprehensive, empirically based struc-
ture of human motives.
This is unfortunate because a common conceptual framework systematizes and integrates
knowledge; it greatly advances research and its application by increasing the field’s ability to
understand, predict, and influence its object of study—in our case, human behavior. With a
common frame of reference, communication among researchers is aided, and repetitive, over-
lapping efforts can be avoided. Moreover, a comprehensive structure provides a rich resource
for research: it provides numerous hypotheses about the mechanisms underlying behavior and
it provides a basis for measurement and comparison across individuals and studies. The result
is that research is facilitated and the pace of theory development is accelerated.
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 1 / 32
a1111111111
a1111111111
a1111111111
a1111111111
a1111111111
OPEN ACCESS
Citation: Talevich JR, Read SJ, Walsh DA, Iyer R,
Chopra G (2017) Toward a comprehensive
taxonomy of human motives. PLoS ONE 12(2):
e0172279. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279
Editor: Andreas B Eder, University of Wu¨rzburg,
GERMANY
Received: April 29, 2016
Accepted: February 2, 2017
Published: February 23, 2017
Copyright: ©2017 Talevich et al. This is an open
access article distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author and source are credited.
Data Availability Statement: All relevant data
underlying this study are available from the Open
Science Framework: https://osf.io/4m3w4/.
Funding: This research was funded by Contract
No. W911NF-07-D-001 “Measuring Teamwork
Skills and Predicting Reactions to Policies Using
Computer Agents” to SJR from the Navy Personnel
Research, Studies, and Technology Department.
The funders had no role in study design, data
collection and analysis, decision to publish, or
preparation of the manuscript.
Competing interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
The advantages of a comprehensive structure
With the recent explosion of interest in human goal systems and their dynamics, researchers
have argued that understanding the structure of human motives is central to understanding
motivation (e.g., [1416]. For example, Kruglanski et al.’s [16] Goal Systems Theory has
argued that the cognitive structure of goals represents how goals are related to one another:
which goals are pursued together, which conflict, and which are pursued independently.
When a goal is activated, we may use the goal structure to predict which other goals are likely
to be primed or inhibited.
Carver and Scheier’s [14] cybernetic model of the self-regulation of behavior (see also [15])
has noted that goals are often hierarchically organized, with higher order goals being broader
and more abstract. This hierarchical organization has several important implications: 1) higher
order goals are more likely to function as general principles guiding behavior, and related to
this, 2) higher order goals are likely to play a directing or controlling role over a much wider
range of behavior than are more concrete, lower order goals. In contrast, 3) lower level goals
have much greater specificity and apply to a much more restricted set of behaviors.
We should note that researchers often use the term goals and motives interchangeably.
However, there are important distinctions. Motives have force or “energy”, are things that peo-
ple want. They provide the energizing or driving force behind behavior[17,18]. In contrast,
goals do not necessarily have hedonic value or force. Frequently, they can simply be used to
describe a step in a hierarchy of behavior. They are cognitive representation of an end state.
For instance, in the Artificial Intelligence Planning literatures or in Carver and Scheier’s [14]
cybernetic model, behavioral sequences are organized in goal-subgoal hierarchies, where a
goal can simply be part of carrying out a sequence. Walking across the room or picking up a
glass may be goals, but in and of themselves they have little if any hedonic or affective value.
But wanting water when one is thirsty or wanting to be with a friend when one is lonely does
have energizing force. In the current work we use the term motive because we are focused on
developing a taxonomy of things that have energizing or driving force. What researchers call
goals sometimes have these characteristics, but frequently they do not.
A comprehensive taxonomy of human motives would provide us with information about
these and other central aspects of motive systems. Taxonomies such as the periodic table of the
elements and classifications of the biological world have played a major role in theory develop-
ment in other sciences. Such taxonomies bring order to a body of knowledge and often help
reveal important underlying principles in a domain. In so doing, they enhance a field’s capac-
ity to understand, account for, and manipulate their complex subject matter. As John [19]
noted in his discussion of the Big Five and its role in the field of personality, development of
an adequate taxonomy of a scientific domain often plays a number of fundamental roles in the
development of a field. Thus, a comprehensive motive structure would greatly facilitate a wide
range of work on the role of motives in human behavior.
Psychology underutilizes taxonomic classification—perhaps because the things we seek to
organize are not physical or directly observable. But we can see the advantages of taxonomic cat-
egorization in work with the Big Five (e.g., [20,21]; for a recent review see [22]) and related
structures of human personality (e.g., [23,24]). The Big 5 taxonomic structure is widely viewed
as one of the major accomplishments of the field of personality. It provides personality research-
ers with a commonly accepted framework for organizing a wide range of personality measures
and for research and thinking about the nature of human personality and its role in human
behavior. A comprehensive taxonomy of human motives could arguably play an even more
important role across all the multiple fields that study human behavior.
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 2 / 32
Our purpose is to build a comprehensive structure of human motives that will be useful to
researchers, in nearly any domain, who have questions about what matters to their partici-
pants. It would be a powerful tool for identifying the “right variables” to measure for a wide
range of investigations into human motivation and help researchers identify both what matters
within a particular domain, as well as across a range of domains. With a common framework,
we could compare results across individuals and across domains.
A non-taxonomic method often employed to study the role of goals and motives in behav-
ior is to simply ask participants to generate their own goals (e.g., [4,7,2527]). However, this
does not allow for easy comparison of results across individuals, different studies, or domains.
With a taxonomic reference for these efforts, researchers could move on to the meat of their
work–be it the study of cross-cultural values or encouraging mental patients to take their med-
ication [28].
Our aim is to provide the most comprehensive collection of motives yet drawn from the lit-
erature–from past efforts both empirical and theoretical (see Generating a List of Motives).
From this collection we create a multi-level structure that moves smoothly from a set of specific,
concrete motives up into highly abstract conceptual categories. This should allow the researcher
to “zoom in” or “out” to assess human motivation at different levels of specificity or generality.
We then examine our structure for convergence with theories about motives throughout history
(in the Discussion see Comparison With Previous Categorizations of Human Motivators). We
expect to find that our taxonomy includes the key elements of past works but, because of its
more comprehensive start, we will arrive at a more comprehensive end.
Existing taxonomies: Generating a list of motives
The development of a comprehensive list of human motives has been one focus of work on
motivation (see [13]). However, as Ford and Nichols [29] have noted, little consensus exists
concerning such a list. Over the years, a wide variety of different suggestions have been made.
In the 1930s, McDougall [30] presented a list of 13 instincts and Murray[10] posited 44 “vari-
ables of personality” as forces determining behavior. Later, Maslow [8] introduced a hierarchy
of 5 kinds of human needs; Cattell [31] presented 16 “Ergs;” Rokeach [32,33] generated a list of
18 instrumental (ends) and 18 terminal (means) values; and Schank and Abelson [34] pro-
posed 6 motive types. Wicker et al. [35] generated a list of 56 motives. Schwartz [36,37] argued
for 10 major value types, recently expanded to 19 [38]. Grouzet et al. [39] identified 57 differ-
ent goals organized into 11 categories. Bugental[40] argues for five major clusters of human
motivations, Fiske [17] argues for five core motives, Bernard and Lac [41] present a measure of
15 evolutionary based motives, and Kenrick et al. [42] argue for eight major clusters of human
motivations. Ozer ([43]) has also recently argued for a hierarchical goal taxonomy with eight
broad categories of goals at the highest level (What he calls goals, particularly at the highest
level, are what we are referring to as motives). In the discussion, we will compare the specific
motive clusters in our taxonomy with these theories.
The range of motives that have been proposed is wide. The variability in how they have
been structured is high. What we lack is a clear consensus on the space of human motivation
and how it is structured. In the current project we attempt to draw upon all the different major
proposals and descriptions of individual motives that have been offered by using these earlier
works as the starting point for building the content of our taxonomy
Generating a taxonomy: Theoretical or empirical?
Lessons from the big five. The Big Five is a comprehensive hierarchical taxonomy of per-
sonality traits. Over and over again, the Big Five personality traits emerge in factor analyses.
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 3 / 32
The existence of the Big Five is widely accepted, although their meaning and the processes
underlying them are somewhat murky [44]. However, whether researchers are utilizing or crit-
icizing it, the Big Five has been a vibrant source of research for decades.
Taking our lessons from the Big Five, psychology’s most successful taxonomy, we see the
power of empirical derivation to provide a consistent and comprehensive tool upon which
researchers may base future scales and measures. And yet, it is crucial that the resultant struc-
ture be supported by the theories of our field–for theory will be the explanation for what
underlies this structure.
Empirical and theoretical motive structures
Some approaches to the creation of a structure of human motives have been based on theoreti-
cal and conceptual analyses while others have taken a more empirical approach (for further
discussion see [13]). Our approach here is to start with an empirical approach and then relate
our results to theoretical proposals. This strategy aims to avoid a key problem: starting with
theory for such an endeavor can strongly constrain what we look for, and because it constrains
where we look, it can limit what we find.
Among the earliest approaches were those of Murray [10], McDougall [30], and Maslow
[8], who argued for frameworks based on theory. This approach continues with more recent
proposals by Bugental [40] and Kenrick et al. [42], who base their work on evolutionary theory,
and Fiske’s [17] work based on personality and social psychological theory.
Others have taken an empirical approach, gathering a wide range of motives, asking partici-
pants to make judgments about the motives, such as their importance or their similarity, and
then analyzing the judgments to try to uncover the underlying structure. For example, Wicker
et al. [35] generated a list of 56 motives, asked subjects to rate the importance of each motive
(“How much do you want it?”), and then analyzed the ratings using factor and cluster analysis.
Unfortunately, this did not group together items that were conceptually similar. As we argue
below, importance ratings may not be the best way to uncover motive structure.
A more recent empirical approach, Chulef, Read, and Walsh’s [45] taxonomy of human
motives, relied on similarity judgments, rather than importance ratings. They had participants
sort 135 motives into groups based on which went together. The sorting results were then clus-
ter analyzed to create an empirically derived hierarchical taxonomy of human motives.
Other approaches mix the empirical and theoretical. For example, Braithewaite and Law
[46] started with the items in Rokeach’s Values Survey [32,33] and then examined its structure.
More recently, Grouzet et al. [39] developed a set of 57 goal items that measured 11 general
goal categories, based on a review of the literature and theoretical considerations, and then
had subjects across 15 cultures indicate how important each goal item was. They then exam-
ined the factor structure of their 11 goal categories and subsequently examined the structure of
the 11 categories in terms of a circumplex. They identified two major dimensions: Intrinsic
versus Extrinsic and Self-Transcendence versus Physical Self. Schwartz and Bilsky [36,37] con-
structed a theoretically motivated three-tiered structure of values. Working top-down from
the highest-order theoretical value categories (biological needs, interpersonal interactions, and
group-level societal demands) they proposed seven (later 10) more concrete domain categories
(e.g. Enjoyment Domain). Working from their domain categories they then picked specific
values that seemed to fit into each domain (e.g. “having a comfortable life,” from Rokeach
[32]). Recently, Schwartz et al. [38] have theorized a lower, more fine-grained, level of 19 val-
ues. The result of Schwartz’s work was a circumplex, with congruent values adjacent and
incongruent values on opposite sides of the wheel. This circumplex has been extensively tested
in many different countries.
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 4 / 32
Although theory driven approaches have been quite useful, what we find is often con-
strained by the framework that guides our search. An empirically based structure that starts
from a comprehensive search of possible human motives, rather than from theoretical con-
cerns should largely avoid these constraints. Thus, the focus of the current project is to develop
an empirically based hierarchical taxonomy of human motives. We will examine whether and
how the resulting structure fits with various theories, but we will largely rely on data and not
theory to structure our taxonomy.
Selecting a basis for structure: Importance vs. similarity. In addition to determining the
list of motives, we also need to decide how to determine the structure of human motives. As
noted above, previous empirical approaches to creating motive taxonomies have used different
bases; some used importance ratings ([3539]) and others used similarity or meaning based
judgments (e.g., [45]). In the current project we use similarity or meaning-based judgments.
Importance and similarity provide very different information about the nature and structure
of motives, as Lewin’s[6,47] Force Field Theory of motivation and Kruglanski et al’s [16] recent
goal systems theory make clear.
Kruglanski et al [16] have noted that goal(or motive) systems have two major properties:
structure and allocation. Structural properties concern the cognitive-interconnectedness of
goal systems: how different goals and motives are related to one another; which are closely
related, and which may be completely opposed. In contrast, allocational properties have to do
with how limited resources are distributed toward the attainment of different goals and
motives. The importance of different goals tells us how an individual is likely to allocate limited
resources to the pursuit of different goals. Similarity tells us about the conceptual structure of
goals and motives, how they are related to one another. These are very different properties.
Lewin’s Force Field Theory[6,47], a highly influential theory of motivation, provides an
additional perspective on the differences between motivational importance and motivational
structure. Lewin characterized motivational force in terms of a vector, which has three proper-
ties: direction, point of application, and strength (for a quick review see [3]).
Point of application simply means what content the motivational force is being applied to–
the goal content. This is also related to the cognitive structural property of Goal Systems[16],
how goals are cognitively related to one another, as we discussed above. Our taxonomy would
in part, represent content.
Lewin’s strength of a vector refers to the amount of tension (or “need”) and is a function of
psychological distance (growing stronger, as distance decreases, in anticipation). It is the vigor
with which one moves, not the direction of movement. It’s most familiarly operationalized as
importance ratings [16]. Strength of wanting says nothing directly about the content or mean-
ing of the motive, or about the routes and barriers between one’s self and motive attainment.
From the perspective of Goal Systems Theory [16] the strength of a force is an allocational
property: it is used to determine the allocation of resources.
The direction of a force is determined by where one is in relation to one’s motive and what
obstacles lie between. Direction is often operationalized as likelihood of attainment or, in our
work, congruence ratings (discussed in the next section).
Thus, Lewin’s Force Field theory and Kruglanski et al’s Goal Systems theory argue that
importance judgments and similarity judgments should tap into different kinds of informa-
tion, and as a consequence, should result in different structures. Similarity judgments would
give a conceptual, meaning based structure and would provide information about how motives
are cognitively or conceptually related. Allport [1] and others (for a review see [22]) argued
that when examining the structure of traits, important regularities in human behavior are
encoded in the language people use to talk about social interaction. A similar argument can be
made for motives. In contrast, importance information provides a strength or tension-based
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 5 / 32
diagram of how a force is allocated within the motivational system. While this is of utmost
interest when examining cultural and individual differences in goal pursuit activities, this is
not a motivational structure, as Kruglanski has defined it, of contents (the points of application
of motivational force). Thus, the structure of motives, as measured by similarity judgments,
and individual or cultural differences in how motivational force is allocated within said struc-
ture, are distinct and equally essential. And though there has been extensive work conducted
with importance ratings, there has been hardly any that can speak to the conceptual structure
of motive contents. The current work focuses on understanding the conceptual structure of
motives, based on the content of the motives, and not on their allocational strength or impor-
tance. Thus, our work will focus on measuring the similarity between motives and not on their
importance.
The current approach
Having people generate their own categories would provide us with valuable information con-
cerning the organization of the motivational structures that underlie and guide people’s behavior.
This approach will help provide a common language to describe and categorize motivational
constructs.
A properly constructed taxonomy will include varying levels from low to high degrees of
resolution [13]: it is a multi-level structure that moves smoothly from a set of specific, concrete
motives up to highly abstract conceptual categories. This allows the researcher to “zoom in” or
“out” to assess human motivation at different levels of specificity or generality. This is a central
aim of the current work.
Second, the sample of participants should be sizable and cover a broad range of ages and
demographics. This increases the stability and generalizability of the cluster solutions upon
which the taxonomy is based. This used to be difficult to accomplish for a similarity-sorting
task. Previously, such a task involved one subject, a deck of 135 3x5 cards, and the only surface
large enough to sort them on: the floor of an empty room. Thanks to technological advances, a
similarity-sorting task of this magnitude can now be administered on a computer and online.
It is critical that the compiled list of motives be very broad. Frequently under-sampled in
such lists are the things that people are motivated to avoid, such as social rejection or anxiety.
A growing body of work clearly distinguishes between two motivational systems: an Approach
system that governs approach to rewarding stimuli and an Avoidance system that governs
avoidance of punishing or aversive stimuli (e.g., [4850]). A comprehensive taxonomy needs
to adequately cover both.
And finally, a taxonomy must be as useful as it is theoretically interesting. In the discussion,
we will refer to evidence for the usefulness of the new taxonomy in predicting and understand-
ing a range of important life decisions and behavior (e.g., retirement, voluntary employee turn-
over, adherence to taking psychotropic medication, weight management, and communication
in close relationships).
We began this enterprise over a decade ago with an earlier effort. In Chulef, Read, and
Walsh [45] we first generated a set of 135 motives, based on an extensive review of the litera-
ture on human motivation. This was a much larger list of human motives than had been previ-
ously examined. We then asked naïve subjects to sort the motives into categories on the basis
of their semantic similarity and applied a hierarchical cluster analysis to their judgments. The
result was a similarity-based, hierarchically organized list of motives that was the beginnings of
a taxonomy.
But this early effort [45] lacked several features necessary for a comprehensive taxonomy.
First, although hierarchical, it did not have an explicit multi-level structure. An ability to
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 6 / 32
“zoom in” or out at explicit levels of abstraction or detail, would allow researchers to systemati-
cally measure motives at different levels. Second, it did not include a large or broad sample of
subjects. But a comprehensive taxonomy should be able to generalize broadly. Third, it was
almost exclusively composed of approach motives, to the exclusion of the avoidance motiva-
tional domains. And it missed motives in several important domains. Our empirical work on
the conceptual structure of trait terms makes it clear that several important motivational
domains (e.g., purity, being responsible and on time, communicating with others, being lazy,
empathy and making others happy) were not represented in our original set of motives. Work
on the conceptual structure of traits can be informative for the current endeavor as motives
are central to the meaning of many traits and are often used to measure aspects of traits in
standard trait measures. Further, some of the clusters were represented by only 2 motives,
which did not provide for a stable cluster. Fourth, its usefulness in predicting important life
decisions and behavior was not examined. However, it provided a strong starting point as we
work toward a comprehensive taxonomy of human motives.
The current taxonomy addresses all of these issues that were not addressed in our previous
work. This work aims to create an empirically-generated conceptual (semantic) hierarchy to
identify multiple levels: from fine-grained and practical to the kind of abstract clusters that fas-
cinate theorists. To do this, we start with a large number (161) of specific motives, allow our
subjects to determine how they are categorized, and then we examine how these categories are
hierarchically organized into ever-broader categories. Thus, our work can potentially provide
more extensive information about the detailed organization of human motives. Our hope is
that this hierarchy would support researchers in many aspects of their research, in a continu-
ing effort to provide an empirical base from which to select motives relevant to their domain.
Methods
Motive selection
We started with the 135 motives in Chulef, Read, and Walsh [45], which were selected based
on an extensive review of the motivational literature in psychology, as described in the intro-
duction. We then added to that set of motives from several different sources. First, we drew
very heavily from another of our previous web-based studies[51] that examined the conceptual
components of trait terms (Motives often are a central component of a trait). 43 trait adjectives
were taken from the 5 dimensions of Hofstee, de Raad and Goldberg’s [52] Big 5 Circumplex
model. Respondents were given descriptions of individuals with these 43 traits, and asked to
list the motives that they thought would be held by such individuals. In coding the results we
identified a number of motives that had not been included in Chulef, Read, and Walsh’s set of
135 motives. In addition, the original set of motive terms in Chulef, Read, and Walsh included
relatively few motives concerning things that people would try to actively avoid, such as social
rejection or anxiety. Finally, we also drew on other recent theoretical accounts of motivation
to add motives that are deemed central to those theories, but which were not represented in
our original set of motives. One such example is “Avoiding impure acts”, which is related to
the emotion of Disgust and to various aspects of religion. We ended up with 161 motives
(Table 1).
Motive-sorting method
To measure judged similarity, we used a sorting task in which participants were asked to sort
together items that went together, instead of using direct similarity ratings. Direct ratings of
the similarity among all possible pairs of 161 motives would require an extremely large num-
ber of ratings ((161(161–1))/2 = 12,880) and thus take an unrealistically long time. Even
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 7 / 32
Table 1. Abbreviations for Each Motive and the Full Text for Each Motive.
Abbreviation Full Text
Peace A world at peace.
DiffThings Accomplishing difficult things, overcoming challenges.
Harmony Achieving harmony and oneness (with self and the universe)
FinanSec Achieving lifetime financial security.
PersGrwth Achieving personal growth.
Salvation Achieving salvation.
FineDesign Appreciating fine design.
AvAnx Avoiding anxiety.
AvCrit Avoiding criticisms from others.
AvFail Avoiding failure.
AvGuilt Avoiding feelings of guilt.
AvImpure Avoiding impure acts.
AvPhysHrm Avoiding physical harm.
AvRegrets Avoiding regrets.
AvReject Avoiding rejection by others.
AvStress Avoiding stress.
MoreAssert Be less shy or more assertive.
BeatCompete Beat people in a competition.
GoodParent Being a good parent (teaching, transmitting values).
Leader Being a leader, being in charge.
AnalyzeInfo Being able to analyze and synthesize information.
AttractSexPart Being able to attract a sexual partner.
MeetFinanNeeds Being able to meet my financial needs.
TakeRisks Being able to take risks.
Ambitious Being ambitious, hard-working.
Ethical Being an ethical person.
BttrThnOthrs Being better than others.
Charitable Being charitable, helping the needy.
Clean&Neat Being clean and neat (personal care).
CommitCause Being committed to a cause (e.g., environment, anti crime, anti drugs).
Confident Being confident and assured.
ConfJudge Being confident in my own judgment.
Conventional Being conventional or traditional.
Creative Being creative (e.g., artistically, scientifically, intellectually).
Curious Being curious.
Disciplined Being disciplined, following my intentions with behavior.
EmoCloseChild Being emotionally close to my children.
EmoClosePart Being emotionally intimate (close) with a romantic partner.
Fashionable Being fashionable.
Good_w/Tech Being good at working with mechanical objects and technology.
Attractive Being good looking, attractive.
Happy Being happy and content.
Competent Being highly competent.
Honest Being honest.
Humble Being humble.
InControl Being in full control of ones life.
InLove Being in love.
(Continued)
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 8 / 32
Table 1. (Continued)
Abbreviation Full Text
Smart Being intelligent or smart.
Rational Being logical, rational.
Loyal Being loyal.
PartSocGrp Being part of a social group.
PhysAct Being physically active.
PhysFit Being physically fit.
PhysHlth Being physically healthy, e.g., maintaining a healthy weight, eating nutritious foods.
Playful Being playful, carefree, lighthearted, enjoying life.
Popular Being popular, being in the center of things.
Practical Being practical, having common sense.
PassionAbSmthing Being really passionate about something.
Respected Being respected by others.
Responsible Being responsible, dependable.
Independent Being self-sufficient, independent.
Spontaneous Being spontaneous.
SuccInOccup Being successful in my occupation.
TknCareOf Being taken care of.
Unique Being unique or different.
BuyThngs Buying things I want.
ContPhysEnv Controlling my physical environment.
ControlOthrs Controlling others.
Recreation Devoting time to amusements, recreation, entertainment, hobbies.
EntertainOthrs Entertaining, amusing others.
Equality Equality.
NatBeauty Experiencing natural beauty.
Adventurous Exploring, being adventurous.
FeelGoodSelf Feeling good about myself.
FeelSafe Feeling safe and secure.
FeelSatisfact Feeling satisfied with one’s life.
HigherMeaning Finding higher meaning in life.
Education Getting an education.
GrwingSpirit Growing spiritually.
HavGdJob Having a good job.
GoodMarry Having a good marriage.
HaveMentor Having a mentor, someone to guide me.
StabFamLife Having a stable, secure family life (with my spouse or children, or both).
EasyLife Having an easy and comfortable life.
ExcitngLife Having an exciting, stimulating life.
Occupation Having an occupation.
AthAbility Having athletic ability.
ClsFriends Having close friends.
$ $Descend Having enough money to leave for my descendants.
FrmVals Having firm values.
FlxbleVue Having flexibility of viewpoint.
IntellectExper Having intellectual experiences and conversations.
OthrsTrustU Having other people trust you.
Othrs2RelyOn Having others to rely on.
(Continued)
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 9 / 32
Table 1. (Continued)
Abbreviation Full Text
PpleToDoThingsWth Having people to do things with.
Sex Having sexual experiences.
Stability Having stability in life, avoiding change.
Wisdom Having wisdom, a mature understanding of life.
WorkILike Having work I really like.
HelpOthrs Helping others.
InflOthrs Influencing, persuading others.
InspirOthrs Inspiring others.
Justice Justice and fairness.
ThngsInOrdr Keeping things in order (my desk, office, house, etc.).
KeepToSelf Keeping to myself, being private.
UpToDate Keeping up to date with career-related knowledge.
KnowSelf Knowing myself.
LearnArts Learning and appreciating the arts.
Cls2Fam Living close to my parents, siblings, grandparents.
ReligFaith Maintaining religious faith.
Make$ $ $ Making a lot of money.
Decide4Othrs Making decisions for others.
MakeFrnds Making friends, drawing others near.
Mastery Mastering what I set out to do.
ObeyParents Obeying my parents.
AdvanDegree Obtaining an advanced educational degree.
OvercomeFail Overcoming failure.
PlsGod Pleasing God.
PracReligTrad Practicing religious traditions.
ProvideFamily Providing for one’s family.
PursueIdeals Pursuing my ideals.
RecHelpFmly Receiving help from my parents, siblings, grandparents.
RespectEld Respecting my elders.
OwnGuidelines Setting and following my own guidelines.
SetGoodEx Setting good examples for others.
ShareFeelings Sharing my feelings with others.
TchOthrs Teaching others.
AcceptSelf To accept myself, other people, or things as they are.
AttendToDetails To attend to details.
AvNotice To avoid being noticed.
AvConflict To avoid conflict with others.
AvEffort To avoid effort or work.
AvHrtOthr To avoid hurting (annoying, upsetting, etc.) others.
AvOthrs To avoid other people.
AvRespons To avoid responsibility.
Alert To be alert or attentive.
Active To be busy or active.
Efficient To be efficient, not waste time.
OnTime To be on time.
PhysAble To be physically able to do my daily/routine activities.
SelfControl To be self-controlled.
(Continued)
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 10 / 32
though the sorting task is difficult and time consuming (around 45 minutes), it takes far less
time than 12,880 direct similarity ratings (assuming 3 seconds/rating, it would take 11 hours
to make all the ratings).
The motive-sorting task was implemented as a Flash based program, developed by the first
author, that ran inside a standard Web browser with the appropriate Flash plug-in. The sorting
interface consisted of a list of the motives to be sorted, in a scrolling list, on the left hand side
of the screen and a sorting area, which took up the remainder of the screen. Participants were
told to sort the motives into groups on the basis of how similar the motives were to one
another. Because the intent of this task is to figure out participants’ view of the important fea-
tures, they were not told anything about what features were relevant, but simply told to put
items together that they thought belonged together. This kind of instruction is typical in this
context, so that one can uncover the distinctions that are important to participants, without
biasing them. The exact instructions were: “Your aim is to sort the goals, seen in the left panel,
into groups on the basis of how similar the goals are to one another. Keeping your own values
aside, please sort these goals objectively on the basis of common themes, or topics, into which
you see them falling. There are no right or wrong answers. You may form as many groups as
you need, though we recommend keeping to no more than 30 groups. You can have as many
goals in each group as you wish.”
We used the term goal because we thought that it would be easier for subjects to think
about the content of the concept. Our intuition was that a concept that a participant has no
interest in attaining for themselves (like religion for many people) is difficult to think of as a
motive, since it has no desirable attraction for the participant. In contrast, characterizing the
to-be-sorted statements as goals allows lay people to more easily recognize that others may
have desires to seek a specified outcome and thus attend to its meaningful content in making
sorting judgments.
Table 1. (Continued)
Abbreviation Full Text
Selfless To be selfless, to put others first.
TrueToSelf To be true to myself, (not follow the crowd).
CarefulThink To carefully think through decisions.
Communicate To communicate or express myself.
DoQuickly To do things quickly.
EnforceAccount To enforce accountability.
InTuneEmot To get in tune with my emotions.
GetRevenge To get revenge (get even, get back, etc.).
BeCorrect To get things right (accurate, correct).
Empathy To have empathy for what others are feeling.
HvOthrsGiveMe To have others give me what I want.
Manageable To keep things manageable.
ListenOthrs To listen to others.
Live4Today To live for today.
PlsOthrs To make others happy or to please others.
Plan To make plans.
Procrast To procrastinate.
Perfection To strive for perfection.
AsLongAsNecess To take as long as necessary and not hurry.
UndrstndPhysObj Understanding how physical objects/systems work.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279.t001
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 11 / 32
Participants sorted the motives by dragging them from the list, one at a time, onto the sort-
ing area. If a new motive was dragged from the list onto an empty spot in the sorting area, a
new category box popped up to hold the motive. Additional motives could be dragged into
this category box. Motives could be dragged from the list, or existing category boxes, to empty
parts of the sorting area to form new category boxes. Thus, if participants decided that a
motive did not belong in a category box, they could drag it to a different category or “drop” it
on the sorting area to create a new category. When participants had sorted all the motives, the
list would be empty.
The "I’m done" button became active once participants had sorted at least 90 of the motives,
but participants could continue to sort until they had sorted all 161 motives. The program con-
tinuously recorded participants’ sorting throughout the entire sorting task.
Sample recruitment
Participants were recruited in several different ways. One large group of 235 participants was
recruited from the USC Psychology Department Subject pool. A second group of 125 partici-
pants was recruited from regular visitors to the yourmorals.org website. This is a high traffic
research website (9,000–15,000 visits per month) that recruits participants to fill out a wide
range of personality and other types of psychological measures. A third group of 126 was
recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Finally, 3 other participants were recruited by
the use of online ads through Google, Yahoo, and ASK.com. This research was approved by
the University of Southern California University Park Institutional Review Board. Written
informed consent was obtained from all subjects.
Sample demographics
489 individuals sorted all 161 motives. Ages ranged from 18 to 70, there were 330 women and
159 men in the 489 individuals who sorted all 161 motives. All individuals in this sample
resided in the USA.
Results
In the following we cluster analyze the data from the 489 individuals who sorted all 161
motives. The overall sample of 489 is an unusually large sample for this kind of analysis. It
should provide a fairly stable estimate of the perceived similarity among motives overall.
The sorting data was analyzed using hierarchical cluster analysis in the cluster analysis pro-
gram ClustanGraphics [53]. We used the number of times each pair of items was sorted into
the same category as a measure of similarity between the items. This sorting data was trans-
lated into a 161 X 161 matrix of co-occurrence scores, where the number in each cell repre-
sented the number of times the two items defining that cell were sorted together. Higher
numbers mean that the pair of items was viewed as more similar. The matrix of proximities or
similarities was then analyzed using a cluster analysis technique called Ward’s [54] method or
Increasing Sums of Squares. This method is also known as the “within-groups sum of squares
or the error sum of squares (ESS)” method and is designed to optimize the minimum variance
within clusters. It has been found to outperform other clustering methods in many cases [55].
Overall solution
In general the results of the cluster analysis seem clearly understandable, both at the broad
level and at the lower level of specific clusters. A detailed cluster diagram for this analysis can
be found in Fig 1A and 1B. For those interested in a broader view of the structure of our
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 12 / 32
Fig 1. (A and B) Cluster Solution for Motive Taxonomy.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279.g001
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 13 / 32
results, or for a reference to what portion of our results may be of greatest interest, the major
distinctions in our taxonomy are clearly illustrated in Fig 2. Our verbal description of the
results will be an extensive examination for researchers working directly on related questions.
Fig 2. Labeled Clusters for Motive Taxonomy.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279.g002
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 14 / 32
We will separately examine each of three broad clusters as well as the lower level clusters that
comprise them. In the discussion we will review a sample of the millennia of theories that our
results support.
To develop the broader conceptual organization shown in Fig 2, the three senior authors of
the paper started with the original cluster diagram (Fig 1A and 1B). The levels in the hierarchy
that we identified were labeled, starting with Z at the highest level of abstraction, and then
moving backwards in the alphabet. A number was assigned to each cluster within a level.
Inspection of the diagram indicated that it clearly divided into three distinct branches at the
highest level. Next we turned to identifying the most concrete clusters. Our aim for this level
was to retain the highest degree of detail possible such that each cluster was distinctly different
in meaning from other clusters, yet within the cluster the items were coherent and similar to
each other. This step involved a fair amount of discussion and debate among the three senior
authors. In the end we identified and agreed upon 44 clusters at the most-concrete level (level
V). The content of these 44 clusters is described in Table 2.
Table 2. 44 Motive Clusters and Their Contents.
Motive Motive—Full description V-level (44 clusters)
Peace A world at peace. Social Values V1
Equality Equality.
Justice Justice and fairness.
CommitCause Being committed to a cause (e.g., environment, anti crime, anti drugs).
Ethical Being an ethical person. Personal Morals V2
Honest Being honest.
Humble Being humble.
FrmVals Having firm values.
Loyal Being loyal.
Charitable Being charitable, helping the needy. Social Giving V3
HelpOthrs Helping others.
Selfless To be selfless, to put others first.
Empathy To have empathy for what others are feeling. Interpersonal Care V4
ListenOthrs To listen to others.
PlsOthrs To make others happy or to please others.
Respected Being respected by others. Respected V5
OthrsTrustU Having other people trust you.
InspirOthrs Inspiring others. Inspiring V6
TchOthrs Teaching others.
SetGoodEx Setting good examples for others.
Salvation Achieving salvation. Religion & Spirituality V7
ReligFaith Maintaining religious faith.
PlsGod Pleasing God.
PracReligTrad Practicing religious traditions.
GrwingSpirit Growing spiritually.
AvImpure Avoiding impure acts.
Harmony Achieving harmony and oneness (with self and the universe). Wisdom & Serenity V8
HigherMeaning Finding higher meaning in life.
Wisdom Having wisdom, a mature understanding of life.
PersGrwth Achieving personal growth. Self-knowledge V9
KnowSelf Knowing myself.
(Continued)
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 15 / 32
Table 2. (Continued)
Motive Motive—Full description V-level (44 clusters)
TrueToSelf To be true to myself, (not follow the crowd).
InTuneEmot To get in tune with my emotions.
AcceptSelf To accept myself, other people, or things as they are.
Happy Being happy and content. Happiness V10
FeelSatisfact Feeling satisfied with one’s life.
FeelGoodSelf Feeling good about myself.
FineDesign Appreciating fine design. Appreciating Beauty V11
LearnArts Learning and appreciating the arts.
Creative Being creative (e.g., artistically, scientifically, intellectually).
NatBeauty Experiencing natural beauty.
TakeRisks Being able to take risks. Exploration V12
Curious Being curious.
Unique Being unique or different.
FlxbleVue Having flexibility of viewpoint.
PassionAbSmthing Being really passionate about something. Pursue Ideals & Passions V13
PursueIdeals Pursuing my ideals.
Playful Being playful, carefree, lighthearted, enjoying life. Enjoy Life V14
Spontaneous Being spontaneous.
Adventurous Exploring, being adventurous.
ExcitngLife Having an exciting, stimulating life.
Live4Today To live for today.
Recreation Devoting time to amusements, recreation, entertainment, hobbies.
AvAnx Avoiding anxiety. Avoid Stress & Anxiety V15
AvStress Avoiding stress.
AvGuilt Avoiding feelings of guilt. Avoid Harm V16
AvRegrets Avoiding regrets.
AvPhysHrm Avoiding physical harm.
AvCrit Avoiding criticisms from others. Avoid Rejections V17
AvReject Avoiding rejection by others.
AvConflict To avoid conflict with others. Avoid Conflict V18
AvHrtOthr To avoid hurting (annoying, upsetting, etc.) others.
KeepToSelf Keeping to myself, being private. Avoid Socializing V19
AvNotice To avoid being noticed.
AvOthrs To avoid other people.
AvEffort To avoid effort or work. Avoid Effort V20
AvRespons To avoid responsibility.
Procrast To procrastinate.
MoreAssert Be less shy or more assertive. Interpersonally Effective V21
ShareFeelings Sharing my feelings with others.
Communicate To communicate or express myself.
PartSocGrp Being part of a social group. Social Life & Friendship V22
PpleToDoThingsWth Having people to do things with.
ClsFriends Having close friends.
MakeFrnds Making friends, drawing others near.
Othrs2RelyOn Having others to rely on.
EntertainOthrs Entertaining, amusing others. Liked V23
(Continued)
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 16 / 32
Table 2. (Continued)
Motive Motive—Full description V-level (44 clusters)
Popular Being popular, being in the center of things.
AttractSexPart Being able to attract a sexual partner. Sexual Intimacy V24
Sex Having sexual experiences.
EmoClosePart Being emotionally intimate (close) with a romantic partner. Emotional Intimacy V25
InLove Being in love.
Clean&Neat Being clean and neat (personal care). Fastidious V26
Active To be busy or active.
ContPhysEnv Controlling my physical environment.
AsLongAsNecess To take as long as necessary and not hurry.
Fashionable Being fashionable.
Attractive Being good looking, attractive.
Conventional Being conventional or traditional. Stability & Safety V27
FeelSafe Feeling safe and secure.
Stability Having stability in life, avoiding change.
TknCareOf Being taken care of.
HaveMentor Having a mentor, someone to guide me.
BeatCompete Beat people in a competition. Better than Others V28
BttrThnOthrs Being better than others.
ControlOthrs Controlling others. Control of Others V29
Decide4Othrs Making decisions for others.
GetRevenge To get revenge (get even, get back, etc.).
HvOthrsGiveMe To have others give me what I want.
Leader Being a leader, being in charge. Leadership V30
InflOthrs Influencing, persuading others.
EnforceAccount To enforce accountability.
PhysAct Being physically active. Health V31
PhysFit Being physically fit.
PhysHlth Being physically healthy, e.g., maintaining a healthy weight, eating nutritious foods.
PhysAble To be physically able to do my daily/routine activities.
AthAbility Having athletic ability.
GoodParent Being a good parent (teaching, transmitting values). Good Family Life V32
EmoCloseChild Being emotionally close to my children.
StabFamLife Having a stable, secure family life (with my spouse or children, or both).
GoodMarry Having a good marriage.
Cls2Fam Living close to my parents, siblings, grandparents. Close to Parents’ Family V33
RecHelpFmly Receiving help from my parents, siblings, grandparents.
ObeyParents Obeying my parents.
RespectEld Respecting my elders.
DiffThings Accomplishing difficult things, overcoming challenges. Mastery & Perseverance V34
OvercomeFail Overcoming failure.
Mastery Mastering what I set out to do.
Ambitious Being ambitious, hard-working.
Competent Being highly competent.
AvFail Avoiding failure. Avoid Failure V35
Perfection To strive for perfection.
Confident Being confident and assured. Confidence & Autonomy V36
(Continued)
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 17 / 32
The next step was to identify the intervening structure between the most concrete and most
abstract level of motives. In a cluster diagram, similarity is represented by the horizontal dis-
tance (or length) of a branch between leaves. To identify similar levels of construal we drew
vertical lines to mark the horizontal branches at even intervals (Fig 1A and 1B). This gave us a
visual guide to common similarity distances. We tried different numbers of dividing lines to
see which gave us the most meaningful and coherent set of divisions.
Table 2. (Continued)
Motive Motive—Full description V-level (44 clusters)
ConfJudge Being confident in my own judgment.
InControl Being in full control of ones life.
Independent Being self-sufficient, independent.
OwnGuidelines Setting and following my own guidelines.
Disciplined Being disciplined, following my intentions with behavior. Self-Regulated V37
SelfControl To be self controlled.
Responsible Being responsible, dependable.
Rational Being logical, rational. Smart & Rational V38
Practical Being practical, having common sense.
CarefulThink To carefully think through decisions.
Alert To be alert or attentive.
ThngsInOrdr Keeping things in order (my desk, office, house, etc.). Organized & Efficient V39
Manageable To keep things manageable.
Plan To make plans.
AttendToDetails To attend to details.
BeCorrect To get things right (accurate, correct).
Efficient To be efficient, not waste time.
OnTime To be on time.
DoQuickly To do things quickly.
AnalyzeInfo Being able to analyze and synthesize information. Analysis & Technical Know-How V40
Good_w/Tech Being good at working with mechanical objects and technology.
UndrstndPhysObj Understanding how physical objects/systems work.
Smart Being intelligent or smart. Intellectual Growth V41
IntellectExper Having intellectual experiences and conversations.
Education Getting an education.
AdvanDegree Obtaining an advanced educational degree.
FinanSec Achieving lifetime financial security. Money & Wealth V42
MeetFinanNeeds Being able to meet my financial needs.
Make$ $ $ Making a lot of money.
$ $Descend Having enough money to leave for my descendants.
ProvideFamily Providing for ones family.
BuyThngs Buying things I want. Financial Freedom V43
EasyLife Having an easy and comfortable life.
SuccInOccup Being successful in my occupation. Occupational Success V44
HavGdJob Having a good job.
Occupation Having an occupation.
UpToDate Keeping up to date with career-related knowledge.
WorkILike Having work I really like.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279.t002
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 18 / 32
In the end, three intermediate-level lines each touched (or neared) a particularly high num-
ber of clusters throughout the hierarchy. Face validity confirmed that clusters at the same verti-
cal marker (aka, clusters at a similar horizontal distance from the origin) were similar in
construal level. Moreover, at each of the intermediate levels, the resulting clusters were mean-
ingful and distinct from others at the same level.
Following the horizontal connectors in Fig 1A and 1B, the diagram seamlessly connects a
cluster at one construal level both to the more concrete clusters that constitute it and to a more
abstract cluster of which it is a part. Power, for instance, may more concretely entail dominat-
ing others and is, more abstractly, a type of Social Relating.
Hierarchical structure by construal level: The structure and theory
Five hierarchical levels of construals emerged from the taxonomy as distinct and coherent (Fig
2). The three highest cluster levels (X, Y, & Z) are quite abstract and particularly relevant to
existing theory about the type and nature of high-level motives. The two lowest levels (V & W)
are the most concrete.
At the broad levels there seems to be a strong correspondence between our results and
other theoretical accounts of the structure of human motives. At the top, our hierarchy
branches into three clusters: Meaning (Z1), Communion (Z2), and Agency (Z3). This is our
“Z-level”. This discovery of meaning motivations as being distinct from agency and commu-
nion is unique to this work.
Meaning (Z1) motives in theory. Pursuit of meaning or the purpose of life has spun theo-
ries reaching back into the ages from philosophy, religion, and a multitude of scientific disci-
plines. We identify the motives to which these theories of meaning and living give rise.
To Plato, the meaning of life was the attainment of the highest form of knowledge. And to
know thy self was but the start [56]. The common Greek expression “virtue is knowledge"
highlights the strong relationship for them between wisdom and virtue.
The word “virtue” in Greek, “arête”, means to reach one’s highest unique potential. A simi-
lar modern concept is self-actualization, at the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Included
is the need for morality, creativity, spontaneity, and experiencing (esp. Peak Experiences).
Aristotle wrote that everything done is for a goal and most goals are really only means to
higher-order goals [57]. Goal pursuit itself is a “good.” And the goal of all goals, the highest
aim, is happiness (called eudaimonia), which is more precisely translated as “human flourish-
ing” by “doing things well.”
These themes are also found in the work of Martin Seligman on well-being: 1) Engagement,
which can be experienced in even mundane tasks by utilizing one’s highest strengths or virtues
[58]. 2) Meaning, to belong to and serve something greater than one’s self. 3) Achievement, to
advance from the starting point of a motive, also know as goal pursuit. The remaining ele-
ments are found later in our taxonomic discussion: 4) positive emotion and 5) relationships
[59].
The rise of the Judeo-Christian belief system ushered in the more prescriptive definition of
virtue (e.g. “thou shalt not lie”) and morals that is the lay concept of today. Life’s purpose in
Western and Middle Eastern religions is to live a good life prescribed by religious guidelines, a
connection with God, and/or to earn an appealing afterlife.
In the east, the Hindu religion provided its own taxonomy of meaning motives known as
the purusharthas: The first category, Kama, involves wishing, desire, love, and sensual pleasure.
Wealth, prosperity and glory comprise the second category, Artha.Dharma includes righ-
teousness, duty, morality, virtue, and ethics. And the fourth Hindu aim, Moksha, is liberation
(from Sasara, the cycle of reincarnation).
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 19 / 32
Buddhism does not address “the meaning of life” but the potential of human life to end suf-
fering. There is a distinction in Buddhism between adaptive desires (Chanda) and the mal-
adaptive (Tahā) desires that lead to suffering. Chanda is the desire for well-being, self-
improvement, and goodness. The latter leads to effort and action, and is founded upon intelli-
gent reflection and wisdom–note the congruence here with the Greek philosophy.
Meaning (Z1) in focus. Morality & Virtue (Y1), Religion & Spirituality (Y2), and Self-
Actualization (Y3) all cluster together and represent a general need for meaning or purpose in
life. Morality & Virtue include Social Values (W1, e.g., peace and justice, loyalty), Personal
Morals (W2, e.g. be ethical and honest), as well as virtues such as Help Others (W3, e.g. chari-
table, listening) and being Highly Regarded (W4, e.g. being trusted and Inspiring (V6)). We
recognize that Help Others (W3) could also fit, conceptually, in the Communion cluster. How-
ever, our empirical results place it with Meaning (Z1), where it also fits with other virtues. Reli-
gion & Spirituality is most conceptually distinct in that it maintains its independence through
the remaining four levels (Y2/X3/W5/V7) and includes motives such as maintaining faith,
growing spiritually, and achieving salvation. Also found in this category is avoiding impure
acts.
Harkening back to the Greek definition of virtue, the Self-Actualization [8,60] cluster (Y3)
contains needs for Self-Fulfillment (X4) and Openness to Experience (X5). The Self-Fulfill-
ment cluster is a veritable cocktail of healthy hedonism. Among the related motives are such
things as Wisdom and Serenity (W6/V8), Self-knowledge (V9), and Happiness (V10). Open-
ness to Experience (X5) includes lower-level motive clusters like Appreciating Beauty (W8/
V11), Exploration (V12), Pursuing Ideals & Passions (V13), and Enjoying Life (V14). Some of
these components may also be similar to Self-determination theory’s Autonomy (but we think
this construct has a better fit below, as we will soon discuss).
Agency (Z3) & communion (Z2) motives in theory. An extensive literature draws a dis-
tinction between Agentic and Communal orientations (e.g., [6163]) (often termed Agency
versus Communion). An individual with an Agentic orientation tends to be focused on indi-
vidual achievement and activities, which is represented in our Agency (Z3) cluster. In contrast,
a Communal orientation is more focused on the group or community and involves interac-
tions with and caring for others. This maps largely onto our Communion (Z2) cluster. A
major difference between cluster Z2 and the typical view of communal orientation is that Z2
includes avoidance motives and security concerns. However, most of the avoidance motives
are interpersonal in nature.
The Agentic-Communal distinction is also similar, at least roughly, to those presented in
Self-determination Theory. Self-determination theory [64] argues that there are three basic
psychological needs that people try to satisfy: Competence, Relatedness, and Autonomy. Our
hierarchy illuminates how these theories are related by suggesting that Relatedness is akin to
Communion while Competence and Autonomy are aspects of Agency. Specifically, in our
hierarchy: Communion (Z2) includes, e.g. Social Relating (Y5) and Family (Y7). Under
Agency (Z3) is found Mastery & Competence (Y8), which includes Confidence & Autonomy
(V36), and Self-Regulation (V37, most similar to Deci & Ryan’s Competence need), and intel-
lectual and practical competency clusters (W22 & W23).
Communion (Z2) in focus. Communion (Z2) includes four highly abstract clusters:
Avoidance Motives (Y4), Social Relating (Y5), Health (Y6), and Family (Y7). The first two
clusters in Communion can be thought of as approaching (Social Relating, Y5) and avoiding
(Y4: Avoidance Motives) people. Social Relating (Y5) has to do with various aspects of social
interaction and relating to others including Security & Belonging (X8) as well as Power (X9).
Taking a more concrete look, Security and Belonging (X8) is comprised of motives to Relate &
Belong (W13), Intimacy (W14), and Stability (W15). Motives to Relate & Belong include
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 20 / 32
motives for communicating and sharing feelings (Interpersonal Effectiveness, V21), having a
Social Life & Friendship (V22), and being Liked (V23). Intimacy (W14) consists of two closely
related clusters, one having to do with attracting a sex partner and having sexual experiences
(Sexual Intimacy, V24) and the other with being in love and emotionally close to a partner
(Emotional Intimacy, V25). Stability (W15) is comprised of both Stability & Safety (V27)
motives as well as a cluster that contains a set of items related to being clean and neat, as well
as being attractive (Fastidiousness, V26).
The next abstract or theory-level cluster under Social Relating (Y5) is Power (X9). Power
motives include motives for winning over or being Better than Others (V28), a second cluster
concerning Control of Others (V29) and a final cluster concerned with leading and influencing
others (Leadership, W17). Although Power (X9) has a clear hierarchical structure, its location
in the Communion cluster, instead of the Agency cluster does seem to be an anomaly. One
possible reason is that the motives in the Communion cluster, including Power, are highly
inter-personal, whereas the motives in the Agency cluster are largely intra-personal.
Avoidance Motives (Y4) include Avoid Harm (V16), both physical and emotional, Avoid
Stress & Anxiety (V15), Avoid Rejection (V17), Avoid Conflict (V18) including hurting others,
and Avoid Socializing (V19). Note these are all social in nature although Avoid Socializing
next clusters with Avoid Effort (V20) to become a part of Avoid Hassles (X7/W12).
There is then a coherent cluster of items concerned with being physically able, health, and
athleticism. Health is a branch that maintains its independence through four levels of the hier-
archy (Y6/X10/W18/V31). Here it clusters under Communal Motives (Z2).
The final set of clusters in the Communion (Z2) branch deal with various aspects of Family
(Y7). Good Family Life (V32) includes the motives being a good parent, being close to chil-
dren, and having a stable family life and marriage. Then there is a cluster that deals more with
one’s relationship to one’s own parents and siblings (Close to Parent’s Family, V33): being
close to family and receiving help from family, and obeying parents and respecting elders.
These two lowest-level clusters then join and the resulting cluster (Family, W19/X11/Y7)
thereafter maintains its independence until it meets the Z-level under the Communal branch.
Agency (Z3) in focus. The motives located in the bottom branch of our hierarchy clearly
relate to Agency. It includes Mastery & Competence (Y8) and Financial & Occupational Suc-
cess (Y9/X14).
The former includes Ambition and Ability (X12) and Intellectual Competence (X13/W32).
Ambition & Ability consists of several different clusters. Starting from the most concrete
instrumental level we first see a motive cluster concerned with Mastery & Perseverance (V34)
followed by motives to Avoid Failure (V35). These both have to do with Achievement (W20).
Next, Self-Efficacy (W21) includes clusters about being confident, in control of the environ-
ment, independent (Confidence & Autonomy, V36), disciplined and self-controlled (Self-Reg-
ulated, V37).
Next, there is a cluster concerned with thinking and being rational and practical (Smart &
Rational, V38). Then there is a cluster dealing with conscientiousness, a desire for things in
order and a desire to be correct, efficient and on time (Organized & Efficient, V39). These
combine to form Practical Competence (W22).
Following Ambition and Ability (X12) we see a cluster concerned with Intellectual Compe-
tence (X13/W23) related to understanding physical objects and systems (Analysis and Techni-
cal Know-How, V40), and being smart and having intellectual experiences, and being highly
educated (Intellectual Growth, V41). Ambition and Ability (X12) and Intellectual Competence
(X13) combine to form a broader category we term Mastery & Competence (Y8).
The final large cluster is concerned with Financial and & Occupational Success (Y9/X14),
which includes subclusters involving Finances (W24), composed of two further subclusters
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 21 / 32
involving Money/Wealth (V42) and Financial Freedom (V43), and a subcluster concerned
with having a good job and being successful in it (Occupational Success, W25/V44).
Summary
In general, with some minor deviations, this presents a remarkably coherent view of the struc-
ture of human motivation. The broadest level of the taxonomy has strong parallels with broad
distinctions made by other theorists, and the most specific level of the hierarchy exhibits
coherent clusters of motives that systematically join together into the higher-level structures.
Work on the Big Five suggests that while the higher, more abstract levels are theoretically
interesting, predictive power increases as one moves to lower, concrete, levels (see Use of the
Taxonomy in Predicting Behavior in the discussion section).
Discussion
We identified five major, conceptually meaningful cluster-levels in our taxonomy. At the high-
est level we identified three major clusters: Meaning (Z1), Communion (Z2), and Agency (Z3).
As we discussed in the results and in the discussion below, these three clusters map onto major
distinctions that have been made previously throughout the literature. However, our meaning
cluster seems to be a unique grouping in the literature on the structure of human motives.
Comparison with previous categorizations of human motivators
Comparison with previous semantically based categorizations of the motivational domains
reveals some overlap at various construal levels.
Agency vs. communion. This distinction, also called Competence vs. Relatedness, has a
notable history in the literature. Braithwaite and Law’s interviewees made the same distinction
as our participants here when they created their Goal and Mode Values Inventories [46]. The
same distinction was found in Ford and Nichols’s categorization [29]. Moreover, this distinc-
tion parallels work on cultural differences in values, specifically the difference between Indi-
vidualist and Collectivist values (e.g., [65,66]). It is central in the work on personal orientation
identified as Agency versus Communion [61,62]. Thus, both laypeople and theoreticians seem
to perceive being competent and agentic in the world as very different from interacting with
others and relatedness.
Murray’s needs. There are also some clear parallels between the results in our study and
Murray’s classic conceptualization of needs [10]. For instance, Murray’s Affiliation looks similar
to our Social Life & Friendship (V22) cluster in the present study. Murray’s Dominance is simi-
lar to this study’s Leadership (W17) cluster, which includes, “control of environment,” “per-
suading others,” “decisions for others,” “control over others,” “leader,” and “setting examples.”
Physical Ability is similar to this taxonomy’s Health (Y6) cluster. Economic Ability is simi-
lar to Finances (W24). Erotic Ability—the ability to please, attract and excite the opposite sex;
to love and be loved—is parallel to Intimacy (W14). This taxonomy’s Intellectual Competence
(X13/W23) cluster seems to be tapped into by three of Murray’s Abilities or Achievements:
Intellectual Ability; Scientific Ability; and Theory-Creative Ability—the ability to construct
explanatory concepts in science, to devise good hypotheses. Murray’s Aesthetic Ability is simi-
lar to our Appreciating Beauty (W8/V11).
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are a number of parallels between Maslow’s theoreti-
cal classifications of human motivators [8,60] and our taxonomy. For example, Maslow’s Phys-
iological (or Biological) needs are similar to this study’s Health (Y6) and Sexual Intimacy
(V24). His Security and Safety needs are captured by our Stability (W15) and Avoidance
Motives (Y4), which, in all sub solutions do cluster together. Maslow’s Affiliation (or
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 22 / 32
Attachment) needs tap into Interpersonal motives such as having a Social Life & Friendship
(V22) and to be Liked (V23). His cognitive needs resemble our taxonomy’s Intellectual Com-
petence (X13/W23), and creativity-related motives, the latter of which cluster in our taxonomy
under the highest of Maslow’s needs: Self-Actualization (Y3). This includes motives for Self-
Fulfillment (X4) including Self-knowledge, and Openness to Experience (X5).
Although Maslow’s taxonomy is hierarchical, that hierarchy is not based on conceptual
relationships. Rather it is based on a hierarchy of need satisfaction. Maslow argued that
motives lower in the hierarchy would be satisfied first, and only when they had been satisfied,
would the individual pursue higher order motives. Thus, pursuit of Self-actualization, the pin-
nacle of his hierarchy, would only occur once lower order motives had been satisfied. In con-
trast, our hierarchy is based on conceptual relationships, with higher order motives being
more abstract and encompassing a wider range of more specific motives.
Braithwaite and law. Braithwaite and Law [46] provide broad motive categories. There is
a distinction between Agency vs. Communion as discussed above. Under communion, their
category “Secure and Satisfying Interpersonal Relationships,” included “Mature love,” “True
friendship,” “Personal support,” “Security for loved ones,” and “Acceptance by others.” How-
ever, this combines distinct motivational domains that, in our taxonomy, comprise at least 5
separate clusters.
Schwartz’s values circumplex. The most ambitious study to date of the structure of
human motivation is Schwartz’s [36,37] Value Circumplex. Schwartz has studied the structure
of human values across numerous countries. Many of Schwartz’s values have parallels with the
clusters we find in our analyses. Using multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) they consistently find
10 major groups within the dimensions identified by the MDS (recently divided into 19 [38]:
Self-Direction (Thought, Action), Stimulation, Hedonism, Achievement, Power (Dominance,
Resources), Security (Personal, Societal), Tradition, Conformity (Rules, Interpersonal),
Humility, Universalism (Concern, Tolerance), Benevolence (Caring, Dependability).
A visual inspection of the MDS plots shows that these categories seem to fall along two
broad dimensions: Self-Enhancement vs. Self-Transcendence and Openness to Change vs.
Conservation. The plots also show that regions on one side of the wheel group into Personal
Focus (similar to Agency) and the other side into Social Focus (similar to Communion). Alter-
natively, one side of the wheel looks to group along Anxiety-Free values and Self-Protection
Anxiety/Avoidance related values. The main interest for Schwartz is not the hierarchical struc-
ture but the dynamic structure of congruence and conflict among motives.
Our taxonomy of motives and Schwartz’s values circumplex have different origins and
intentions. We see the differences between the structures as complementary and will summa-
rize some of them here. First, Schwartz’s values are largely theoretically derived and consistent
with empirical results (e.g., [36,38] whereas our taxonomic structure is empirically derived and
consistent with theory. Second, our work uses a meaning-based structure of similarity judg-
ments while Schwartz’s work relies on importance judgments. Importance judgments, in line
with Lewin’s distinctions, capture the strength of wanting, but not motive content. Schwartz’s
circumplex captures meaning only indirectly by making additional theoretical assumptions
about congruence and incongruence among values that follow from adaptive engagement or
disengagement with motives made feasible or unattainable by situational affordances. The lat-
ter is used so that values can be arranged such that congruent values are adjacent and conflict-
ing values opposite one another on a circumplex. Thus, ours is a taxonomy in which motive
contents are measured directly, while the contents and structure of Schwartz’s values are
inferred responses to the constraints and affordances of the human condition.
Finally, Schwartz focuses on values whereas we focus on motives. There are two key differ-
ences between values and motives. Values have a sense of being tied to morality and ethics.
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 23 / 32
There is a sense that they are normatively desirable, whereas the idea of motives is morally
neutral. Consistent with Schwartz’s work, the taxonomy also represents motives relevant to
morality and meaning in life, and these cluster together in the abstract (Meaning Z1) or with
their means of attainment in the concrete, as discussed above. However, these motives are
members, not the focus of our taxonomy. The second key difference between values and
motives is that values are trait like “guiding principles” for one’s life. In this way, values are
more descriptive of what “should” motivate one while motives are what “does”. Motives are
more reflective of the situation, in adaptive response to it, whereas values are supposed to be
more reflective of the person and their own internal compass.
A comparison of our meaning-based structure with Schwartz’s importance-based structure
is illuminating. For instance, in the Schwartz circumplex, Power and Universalism (~ Y1
Morality & Virtue) are located on opposite sides of the wheel indicating a strong oppositional
relationship. In contrast, our total solution indicates that there is no relationship between
power and morality motives. Power, and its subcluster Leadership (V30), is in an entirely sepa-
rate branch from Morality & Virtue: Communion (Z2) and Meaning (Z1), respectively. Com-
parison of a structure that captures meaning and a structure that captures values would allow
us to see how the structure of our values differs from the conceptual structure of our motives.
This might lend insight into what our culture is as compared to what it could be.
Self-determination theory. At the broadest level there appears to be a strong correspon-
dence between our results and the distinctions proposed in Self-determination theory (SDT)
[64]. SDT argues that there are three basic psychological needs that people try to satisfy: Com-
petence, Relatedness, and Autonomy. The extent to which these three needs are achieved or
thwarted has important implications for physical and psychological well-being. Deci and Ryan
and their colleagues have developed an extensive body of theoretical and empirical work inves-
tigating the nature of these needs, how they are influenced by the environment and other peo-
ple, and the implications of the satisfaction or thwarting of these needs for human well-being.
Competence refers to a motivation or psychological need to be able to effectively influence
the environment and to attain rewards and avoid punishments within it. Relatedness refers to
a desire to be loved and cared for by others, to feel connected. Autonomy concerns a sense of
volition, of being able to behave freely in line with one’s integrated sense of self. It is not simply
having an internal locus of control. Relatedness with others and Competence in the world are
clearly represented in the current structure (see Fig 1A and 1B). This distinction between
Competence and Relatedness is similar to the frequently identified difference between Agentic
(Z3) and Communal (Z2) orientations (e.g., [61,62]), which we find to be major branches in
our taxonomy. Autonomy is also strongly represented, particularly within some aspects of our
Meaning (Z1) cluster.
Ozer. Reisz et al [43], in a paper examining the relationship between personality traits and
personal goals, briefly describe a 3 level hierarchical goal taxonomy, in which 96 goal catego-
ries are organized into three levels, with the highest level consisting of eight broad goal catego-
ries: Academic/Occupational, Social Relationships, Financial Concerns, Health and Fitness,
Organization, Affect Control, Independence, and Moral or Religious. Unfortunately, the
details of how the taxonomy was constructed are not presented.
There are numerous similarities with the current taxonomy, and many of the important
distinctions we make can also be found in their taxonomy, both at the broadest level and in
terms of the distinctions or subdomains we both identify. However, we have more levels in our
taxonomy (five), including a high level distinction between Agency and Communion. In con-
trast, the top level of their taxonomy is at the level of their 8 broad categories, which are not
organized into any higher order structure, such as Agency, Community, and Meaning. We
also note that we have a much larger number of motives, 161, than they do.
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 24 / 32
Reiss. Reiss and Havercamp [67,68] developed a 128 item measure (Reiss Profile of Fun-
damental Goals and Motivational Sensitivities) to assess 16 motivational domains, each of
which was hypothesized to be a basic or fundamental motive. Each domain was measured by 8
items. However, this was not an attempt to create a hierarchical taxonomy of human motives,
but only provided one level of organization. Most of the motivational domains he identified
correspond to motives in our taxonomy. His 16 motivational domains are: “Power, Desire to
influence (including leadership; related to mastery); Curiosity, Desire for knowledge; Indepen-
dence, Desire to be autonomous; Status, Desire for social standing (including desire for atten-
tion); Social contact, Desire for peer companionship (desire to play); Vengeance, Desire to get
even (including desire to compete, to win); Honor, Desire to obey a traditional moral code; Ide-
alism, Desire to improve society (including altruism, justice); Physical exercise, Desire to exer-
cise muscles; Romance, Desire for sex (including courting); Family, Desire to raise own
children; Order, Desire to organize (including desire for ritual); Eating, Desire to eat; Accep-
tance, Desire for approval; Tranquility, Desire to avoid anxiety, fear; Saving, Desire to collect,
value of frugality.” (Reiss, [67], p. 187)
Evolutionary/Functional approaches. Recently several researchers [40,42] have taken an
evolutionary and functional approach to conceptualizing motives. Based on her analysis
Bugental [40] has identified five major domains or tasks in human life and the broad motiva-
tional systems that have evolved to address each of these tasks. The domains and their related
tasks are: Attachment (safety maintenance), Coalitional group formation and maintenance
(defending, acquiring shared resources and territory), Mating (selecting and maintaining/pro-
tecting access to a high value mate), Reciprocity (maximizing joint outcomes for functional
equals), and Hierarchical power (optimizing welfare and balance of control between those of
unequal power). Each of these domains is clearly represented in the current taxonomy. Note
again that Bugental does not outline any hierarchical or conceptual relationship among these
motives.
Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg, and Schaller [42] took an evolutionary and functional
approach to reconceptualizing Maslow’s [8] hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s original hierarchy, as
noted above, was not a conceptual hierarchy, but instead represented the ordering in which
motives needed to be satisfied and the dependency among motives. For example, Maslow sug-
gested that basic bodily needs had to be satisfied before individuals would pursue higher order
needs and most notably that they had to satisfy motives lower in the hierarchy before the ulti-
mate motive of self-actualization could be pursued. Kenrick et al, while recognizing that some
motives take precedence over others when activated (e.g., safety needs or food needs), argued for
a more overlapping system and more flexible priorities. They also suggested that motives fol-
lowed a developmental trajectory, so that motives such as mating and parenting would only
come on line at the appropriate developmental period. Finally, they reconceptualized the motives
in Maslow’s hierarchy, suggesting that the major motivational categories would be: Immediate
Physiological Needs, Self-Protection, Affiliation, Status/Esteem, Mate Acquisition, Mate Reten-
tion, and Parenting. All of these high level motives are clearly represented in our taxonomy.
Bernard and Lac [41] developed a questionnaire measure of individual differences in the
strength of 15 motivational dimensions, based on their evolutionary based theory of human
motivation. Similar to Bugental, they argued that domain specific motives evolved to meet the
major challenges that humans faced in the environments of evolutionary adaptedness (EEAs).
They further suggested that there would be individual differences in the potential expression
of each motivation as a function of genetic and environmental influences. The 15 motives
they measured are: Environmental Inquisitiveness (explore environment to evaluate hazards
and resources), Illness Avoidance, Threat Avoidance, Aggression (to acquire and control
resources), Interpersonal Inquisitiveness (explore the social environment), Appearance
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 25 / 32
(compete for status on basis of physical appearance), Mental (compete for status on basis of
mental attributes), Physical (compete for status on basis of physical capabilities), Wealth (com-
pete for status on basis of material resources), Commitment (to mate and close kin, intimate
attachments), Altruism (transfer resources to kin without expectation of return), Social
Exchange (reciprocal exchange of resources), Legacy (transfer of resources to institutions that
benefit non-kin), and Meaning. Although Bernard and Lac (p. 50) have argued that theoreti-
cally the motives are independently evolved strategies, their empirical results suggest that some
of their dimensions are interrelated in meaningful ways: for example, competitive/status
motives are inter correlated as are the cooperative motives. Thus, there may be some hierarchi-
cal structure, although they leave that to future work.
All of these evolutionary/functional approaches have several important differences from the
current approach. First, all of these researchers focus on broad motive domains. They do not
attempt to determine whether there is a more hierarchical structure of broader and more spe-
cific domains, and if so, what that structure might be. Second, all three analyses are based almost
entirely on a functional and conceptual analysis of the major domains of human life. Neither
group was concerned with examining the hierarchical conceptual structure of human motives.
Comparison with idiographic techniques
The taxonomy we present here offers a number of advantages over idiographic approaches. It
is easier for both researcher and participant. For the participant, merely sorting or rating exist-
ing items is faster and easier than self-generating them. Moreover, once these items are gener-
ated, they must be coded by researchers who wish to find out what is important to people in
their particular context. Thus, using this taxonomy means no coding is necessary in order to
compare motive or goal contents.
In addition, the quality of motives is a problem for the idiographic technique. Unfortu-
nately, self-generated motives tend to be repetitive. People will rephrase the same motive to fill
space, or list sub-goals that are really just lower-level means by which to accomplish the same
motive. Further, self-generated motives are more sensitive to current contexts–the apparent
topic of the study or what Ss are currently grappling with today. The taxonomy clusters, on the
other hand, cue a life-balanced breadth of associations so that you find out what’s important to
people–not just what they can think of right then. Furthermore, what’s important is only half
the story. Often, what’s unimportant can also be valuable information–information that will
be harder to gather as it is harder to remember or even imagine.
This taxonomy provides the foundation for a domain-general measure of the role of various
motives in important life decisions. Not only does it provide for ease of measurement across a
wide array of life domains, but because we are using a common set of motives we can easily
compare the importance of different motives across a variety of life choices.
In addition to facilitating our ability to make comparisons across life domains, it also facili-
tates our ability to make comparisons across individuals. Many of the researchers who have
studied the role of various goal or motive constructs in human behavior have taken a some-
what idiographic approach (e.g, [4,5,7]). They typically ask people to write down their impor-
tant life goals, which are then coded. This is both time and labor intensive and makes
comparison across individuals difficult. In contrast, our comprehensive taxonomy makes it
relatively straightforward to compare individuals using a common set of items.
Use of the taxonomy in predicting behavior
Since developing the taxonomy presented here, we have used it in many studies to predict
behavior in several different domains. Our general procedure is to first choose a level of the
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 26 / 32
hierarchy at which we want to measure motives, such as at the 44-cluster level or the 14 cluster
level. We then ask participants to indicate the importance of the motives by using a Q-sort
type procedure in which they sort the motives into a forced-choice, quasi-normal distribution
of categories ranging from not at all important to their most important motives. Then, we ask
participants to judge the extent to which a particular behavior or choice will facilitate or inhibit
the achievement of each of the motives. From these judgments we calculate a Goal Impact
score, which indicates the extent to which a choice or behavior impacts the participant’s
motives.
Predicting retirement intentions. Brougham and Walsh [69,70] first demonstrated the
power of the Chulef et al taxonomy to predict important life choices. They found that people’s
Goal Impact scores predicted an additional 20% of the variance in older adults plans for retire-
ment over and above the variance predicted by their age, health, or wealth (accounting for a
total of 46% of the variance in retirement intentions). This work demonstrates the robustness
of a taxonomy of motives, as similar levels of prediction were achieved with smaller or larger
subsets of motives, evaluated by participants in a variety of judgment formats.
Changing one’s job. In Talevich, Read, & Walsh [71] we showed that the motive taxon-
omy, used in conjunction with our Goal Impact measure, could be used to strongly predict
people’s intentions to stay in their current job or leave it. That paper presents a summary of
our general procedure for using the current taxonomy to predict behavior and it also summa-
rizes results that predict behavior in three additional domains.
Health and obesity. Obesity is a major current health problem. Lee, Talevich, Larsen, Lee,
Read, and Walsh (in preparation) were able to predict people’s weight from the Goal Impact
composite ratings of this taxonomy’s V-level clusters.
Coercion and adherence to taking psychotropic medication. Talevich [72] showed that
patients better adhered to their medication if doing so was facilitative of their important
motives, whereas they were less likely to take their medication when they viewed it as inhibitive
of their most important motives.
Attachment and close relationships. Attachment theory posits that human bonding is a
goal-corrected system that has evolved to procure from caregivers the safety and resources
necessary for survival, particularly in the face of a threat. Talevich [73] manipulated threat and
perceived responsiveness of an attachment figure. She found that the extent to which the situa-
tion (including the attachment figure’s responsiveness) made it harder for them to achieve
their motives significantly mediated the relationship between the manipulated situation and
attachment behaviors.
Limitations. Our empirically generated structure finds many parallels with various theo-
ries of human motivation: theories that come from ancient cultures in the east and west, classic
psychological theories from the 19th century, as well as those of modern times. That our
empirical findings are consistent with so many theories suggests that this structure, though
certain to grow and change as we learn more, arises from basic psychological processes shared
by human beings throughout the ages and in cultures around the world.
Undoubtedly, there are more motives to be added and, as motives are added, the structure
will adjust in kind. That is why we claim no more than that it is toward a comprehensive taxon-
omy of human motives. Our purpose has not been to provide the definitive structure of human
motives but a tool for researchers with the greatest breadth of motives, detail, and utility (e.g.
zooming in and out at different levels) yet to date.
It would be interesting to administer our similarity judgment task in other cultures. Unfor-
tunately, the complexity and duration (~45–60 minutes) of the similarity judgment task is
much, much greater than the importance rating task used by cross-cultural works to date. And
using rating scales instead of sorting to measure similarity would not solve the problem. In
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 27 / 32
fact, gathering similarity ratings of all possible motive pairs would be even more expensive and
time consuming than using sorting with so many elements. Rating similarity for 161 motives
would require 12,880 ratings of all possible pairs of motives ((161(161–1))/2 = 12,880). Assum-
ing an optimistic 2 seconds a rating, this would take over 7 hours for a complete set of ratings.
In contrast, rating the importance of 161 motives only requires 161 ratings and given the same
assumption of 2 seconds an item would take less than 6 minutes. Regardless of the actual time
per item, the ratio of time required is 80 to 1 for the two tasks.
The ease of scale administration has been a boon to importance-rating based work investi-
gating cultural differences in the allocational properties of motivation ([3739]). However, our
use of similarity judgments was necessary to the creation of a taxonomy based on the structural
properties of motivation ([16] see Intro for discussion).
Our purpose was to develop, as much as possible, a context-free structure of motives for
researchers to use in the domain of their choosing. Be that domain a cross-cultural analysis of
values or understanding why psychiatric patients won’t take their medication, we propose that
our taxonomy provides a detailed starting point for selecting the right variables to measure
and address many questions about motivated human behavior.
Conclusion
This taxonomy is a powerful tool for identifying the “right variables” to measure for a limitless
range of investigations into human motivation. This starts at the highest level of the taxonomy,
which shows that meaning motives are distinct from agency and communion motives—a new
finding in the literature.
As we noted in the introduction, the development of a widely accepted taxonomy of traits
has been a major focus of personality research and has resulted in major advances in the study
of personality. It has greatly aided conceptual organization, theory development, and communi-
cation among researchers. Like the Big 5, the current taxonomy should foster the development
of the field in several ways. First, it helps provide a common language that should improve com-
munication among researchers. Second, by providing a conceptual structure that identifies how
various motives are interrelated, it should help to systematize and integrate this flourishing field
of research. Third, attempting to explain this structure should further encourage theory and the
development of causal models about the structure. Fourth, the utility of this taxonomy extends
beyond the domain of motivation and into personality by examining the relations between the
two domains. The Big 5 only addresses traits. It does not address much of what underlies traits:
chronic goals and motives (e.g., [12,74]). Thus, our taxonomy could help address central prob-
lems such as the relationship between person and situation in behavior. In doing so, it could
help integrate two major approaches to studying personality: the trait and the social cognitive
[75] approaches.
The current taxonomy has a number of advantages over previous attempts, including our
own [45]. It is based on a greater number of motives (161), gathered from a more extensive
array of domains (particularly avoidance motives), than has been attempted before (e.g., Cat-
tell’s [31] 16 Ergs; Rokeach’s [32] 36 values). And the structural information provided by our
taxonomy is much greater than that provided by other systems (e.g., Murray’s [10] complex
list of “variables of personality,” each including distinctly different subvariables). These sys-
tems have aimed at covering all areas of human functioning but do not facilitate the analysis of
the relationships among the various motives because they provide no information about their
hierarchical structure.
Moreover, as a web based study, our taxonomy has a broader sample of participants than
previous efforts, which have either relied on undergraduates or smaller non-student samples.
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 28 / 32
Further, it provides a consistent, replicable structure over a range of subjects varying by age
and gender. Moreover in contrast to much previous work, it is empirically constructed, rather
than being based on the theoretical preconceptions of researchers. This taxonomy provides
researchers and practitioners with a broad framework for the study and assessment of human
motives, and their role in social behavior.
This taxonomy also enables choice among domains of interest and levels of construal. It
offers a common framework from which to sample and reliably measure the human motiva-
tors of a wide range of everyday activities. For instance, let us consider the question of how
achievement (or lack of achievement) of various motives (e.g. family, career, health, and
finances) in different life domains might affect an individual’s satisfaction with those domains.
A researcher might measure the extent to which each of these motive clusters is valued by dif-
ferent individuals and then for these individuals measure the extent to which they view their
motives as being facilitated or blocked in each life domain (e.g., job, family, romantic, etc.).
The taxonomy would also allow us to compare individuals in terms of a common set of
motives. Thus, the current taxonomy makes important contributions to a number of different
aspects of the study of human behavior.
Author Contributions
Conceptualization: SJR DAW JRT.
Formal analysis: SJR.
Funding acquisition: SJR.
Investigation: SJR JRT RI GC.
Methodology: SJR DAW JRT RI GC.
Project administration: SJR.
Resources: SJR DAW JRT RI.
Software: JRT RI GC.
Supervision: SJR.
Visualization: SJR DAW JRT.
Writing – original draft: JRT SJR DAW.
Writing – review & editing: JRT SJR DAW RI GC.
References
1. Allport GW. Personality: A psychological interpretation. New York: Holt; 1937.
2. Atkinson JW. An introduction to motivation. Oxford, England: Van Nostrand; 1964.
3. Atkinson JW, Birch D. The dynamics of action. Oxford, England: John Wiley; 1970. 380 p.
4. Cantor N, Kihlstrom JF. Personality and social intelligence. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall; 1987.
5. Emmons RA. Personal strivings: An approach to personality and subjective well-being. Journal of Per-
sonality and Social Psychology. 1986; 51(5):1058–68.
6. Lewin K. A Dynamic Theory of Personality. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc; 1935.
7. Little B. Personal projects: A rationale and methods for investigation. Environmental Behavior. 1983;
15:273–309.
8. Maslow AH. A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review. 1943; 50:370–96.
9. McClelland DC. Human motivation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press; 1987.
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 29 / 32
10. Murray HA. Explorations in personality a clinical and experimental study of fifty men of college age.
[Internet]. Oxford, England: Oxford Univ. Press; 1938 [cited 2015 Sep 19]. Available from: http://
psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1938-15040-000
11. Pervin LA. Goal concepts in personality and social psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1989.
12. Read SJ, Miller LC. Inter-personalism: Toward a goal-based theory of persons in relationships. In: Per-
vin L, editor. Goal concepts in personality and social psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1989.
13. Austin JT, Vancouver JB. Goal constructs in psychology: Structure, process, and content. Psychologi-
cal Bulletin. 1996; 120:338–75.
14. Carver CS, Scheier MF. On the Self-regulation of Behavior. Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press; 1998.
15. Ford DH. Humans as self-constructing living systems: A developmental perspective on behavior and
personality. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1987.
16. Kruglanski AW, Shah JY, Fishbach A, Friedman R, Chun WY, Sleeth-Keppler D. A theory of goal sys-
tems. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. 2002; 34:331–78.
17. Fiske ST. Social Beings: A core motive approach to social psychology. New York: Wiley; 2004.
18. Fiske ST. Core social motivations: Views from the couch, consciousness, classroom, computers, and
collectives. In: Shah JY, Gardner WL, editors. Handbook of motivation science. NY: Guilford Press;
2008. p. 3–22.
19. John OP. The big five factor taxonomy: Dimensions of personality in the natural language and in ques-
tionnaires. In: Pervin LA, editor. Handbook of personality theory and research. New York: Guilford
Press; 1990. p. 66–100.
20. Digman JM. Higher-order factors of the Big Five. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1997;
73(6):1246–56. PMID: 9418278
21. Goldberg LR. Language and individual differences: The search for universals in personality lexicons. In:
Wheeler L., editor. Review of personality and social psychology (Vol 2). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage; 1981.
p. 141–65.
22. John OP, Naumann LP, Soto CJ. Paradigm shift to the integrative Big Five trait taxonomy. In: John P,
Robins RW, Pervin LA, editors. Handbook of personality: Theory and research ( 3rd ed,. New York:
Guilford Press; 2008. p. 114–58.
23. Ashton MC, Lee K. Empirical, Theoretical, and Practical Advantages of the HEXACO Model of Person-
ality Structure. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 2007 May 1; 11(2):150–66. doi: 10.1177/
1088868306294907 PMID: 18453460
24. Lee K, Ashton MC. Psychometric Properties of the HEXACO Personality Inventory. Multivariate Behav-
ioral Research. 2004 Apr; 39(2):329–58. doi: 10.1207/s15327906mbr3902_8 PMID: 26804579
25. Diener ED, Emmons RA, Larsen RJ, Griffin S. The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality
Assessment. 1985; 49(1):71–5. doi: 10.1207/s15327752jpa4901_13 PMID: 16367493
26. Emmons RA, Cheung C, Tehrani K. Assessing Spirituality Through Personal Goals: Implications for
Research on Religion and Subjective Well-Being. Social Indicators Research. 1998; 45(1):391–422.
27. Larsen JT, McGraw AP, Cacioppo JT. Can people feel happy and sad at the same time? Journal of Per-
sonality and Social Psychology. 2001; 81(4):684–96. PMID: 11642354
28. Atkinson JW. An introduction to motivation. Oxford, England: Van Nostrand; 1964.
29. Ford ME, Nichols CW. A taxonomy of human goals and some possible applications. In: Ford ME, Ford
DH, editors. Humans as self-constructing systems: Putting the framework to work. Hillsdale, NJ: Erl-
baum; 1987.
30. McDougall W. The energies of men. New York: Scribner’s; 1933.
31. Cattell RB. Personality and motivation structure and measurement. New York: World Press; 1957.
32. Rokeach M. The nature of human values. New York: Free Press; 1973.
33. Rokeach M. Some unresolved issues in theories of beliefs, attitudes, and values. In: Page M. M., editor.
Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (Vol 27). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; 1979. p. 261–
304.
34. Schank RC, Abelson RP. Scripts, plans, goals, and understanding: an inquiry into human knowledge
structures. Hillsdale, N. J.: Erlbaum Associates; 1977.
35. Wicker FW, Lambert FB, Richardson FC, Kahler J. Categorical goal hierarchies and classification of
human motives. Journal of Personality. 1984; 52(3):285–305.
36. Schwartz SH. Universals in the content and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical
tests in 20 countries. In: Zanna MP, editor. Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol 25). New
York: Academic Press; 1992. p. 1–65.
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 30 / 32
37. Schwartz SH, Bilsky W. Toward a universal psychological structure of human values. Journal of Person-
ality and Social Psychology. 1987; 53(3):550–62.
38. Schwartz SH, Cieciuch J, Vecchione M, Davidov E, Fischer R, Beierlein C, et al. Refining the theory of
basic individual values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2012; 103(4):663–88. doi: 10.
1037/a0029393 PMID: 22823292
39. Grouzet FME, Kasser T, Ahuvia A, Dols JMF, Kim Y, Lau S, et al. The structure of goal contents across
15 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2005; 89:800–16. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.
89.5.800 PMID: 16351369
40. Bugental DB. Acquisition of the algorithms of social life: A domain-based approach. Psychological Bulle-
tin. 2000; 126(2):187–219. PMID: 10748640
41. Bernard LC, Lac A. Testing a multidimensional model of putative evolved human motives. Motivation
and Emotion. 2014 Feb; 38(1):47–64.
42. Kenrick DT, Griskevicius V, Neuberg SL, Schaller M. Renovating the Pyramid of Needs: Contemporary
Extensions Built Upon Ancient Foundations. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2010; 5(3):292–
314. doi: 10.1177/1745691610369469 PMID: 21874133
43. Reisz Z, Boudreaux MJ, Ozer DJ. Personality traits and the prediction of personal goals. Personality
and Individual Differences. 2013 Oct; 55(6):699–704.
44. Block J. The five-factor framing of personality and beyond: Some ruminations. Psychological Inquiry.
2010; 21(1):2–25.
45. Chulef AS, Read SJ, Walsh DA. A hierarchical taxonomy of human goals. Motivation and Emotion.
2001; 25(3):191–232.
46. Braithwaite VA, Law HG. Structure of human values: Testing the adequacy of the Rokeach Value Sur-
vey. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1985; 49:250–63.
47. Lewin K. Principles of Topological Psychology. Kindle 2007 of First Edition Print. Heider F, Heider GM,
editors. Munshi Press; 1936.
48. Clark LA, Watson D. Temperament: An organizing paradigm for trait psychology. In: John OP, Robins
RW, Pervin LA, editors. Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research ( 3rd edition). New York: Guil-
ford Press; 2008. p. 265–86.
49. Gray JA, McNaughton N. The neuropsychology of anxiety: An enquiry into the functions of the septo-
hippocampal system. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2000.
50. Pickering AD, Gray JA. The neuroscience of personality. In: Pervin LA, John OP, editors. Handbook of
personality: Theory and research. New York: Guilford Press; 1999. p. 277–299.
51. Brownstein AL, Read SJ, Monroe BM, Miller LC. Decomposing traits into goal-based components.Los
Angeles, CA; 2009.
52. Hofstee WK, de Raad B, Goldberg LR. Integration of the Big Five and circumplex approaches to trait
structure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1992; 63(1):146–63. PMID: 1494982
53. Wishart D. ClustanGraphics Primer. Edinburgh: Clustan Limited; 2006.
54. Ward JH Jr. Hierarchical grouping to optimize an objective function. American Statistical Association
Journal. 1963; 58:236–44.
55. Aldenderfer MS, Blashfield RK. Cluster analysis. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage; 1984.
56. Plato. Phaedrus. In: (Trans.) HNF, editor. Plato in Twelve Volumes (Vols 1–12, Vol 9). Cambridge. MA.:
Harvard University Press; 1925.
57. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chapter 1. In: Aristotle in 23 Volumes (Vols 1–23, Vol 19). Cam-
bridge, MA,; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1934. Retrieved from www.perseus.tufts.edu Aristot. Nic.
Eth. 1: Harvard University Press; 1934.
58. Peterson C, Seligman MEP. Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. USA:
Oxford University Press; 2004.
59. Seligman M. Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. Simon and
Schuster; 2011.
60. Maslow AH. Motivation and personality ( 2nd ed.). New York: Harper & Row; 1970.
61. Bakan D. The duality of human existence. Chicago: Rand McNally; 1966.
62. Spence JT, Helmreich RL, Holohan CK. Negative and positive components of psychological masculinity
and femininity and their relationship to self-reports of neurotic and acting out behaviors. Journal of Per-
sonality and Social Psychology. 1979; 37:1673–82. PMID: 512834
63. Wiggins JS. A psychological taxonomy of trait-descriptive terms: The interpersonal domain. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology. 1979; 37:395–412.
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 31 / 32
64. Deci EL, Ryan RM. The What and Why of goal pursuits: Human needs and the Self-Determination The-
ory of behavior. Psychological Inquiry. 2000; 11:227–68.
65. Markus HR, Kitiyama S. Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psy-
chological Review. 1991; 98:224–53.
66. Triandis HC. Individualism and collectivism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press; 1995.
67. Reiss S. Multifaceted Nature of Intrinsic Motivation: The Theory of 16 Basic Desires. Review of General
Psychology. 2004; 8(3):179–93.
68. Reiss S, Havercamp SM. Toward a comprehensive assessment of fundamental motivation: Factor
structure of the Reiss Profiles. Psychological Assessment. 1998; 10(2):97.
69. Brougham RR, Walsh DA. Goal expectations as predictors of retirement intentions. International Jour-
nal of Aging and Human Development. 2005; 61:141–60. PMID: 16161290
70. Brougham RR, Walsh DA. Image theory, goal incompatibility, and retirement intent. International Jour-
nal of Aging and Human Development. 2007; 65:203–29. PMID: 18092668
71. Talevich JR, Read SJ, Walsh DA. Goal Impact: Context-Free Prediction Tool Applied to Voluntary Job
Turnover. Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology. 2014; 36:35–50.
72. Talevich JR. Success of Influence and Coercion: A function of how psychotropic medication impacts
the goals of adult psychiatric patients. Journal of Mental Health Law and Policy. 2013; 2(2):244–71.
73. Talevich JR, Read SJ, Miller LC. A Neural Network Model of the Motivational Dynamics of Attachment.
Department of Psychology, University of Southern California; 2012.
74. Miller LC, Read SJ. Why am I telling you this?: Self-disclosure in a goal-based model of personality. In:
Derlega VJ, Berg J, editors. Self-disclosure: Theory, research, and therapy. Plenum Press; 1987.
75. Mischel W, Shoda Y. A cognitive-affective system theory of personality: Reconceptualizing situations,
dispositions, dynamics, and invariance in personality structure. Psychological Review. 1995; 102
(2):246–68. PMID: 7740090
Taxonomy of human motives
PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0172279 February 23, 2017 32 / 32
... In the above paragraph, we thought of the securing of companionship as a "final" goal because according to some psychological theories of motivation, humans have some built-in "ultimate goals" in life, which are the ultimate driving forces of an IAS [7]- [10], [68], [69], and Companionship is one of these "ultimate goals." We term these the Primary Goals of an autonomous system, and this constitutes part of the MOVIVATION CORE (MOTC) of the system as shown in Fig. 2. According to some motivation theories such as that of Maslow [70], there are Physiological needs, Safety needs, Companionship needs, Competence needs, etc. in the MOTC of a human. ...
... Other more recent psychological motivation theories have further modified and refine on this earlier theory but the basic ideas are the same [71]. Making finer distinctions, [68] lists 161 fundamental motivations driving the behaviors of a human. In Fig. 2, MOTC contains the Primary Goals and the Secondary Goals [7]- [10], [68], [69], [71] . ...
... Making finer distinctions, [68] lists 161 fundamental motivations driving the behaviors of a human. In Fig. 2, MOTC contains the Primary Goals and the Secondary Goals [7]- [10], [68], [69], [71] . The Secondary Goals could be of multiple levels, ultimately leading to the satisfaction of the Primary Goals. ...
Preprint
In AI research, so far, the attention paid to the characterization and representation of function and affordance has been sporadic and sparse, even though this aspect features prominently in an intelligent system's functioning. In the sporadic and sparse, though commendable efforts so far devoted to the characterization and understanding of function and affordance, there has also been no general framework that could unify all the different use domains and situations related to the representation and application of functional concepts. This paper develops just such a general framework, with an approach that emphasizes the fact that the representations involved must be explicitly cognitive and conceptual, and they must also contain causal characterizations of the events and processes involved, as well as employ conceptual constructs that are grounded in the referents to which they refer, in order to achieve maximal generality. The basic genera framework is described, along with a set of basic guiding principles with regards to representation of functionality. To properly and adequately characterize and represent functionality, a descriptive representation language is needed. This language is defined and developed, and many examples of its use are described. The general framework is developed based on an extension of the general language meaning representational framework called conceptual dependency. To support the general characterization and representation of functionality, the basic conceptual dependency framework is enhanced with representational devices called structure anchor and conceptual dependency elaboration, together with the definition of a set of ground level concepts. These novel representational constructs are defined, developed, and described. A general framework dealing with functionality would represent a major step toward achieving Artificial General Intelligence.
... Human goals have been characterized as having a hierarchical structure (Talevich et al. 2017;Carver and Scheier 2001). Higher order goals represent abstract concepts that guide behavior towards a desired end state (Talevich et al. 2017) but do not necessarily have a hedonic value or a driving force. ...
... Human goals have been characterized as having a hierarchical structure (Talevich et al. 2017;Carver and Scheier 2001). Higher order goals represent abstract concepts that guide behavior towards a desired end state (Talevich et al. 2017) but do not necessarily have a hedonic value or a driving force. On the other hand, lower-order goals, often referred to as "motives" (Talevich et al. 2017) or "personal strivings" (Emmons 1986), are more concreate, can more easily be defined by a set or sequence of behaviors, and tend to have forcelike or energizing properties (Lewin 2013;Revelle 2008), i.e., they represent what people are "characteristically aiming to accomplish". ...
... Higher order goals represent abstract concepts that guide behavior towards a desired end state (Talevich et al. 2017) but do not necessarily have a hedonic value or a driving force. On the other hand, lower-order goals, often referred to as "motives" (Talevich et al. 2017) or "personal strivings" (Emmons 1986), are more concreate, can more easily be defined by a set or sequence of behaviors, and tend to have forcelike or energizing properties (Lewin 2013;Revelle 2008), i.e., they represent what people are "characteristically aiming to accomplish". This driving force or "value" of low-order goals, henceforth referred to as motives, can be quantified in an individual by attempting to measure the limited resources that the individual allocates to the pursuit of that motive (Kruglanski et al. 2022), for example, by measuring its importance, confidence in success, difficulty, etc. (Emmons 1986). ...
Article
Full-text available
Service providers are developing more sophisticated offerings, and it is important for them to understand the demographics and specific context by which individuals might procure their services. This allows companies to stay relevant to their customers. The target of this paper is to investigate the types of goals Millennials and Generation Z individuals are pursuing and what role different service providers may play in supporting these endeavors, with the aim of providing actionable insights for insurers. Furthermore, it is to investigate how personality traits may relate to differences in individuals’ preferences. The study is based on a survey of 854 Swiss university students. The results indicate that goals are concentrated in a few categories, and educational institutions and healthcare providers are well-positioned to support goal achievement. Insurers, on the other hand, rank low among the preferences, and their profile is largely undifferentiated. This result indicates that insurers need to further focus their efforts to gain relevance among younger customers. Supporting goals relating to self-fulfillment and ability for high-conscientious and/or low-honest/humble customers by focusing on risk education and risk management seems a particularly interesting strategy for insurers.
... "Communion" as a fundamental goal (Talevich et al., 2017) is rooted in how people instinctively want to align with an ingroup, hence, they categorize people, which could result in intergroup bias (Brewer, 1979). However, while intergroup is "hard-wired, " ingroup boundary is "soft-wired." ...
... The second overarching goal in the review framework of Talevich et al. (2017) is "meaning." This motive safeguards human's virtues, ethics, and duties. ...
... If we incorporate this notion of change agent into studies of contact, there could be benefit in the way people individuate, interact, empathize with others, and how this could lead to a wider societal change. Harking back to the motivation/goal framework of Talevich et al. (2017) in the previous session, the proposal here is, when motivated by "meaning" and "agency, " people may adopt a different mindset and create different impact. History has witnessed many individuals whose strong will to change the society has created landmarks in the landscape of intergroup relations. ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper conducted a preliminary study of reviewing and exploring bias strategies using a framework of a different discipline: change management. The hypothesis here is: If the major problem of implicit bias strategies is that they do not translate into actual changes in behaviors, then it could be helpful to learn from studies that have contributed to successful change interventions such as reward management, social neuroscience, health behavioral change, and cognitive behavioral therapy. The result of this integrated approach is: (1) current bias strategies can be improved and new ones can be developed with insight from adjunct study fields in change management; (2) it could be more sustainable to invest in a holistic and proactive bias strategy approach that targets the social environment, eliminating the very condition under which biases arise; and (3) while implicit biases are automatic, future studies should invest more on strategies that empower people as “change agents” who can act proactively to regulate the very environment that gives rise to their biased thoughts and behaviors.
... However, psychologists have yet to agree as to the existence of separable motives (Barrett, 2017), how many there are, nor on the identity of individual motives. Many different systems of human motives have been postulated in the psychological literature, from its earliest days (James, 1890) to the present (Talevich et al., 2017;Chierchia et al., 2020;Desmet and Fokkinga, 2020;Ko et al., 2020). Scholars have used a wide variety of approaches to identify sets of motivational constructs (sometimes called by names such as ergs, drives, needs or goals). ...
... Similarly, Chulef and colleagues, Chierchia and colleages, and Talevich and colleagues used hierarchical clustering to reduce the large number goals, values and needs identified in the history of psychological literature on human motivation to a more manageable list based on semantic similarity judgments (Chulef et al., 2001;Talevich et al., 2017;Chierchia et al., 2020). Reiss and Havercamp reviewed lists generated by previous scholars to derive a set of 16 basic desires including curiosity and citizenship (Reiss and Havercamp, 1998). ...
Article
Full-text available
Many different general systems of human motives have been postulated in the psychological literature. However, as yet, no consensus on which motives should be nominated, nor how many there are, has emerged. Recently, we deduced the existence of a number of motives using a logical argument derived from evolutionary theory; that humans have evolved an independent psychological “engine” to respond to each kind of evolutionary problem set by a dimension of the human niche, or life-way. Here, we confirm the existence of 14 out of 15 of these postulated motives using factor analysis on a web-based sample of 500 respondents from the UK: Lust, Hunger, Fear, Disgust, Attract, Love, Nurture, Hoard, Create, Affiliate, Status, Justice, Curiosity, and Play. The items which loaded most strongly for each factor confirmed the expected core value of each motive. Comfort did not emerge, perhaps because it is more about satisfying specific physiological requirements than a cluster of activities linked semantically by the concept of attaining “comfort.” We believe this analysis can form the foundation of a scale for use in applied psychological work ranging from personality testing to personnel selection to public health program design.
... However, identifying the goals, which shape interpersonal timing, is not trivial. While there have been attempts to define the structure behind human motivation [Ortony et al. 1988, Talevich et al. 2017], few works have linked those to a person's Big Five traits or interpersonal stance. Those who do focus on high-level or long-term goals rather than concrete short-term intentions [Reisz et al. 2013]. ...
... Reaching such goals involves the mastery of personal skills that vary from hunting and gathering and building nests to finding shelter and mastering survival skills (or occupational skills in humans). The growing mastery of such skills is referred to as self-actualization or the development of agency [87,[90][91][92][93]. Especially in higher social mammals, models of the external world include social models ('theories of mind') [92,94]. ...
Article
Full-text available
What do bacteria, cells, organs, people, and social communities have in common? At first sight, perhaps not much. They involve totally different agents and scale levels of observation. On second thought, however, perhaps they share everything. A growing body of literature suggests that living systems at different scale levels of observation follow the same architectural principles and process information in similar ways. Moreover, such systems appear to respond in similar ways to rising levels of stress, especially when stress levels approach near-lethal levels. To explain such communalities, we argue that all organisms (including humans) can be modeled as hierarchical Bayesian controls systems that are governed by the same biophysical principles. Such systems show generic changes when taxed beyond their ability to correct for environmental disturbances. Without exception, stressed organisms show rising levels of ‘disorder’ (randomness, unpredictability) in internal message passing and overt behavior. We argue that such changes can be explained by a collapse of allostatic (high-level integrative) control, which normally synchronizes activity of the various components of a living system to produce order. The selective overload and cascading failure of highly connected (hub) nodes flattens hierarchical control, producing maladaptive behavior. Thus, we present a theory according to which organic concepts such as stress, a loss of control, disorder, disease, and death can be operationalized in biophysical terms that apply to all scale levels of organization. Given the presumed universality of this mechanism, ‘losing control’ appears to involve the same process anywhere, whether involving bacteria succumbing to an antibiotic agent, people suffering from physical or mental disorders, or social systems slipping into warfare. On a practical note, measures of disorder may serve as early warning signs of system failure even when catastrophic failure is still some distance away.
... Chulef et al. [11] took an empirical approach and recruited participants of diverse backgrounds to delve into developing a hierarchical human goal taxonomy based on similarity between goals, providing a concrete and comprehensive structure. More recently, Talevich et al. [60] iterated on the taxonomy derived in [11] with several added classes of human motives. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Motives or goals are recognized in psychology literature as the most fundamental drive that explains and predicts why people do what they do, including when they browse the web. Although providing enormous value, these higher-ordered goals are often unobserved, and little is known about how to leverage such goals to assist people's browsing activities. This paper proposes to take a new approach to address this problem, which is fulfilled through a novel neural framework, Goal-directed Web Browsing (GoWeB). We adopt a psychologically-sound taxonomy of higher-ordered goals and learn to build their representations in a structure-preserving manner. Then we incorporate the resulting representations for enhancing the experiences of common activities people perform on the web. Experiments on large-scale data from Microsoft Edge web browser show that GoWeB significantly outperforms competitive baselines for in-session web page recommendation, re-visitation classification, and goal-based web page grouping. A follow-up analysis further characterizes how the variety of human motives can affect the difference observed in human behavioral patterns.
Chapter
This chapter presents an exploration of the nature of student goals and obstacles, and the role played by meaning in life and hope thinking in distinguishing them. Male and female (n = 101) students between 18 and 34 years (mean = 22 years) participated in a concurrent equal status, exploratory, mixed-method design study. They were asked about the nature of their goals and anticipated obstacles using open-ended formatted questions, and completed the Dispositional Hope Scale and Meaning in Life Questionnaire. Latent classes of Hope-Meaning were extracted, and compared for the nature of goals and perceived obstacles. Qualitative data were subjected to content analysis. Results show a division of the sample into two Hope-Meaning latent classes: “High hope, high meaning” (92.1%) and “Low hope, search for meaning” (7.9%). The identified and prioritised goals were: tertiary education, employment and career, mobility, secure accommodation, and support for family. Their prioritisation of tertiary education and employment was explained by the need to secure a better material future and support their families. Five obstacles were reported: lack of resources, poor self-regulation, employment problems, fear of failure, and health problems. No goal and obstacle content distinction was made between the two emergent Hope-Meaning latent classes.