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Individual Perceptions of Self-Actualization: What Functional Motives Are Linked to Fulfilling One’s Full Potential?

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Maslow’s self-actualization remains a popular notion in academic research as well as popular culture. The notion that life’s highest calling is fulfilling one’s own unique potential has been widely appealing. But what do people believe they are doing when they pursue the realization of their full, unique potentials? Here, we examine lay perceptions of self-actualization. Self-actualizing, like any drive, is unlikely to operate without regard to biological and social costs and benefits. We examine which functional outcomes (e.g., gaining status, making friends, finding mates, caring for kin) people perceive as central to their individual self-actualizing. Three studies suggest that people most frequently link self-actualization to seeking status, and, concordant with life history theory, what people regard as self-actualizing varies in predictable ways across the life span and across individuals. Contrasting with self-actualization, people do not view other types of well-being—eudaimonic, hedonic, subjective—as furthering status-linked functional outcomes.
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https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167217713191
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Article
What would you be doing if you were realizing your highest
potential? Would the answer differ if you were a 35-year-old
father or a 19-year-old single woman? And would you be doing
different activities if you were trying to find meaning in life,
seeking pure pleasure, or pursuing happiness and satisfaction?
Maslow’s (1943) universal hierarchy of human needs, and
specifically the focus on self-actualization (realizing one’s
full, unique potential) as the pinnacle of human motives, has
been a highly appealing and robust cultural meme. Although
Maslow’s classic paper was published nearly 80 years ago, it
has had lasting impact (e.g., Ackerman & Bargh, 2010;
Myers, 2009). Since the year 2000, over 350 scholarly books
and articles have been published with the term self-actual-
ization in the title, and many more discuss self-actualization
in the text (e.g., Diener & Lucas, 2000; Kenrick, Neuberg,
Griskevicius, Becker, & Schaller, 2010; Peterson, Park, &
Seligman, 2005). Self-actualization remains popular with the
general public as well; well over 50 New York Times articles
published in the last 5 years contain the term.
Despite widespread public interest in becoming actual-
ized, little research has explored people’s perceptions of
what exactly they would find self-actualizing. That is, what
do people believe they would be doing if they were realizing
their own, unique potentials? Whereas the traditional view of
self-actualization is that it is “above” or divorced from
“baser” biological and social needs, a modern functional take
on self-actualization would begin with the assumption that
few, if any, universal drives are truly independent from such
needs. Rather, if self-actualizing is a universal drive, it may
promote fitness-relevant biological and/or social motivations
(e.g., functional, fundamental motives such as seeking status,
finding mates, caring for kin). Here, we examine lay percep-
tions of self-actualization, while also testing specific predic-
tions about self-actualization derived from a functional
perspective. We ask the following questions: (a) What func-
tional outcomes might the pursuit of self-actualization be
furthering? (b) Might the functional motives that people link
to their self-actualizing vary systematically, concordant with
predictions from life history theory? (c) Is self-actualization
uniquely linked to particular functional motives, or do peo-
ple view other types of personal fulfillment (i.e., eudaimonic,
hedonic, and subjective, well-being) as also connected to
those very same functional motives?
713191PSPXXX10.1177/0146167217713191Personality and Social Psychology BulletinKrems et al.
research-article2017
1Arizona State University, Tempe, USA
2University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jaimie Arona Krems, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University,
950 S. McAllister St., Tempe, AZ 85287-1104, USA.
Email: jaimie.krems@asu.edu
Individual Perceptions of Self-
Actualization: What Functional
Motives Are Linked to Fulfilling
One’s Full Potential?
Jaimie Arona Krems1, Douglas T. Kenrick1, and Rebecca Neel2
Abstract
Maslow’s self-actualization remains a popular notion in academic research as well as popular culture. The notion that life’s
highest calling is fulfilling one’s own unique potential has been widely appealing. But what do people believe they are doing
when they pursue the realization of their full, unique potentials? Here, we examine lay perceptions of self-actualization.
Self-actualizing, like any drive, is unlikely to operate without regard to biological and social costs and benefits. We examine
which functional outcomes (e.g., gaining status, making friends, finding mates, caring for kin) people perceive as central to
their individual self-actualizing. Three studies suggest that people most frequently link self-actualization to seeking status, and,
concordant with life history theory, what people regard as self-actualizing varies in predictable ways across the life span and
across individuals. Contrasting with self-actualization, people do not view other types of well-being—eudaimonic, hedonic,
subjective—as furthering status-linked functional outcomes.
Keywords
motivation/goals, social cognition, self-actualization, fundamental motives, evolution
Received August 16, 2016; revision accepted May 8, 2017
2 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 00(0)
What Is Self-Actualization?
In a classic paper in Psychological Review, Abraham Maslow
(1943) developed the idea of a universal hierarchy of human
needs. Maslow’s theory was influenced by comparative psy-
chologists, such as his advisor Harry Harlow (cf. Harlow,
1953), and Maslow’s theory was, as Maslow himself put it:
“. . . in the functionalist tradition of [William] James and
[John] Dewey . . .” (p. 371). Maslow took issue with contem-
porary behaviorist notions, explicitly disagreeing with the
prevailing tendency to view “the hunger drive (or any other
physiological drive) . . . as a centering point or model for a
definitive theory of motivation” (p. 370). Instead, Maslow
held that humans had multiple, distinct motives, and that
human motives were different from those of rats (which were
the primary subjects in many contemporary experiments on
learning and motivation). Maslow proposed that human
needs could be arranged into a “hierarchy of prepotency,”
with basic physiological needs (such as thirst and hunger)
taking priority over safety needs, which, in turn, took priority
over social needs (for affection and then esteem from other
people). Once all of these physiological and social needs
were met, Maslow proposed that people would focus on
“self-actualization,” a term borrowed from biopsychologist
Kurt Goldstein (1939).
Maslow (1943) used the term “self-actualization” to refer
to “the desire to become more and more what one is, to
become everything that one is capable of becoming” (p. 382).
He wrote,
Even if all these [physiological, safety, and social] needs are
satisfied, we may still often (if not always) expect that a new
discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual
is doing what he is fitted for. A musician must make music, an
artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy.
What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-
actualization. (Maslow, 1943, pp. 382-383)
In the intervening years, self-actualizing has remained a
popular topic—both within psychological research and also
within the wider culture (e.g., Ackerman & Bargh, 2010;
Kenrick et al., 2010). Although Maslow’s (1943) self-actual-
ization has proved difficult to operationalize (e.g., Jones &
Crandall, 1986), scholars have offered operationalizations of
self-actualization as having a profound sense of commitment
(Gowan, 1972), challenging one’s intellectual limits (Kerr,
1985), and having earned recognition in one’s field of
endeavor (Reis & Callahan, 1989; Walker, Reis, & Leonard,
1992). Still others have attempted to link self-actualization to
physical self-efficacy, integrated personality, and self-esteem
(e.g., Fitts, 1971; Gowan, 1972).
Less attention has been paid to lay perceptions of self-
actualization. That is, what do people believe would realize
their own, unique potentials? In the spirit of Diener, Sapyta,
and Suh (1998), we believe researchers have much to gain
from letting people describe what they are doing when they
believe that they are self-actualizing. Understanding which
activities people view as self-actualizing can inform the
question of whether pursuing self-actualization is a drive
above and divorced from baser biological and social needs,
or is actually connected to those biologically and socially rel-
evant needs in potentially fitness-promoting ways.
A Modern Functional Perspective on
Motivation and Maslow
Modern functional approaches to behavior integrate theories
from evolutionary biology, anthropology, and psychology
(e.g., Neuberg, Kenrick, & Schaller, 2010). At the broadest
level, such an approach presumes that natural selection has
given rise to suites of psychological adaptations that, in turn,
drive human goals and behaviors in ways that facilitate
reproductive fitness. An evolutionary biologist, for example,
presumes that an organism’s behavior is neither purely ran-
dom nor simply formed by its environment alone but is
shaped by inherited tendencies that would have facilitated its
ancestors’ inclusive fitness (i.e., its relative success at pass-
ing genes into successive generations via direct reproduction
and/or helping kin reproduce and, in turn, helping resultant
offspring survive to reproduce).
On this view, no universal human drive can be meaning-
fully separated from biology; rather, human behaviors and
desires arise from universal psychological adaptations,
which arose in response to the recurrent challenges humans
faced throughout ancestral history. Furthermore, different
recurrent challenges would often have required different
kinds of solutions, leading humans to develop multiple dis-
tinct motivational systems, each tailored to manage these
particular kinds of recurrent challenges. In line with
Maslow’s (1943) contemporary functional approach, recent
theory and research support the presumptions of (a) multiple
independent motivational systems, that (b) are hierarchical in
nature, such that some motives take cognitive priority over
others, and that (c) the motives an individual prioritizes shift
throughout the life span (e.g., Tooby & Cosmides, 1992;
Sherry & Schacter, 1987).
Implications for Self-Actualization
Taking a functional approach to understanding self-actualization
means asking what distinct adaptive benefit(s) the pursuit of
self-actualization might have facilitated. That is, in what ways
might self-actualizing translate into fitness? Drawing on work
in the evolutionary social sciences since Maslow’s time,
Kenrick and colleagues (2010) proposed a “renovated” moti-
vational pyramid, including a hierarchy of fundamental social
motives: self-protection (protecting oneself from physical
harm), disease avoidance (avoiding disease and staying
healthy), affiliation (finding friends and allies), status-seeking
(creating esteem and seeking status), mate acquisition (find-
ing and attracting potential mates), mate retention (retaining
those mates), and kin care (caring for offspring and other rela-
tives). This “fundamental motives framework” posits a set of
Krems et al. 3
motivational systems arising from the main challenges
humans consistently faced throughout ancestral history. In
other words, it recasts those needs identified by Maslow
(1943) into distinct, functionally relevant motivational drives.
Notably, self-actualization was not present in Kenrick and
colleagues’ renovated pyramid; self-actualization was sub-
sumed under the drive to seek status and esteem.
Implication 1a: Self-actualization is not necessarily a
distinct, nonfunctional drive; rather when people pursue
self-actualization, they may actually be pursuing the fun-
damental motive of status-seeking.
Maslow (1943) originally separated a drive to gain status
and esteem from self-actualizing. But a functional reading of
Maslow’s descriptions of self-actualization might suggest
that many of the behaviors involved in pursuing one’s full
potential are linked to status, both directly and indirectly
(Kenrick et al., 2010). For example, those behaviors that
Maslow commonly offered as self-actualizing—playing a
musical instrument, painting a canvas, writing a poem—can
be seen as displays of talent and creativity. Such displays
may well increase reproductive success, although this link-
age need not be conscious. Consider male bowerbirds, who
arrange colorful beetle wings and flower petals in ways that
entice mates; the birds need not consciously link the desire to
decorate a bower to reproductive fitness. Similarly, although
a creative human might consciously focus on the intrinsic
pleasure associated with producing artistic works, nailing a
physically challenging feat, or solving complex scientific
problems, the outcome of these endeavors can result in exter-
nal rewards that facilitate fitness (e.g., respect, fame, riches,
reproductive opportunities; Griskevicius, Cialdini, &
Kenrick, 2006; Miller, 2000). In line with previous psycho-
logical suggestions (e.g., Kenrick et al., 2010; Kerr, 1985),
we predict that lay perceptions of self-actualization are
linked to functional outcomes—specifically the pursuit of
status. We test this prediction in Studies 1 to 3.
Implication 1b: Unlike the pursuit of self-actualization,
people may view the pursuits of other types of well-being
as furthering alternative fundamental motives.
We would not necessarily predict a priori that people would
associate status as similarly linked to eudaimonic (finding
meaning in life), hedonic (maximizing pleasure and minimiz-
ing pain), or subjective (attaining happiness and satisfaction)
well-being. For example, for some, finding meaning in life
may imply an occupational calling, for which they incidentally
gain status in the process, but research on meaning in life has
implicated pursuits linked to social relationships (e.g., parent-
ing) rather than status (e.g., Nelson, Kushlev, English, Dunn,
& Lyubomirsky, 2012). Rather, the activities that people report
doing in pursuit of these distinct types of well-being may be
linked to alternative fundamental motives. People’s beliefs
about what would make their lives meaningful (eudaimonic
well-being) might be more closely linked to caring for chil-
dren and maintaining social relationships than to the pursuit of
status. Likewise, caring for children and seeking status would
not seem purely pleasurable pursuits; certainly pursuing status
is not without its pains and pitfalls. Hedonic well-being might
be more closely associated with mate acquisition (which
includes seeking pleasure) and self-protection (which includes
avoiding physical pain) than it is with status-seeking. We test
these predictions in Study 3.
Implication 2: The fundamental motives potentially fur-
thered by self-actualizing are different for different peo-
ple; concordant with life history theory, the drive to
self-actualize may promote the pursuit of life-stage-
relevant fundamental motives.
Maslow (1943) suggested that there are individualized
pathways to self-actualization. We draw on life history the-
ory to explore how and why self-actualizing may lead differ-
ent people to pursue behavior linked to different fundamental
motives, and we derive specific predictions about which
people may be most likely to view their self-actualizing as
tied to which fundamental motives.
From the perspective of life history theory, some individ-
ual differences in realizing one’s full, unique potential may
be linked to life-stage-relevant challenges and opportunities.
The life history framework presumes that one’s priorities
change with development in ways that might facilitate repro-
ductive success (e.g., Kaplan & Gangestad, 2005; Stearns,
1992). This theory assumes that there is a limited amount of
time and energy an organism can allocate to tasks such as
growth, mating, and investment in offspring or other kin.
These limits require trade-offs, which are influenced by mul-
tiple factors, including ecological pressures, inherited predis-
positions, and, importantly, the current developmental stage
of the organism. Across individuals, there is great similarity
in developmental trajectories (e.g., growth before reproduc-
tion, reproduction before parental investment), even as indi-
viduals differ in the ways that they allocate resources across
their life spans. For example, for most 18-year-olds, attract-
ing mates is typically a more psychologically pressing task
than is caring for younger siblings. For individuals who are
older, for individuals in established relationships and/or for
those individuals who have children of their own, the goal of
attracting new mates may be less psychologically pressing
than is the goal of maintaining a romantic relationship and/or
caring for offspring. And, of course one has to acquire a mate
before one can invest effort in either keeping that mate or
caring for offspring; acquiring a mate implies previous
investment in finding friends and allies and, particularly for
men, having gained some status (e.g., Kenrick et al., 2010).
This approach to self-actualization would thus suggest
that, because individuals focus on accomplishing different
fitness-relevant tasks at different life stages, the particular
activities people perceive as self-actualizing are also likely to
vary as a function of life stage. In other words, the
4 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 00(0)
fundamental motives that are furthered by self-actualizing
might vary as a function of how old the person is, what sex
the person is, whether the person is in a committed romantic
relationship (vs. seeking one), and whether the person has
children (as well as whether those children are younger and
thus require more time and parenting effort). For example,
for a happily married new father, engaging in activities
geared toward finding novel mates is unlikely to feel as self-
actualizing as those same activities would be for an unmar-
ried, childless man. Engaging in life-stage-relevant activities
that are likely to promote his inclusive fitness (e.g., caring
for his young offspring) may feel more self-actualizing.
Below, we outline specific predictions as to how life history
features might systematically shape which motives people
view as being linked to their self-actualizing (i.e., what they
would be doing if they were self-actualizing), and we test
these predictions in Studies 1 to 3.
Life History Predictions
Age. Age is a ready proxy for life stage, and we examine the
extent to which people across a range of ages view the differ-
ent fundamental motives as being reflected in their self-actual-
izing. Certain fundamental motives—particularly pursuing
status and seeking mates—may be more functionally relevant
during adolescence and earlier adulthood. For example, find-
ing a romantic partner is likely to be a highly salient motiva-
tion for a typical young adult. Thus, we expect that these
motivations will be emphasized more strongly in the antici-
pated self-actualizing of younger people as opposed to older
people.
Sex. Although males and females face many similar chal-
lenges and opportunities across the life span, life history
demands are sometimes different for the two sexes (e.g.,
Neel, Kenrick, White, & Neuberg, 2016). In particular, we
predict that males would be especially likely to link their
self-actualizing to pursuing status. As noted above, particu-
larly for males, achieving status might at once further the
distinct motive of acquiring mates (e.g., Griskevicius et al.,
2006; Miller , 2000). These emphases on seeking status and
acquiring mates might especially be the case for younger
males.
Relationship status, presence of children. More direct life-stage
markers than age and sex—such as whether one is in a com-
mitted romantic relationship and whether one has (young)
children—might also affect which fundamental motives
could be promoted by pursuing self-actualiziation. For
example, on average, younger people might be more con-
cerned with achieving mate acquisition, but this would not
be the case for those young people who are already in com-
mitted relationships. Thus, we would expect that people in
committed relationships might view mate retention (but not
acquisition) as reflected in their self-actualizing, whereas
single people might view mate acquisition (but not retention)
as reflected in their self-actualizing. Likewise, we would also
expect people who have children to view kin care as reflected
in their self-actualizing, and we expect that this will espe-
cially be the case for those with younger children, whose
care requires greater time and parenting effort.
The Present Research
As widely discussed as self-actualization may be—both within
and outside of the academy—there remains some confusion
over what exactly people perceive self-actualization to involve.
We are unaware of existing empirical work examining lay per-
ceptions of self-actualization. Thus, a first goal of the present
work is to examine these lay perceptions. A second goal is to
explore whether people view their self-actualization as being
linked to outcomes that a modern evolutionary approach
would consider functional motives.1 In this vein, we assess
several specific predictions derived from the implications of a
functional take on self-actualization. Studies 1 to 3 test whether
people view their self-actualizing as linked to the fundamental
motive of status-seeking, whereas Study 3 examines whether
this proposed link is unique to self-actualization (vs. other
types of well-being). Studies 1 to 3 explore the specific predic-
tions implied by life history theory, examining whether the
fundamental motives people see as reflected in their self-
actualizing vary systematically as a function of their own life
history features (age, sex, relationship status, presence of
children).
Studies 1 and 2
Method
Participants
Study 1. To assess the broad ideas outlined above, we
first recruited undergraduates enrolled at a large Southwest-
ern university. We computed an a priori required sample size
to observe effects in mixed-factors ANOVAs across two
groups, f = .20, α = .05, and power = .80, yielding a sample
size of 116 participants. We collected data until the end of
the given term, yielding 208 undergraduate participants (101
female, 10 gave no sex information). Participants’ mean age
was 19.45 (SD = 2.21), and the range of ages was from 18
to 36 years old. Of participants reporting their ethnic back-
grounds, 61% were Caucasian, 14% were Hispanic/Latina,
8% were African American, 6% were Biracial/Multicultural,
2% were Indian, and 1% were American Indian.
Study 2. To include participants ranging in life history fea-
tures (e.g., parents, older participants), we recruited U.S. par-
ticipants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk). Given
effect size information from Study 1, and that we would be
testing a larger range of life history features, we sought to
double our sample size for Study 2, yielding 517 participants
(282 female, two gave no sex information). Participants’
mean age was 34.75 (SD = 12.74), and the range of ages was
from 18 to 74 years old. Of participants reporting their ethnic
Krems et al. 5
backgrounds, 80% were Caucasian, 8% were African Ameri-
can, 7% were Asian American, and 5% were Hispanic/Latina.
Procedure. Participants responded to questions assessing
their self-actualizing activities, as well as a number of com-
mon demographic and individual difference measures.
Self-actualizing response. We asked participants to write
down what the term “self-actualization” meant to them, in
their own words. Then we noted that, in psychology, the
term “self-actualization” has been used to mean “realizing
fully your own potential.” Participants were then instructed
to think about this point in their lives—not about their lives
10 or 20 years from now—and to describe, “if you were
self-actualizing (i.e., realizing fully your own potential)
right now, what would you be doing?” Participants freely
responded to this prompt.
Demographic and individual difference variables. Partici-
pants then answered demographic questions (sex, age, rela-
tionship status, the presence of children, and whether the
youngest child was aged 5 and under or 6 and over).
Fundamental motive ratings of self-actualization. After
responding to demographic questions, individual difference
measures, and various filler questions, participants were asked
to view their responses to the first question (i.e., what they
would be doing if they were fully realizing their potential) and
rate the extent to which each of the fundamental motives was
reflected in their previous answer. To this end, participants
were shown both their own earlier self-actualization response
and also the seven fundamental motivations (with correspond-
ing short definitions, following Kenrick et al., 2010): self-
protection (“keeping oneself safe from physical harm”), dis-
ease avoidance (“keeping oneself healthy, avoiding illnesses”),
affiliation (“making friends and allies, maintaining friend-
ships, being accepted, being part of a group”), status-seeking
(“pursuing prestige and/or dominance, being well-regarded
by one’s peers”), mate acquisition (“finding one or more per-
sons to have romantic relationships [and/or sexual intercourse]
with”), mate retention (“maintaining a romantic relationship
with your partner, holding on to your romantic partner”),
and kin care (“taking care of your own children [or perhaps
nieces, nephews, family in general], spending time with fam-
ily”). They were asked to rate the extent to which each motiva-
tion was reflected in their self-actualization response using a
7-point Likert-type scale (1 = not at all reflected, 7 = strongly
reflected).
Results
Do people view status-seeking as being strongly
reflected in their self-actualization?
Study 1. A 7 (fundamental motives) × 2 (participant sex)
mixed-factors ANOVA indicated that not all fundamental
motives were similarly represented in participants’ self-actu-
alization examples. Specifically, analyses revealed a signifi-
cant main effect of fundamental motives, F(6, 1122) = 43.40,
p < .001, h2
p = .188, but not of participant sex or the interac-
tion of participant sex and fundamental motives (ps > .38).
Participants reported that status-seeking (M = 4.95; SE =
.14) was reflected in responses more than any other motiva-
tion; this mean was significantly higher than those for any
other fundamental motive (ps < .005, 95% confidence inter-
vals [CIs] > 0). According to self-ratings, status-seeking is
the highest rated fundamental motive, and affiliation was the
second highest. There were no significant sex differences in
the extent to which any fundamental motive was reflected in
self-actualizing responses (ps > .16; see Figure 1a).
Study 2. We largely replicate this pattern of results in our
larger adult sample. We again conducted a 7 (fundamental
motivation) × 2 (participant sex) mixed-factors ANOVA.
There were significant main effects of fundamental motives,
F(6, 3036) = 62.83, p < .001, h2
p = .11, and participant sex,
F(1, 506) = 11.89, p = .001, h2
p = .023, as well as a marginally
significant Motive × Sex interaction, F(6, 3036) = 2.02, p =
.060, h2
p = .004 (see Figure 1b).
As in our undergraduate sample, participants generally
reported that status-seeking (M = 4.23; SE = .09) was more
strongly reflected in their responses than any other funda-
mental motive (ps < .010, 95% CIs > 0). Both the relatively
high mean and the fact that this mean was significantly
higher than those for any other fundamental motive again
suggest that individuals link status-seeking to their self-actu-
alization (see examples of individual responses in Table 1).
Unlike in Study 1, there was a sex difference in status-
seeking: Men, compared with women, were more likely to
rate status-seeking as the primary motive reflected in their
responses (M = 4.47; SE = .14; ps < .015, 95% CIs > 0).
Women in this sample reported that status-seeking (M = 4.00;
SE = .12) was no more reflected in their anticipated self-actu-
alization than were affiliation (M = 3.84; SE = .12; p = .244,
95% CI = [−0.11, 0.43]) and kin care (M = 3.70; SE = .14; p =
.118, 95% CI = [−0.08, 0.67]) motives.
Taken together, these results provide some support for the
hypothesis that people’s pursuits of self-actualization might
further the biologically and socially relevant functional goal
of gaining status and esteem. These findings also provide
support for Kenrick et al.’s (2010) prediction and for other
status-linked conceptualizations of self-actualization (e.g.,
Kerr, 1985; Walker et al., 1992).
Are the fundamental motives people see as reflected in their self-
actualization systematically predicted by people’s life history fea-
tures (age, sex, relationship status, presence of children)?
Do the fundamental motives reflected in self-actualizing vary
as a function of participant age and/or sex?. Recall that we
made several specific predictions regarding age, notably that
we expected that, with increasing age, people would report
6 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 00(0)
less emphasis on fundamental motives likely more salient in
youth—status-seeking and mate acquisition. We also made a
specific prediction about sex (and age)—that men (and par-
ticularly younger men) would be especially likely to report
status-seeking and mate acquisition as being reflected in their
self-actualization. These predictions receive some support
Table 1. A Sample of Representative Responses Scoring Highly on Status-Seeking.
Sample Representative response
Study 1 “Getting at 4.0 and studying for my exams.”
Study 1 “If it were up to me, I’d be making seven figures and living comfortably without having to go into work every day. I feel that
I have the potential to do this later on in life. As of right now I am just trying to reach that full potential by continuing
school and staying active in campus life.”
Study 2 “If I were self-actualizing right now, I would have a job in performance—probably theater. I would be a successful, admired,
wealthy stage actor, maybe on Broadway. I would also have many strong, close friendships.”
Study 2 “I would just be named CEO of Microsoft.”
Study 2 “Working on my PhD in biology.”
Study 3 “I would be working at Wall Street and making tons of money.”
Study 3 “I would be working in a big corporation making websites and making lots of money. I would be very active in my
community people would be looking up to me.”
Study 3 “I’d be writing the great American novel.”
Table 2. Life History Features and the Fundamental Motives Reflected in Self-Actualization.
Life history feature Selected findings
Age Status-seeking and mate acquisition motives waned with increasing age (Studies 2 and 3)
Sex Males emphasize status-seeking more than females did (Studies 2 and 3)
Females tend to emphasize affiliation alongside status-seeking (Studies 1-3)
Relationship status Compared with partnered participants, single participants reported more mate acquisition reflected
in their anticipated self-actualization (Studies 1-3)
Presence of children Compared with those without children, those with children reported that kin care was more
strongly reflected in their anticipated self-actualization
Figure 1. The extent to which men and women report each motive as being reflected in their pursuit of self-actualization in (a) Study 1
(college students) and (b) Study 2 (MTurk sample).
Note. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals. MTurk = Mechanical Turk.
Krems et al. 7
(see Table 2). (We also largely replicate these results in Study
3, discussed in the Supplementary Materials available online.)
Because we have a restricted age range in our undergradu-
ate sample, we explore the effects of age in Study 2. We
regressed participant reports for each motive onto age, par-
ticipant sex, and the resultant interactions of sex with each
age term; as some age effects may be nonlinear, we also
entered a quadratic term for age and the quadratic age by sex
interaction. Age effects were found for affiliation, status-
seeking, mate acquisition, and mate retention, but not for
self-protection, disease avoidance, or kin care.
Affiliation. There was a significant quadratic effect of age,
t(507) = 2.23, p = .026, β = .18, 95% CI = [0.00, 0.001], such
that younger and older participants, compared with those in
middle age, reported that the desire to seek out friendships
was more strongly reflected in their self-actualizing. There
were no other significant effects (ps > .12).
Status-seeking. There were main effects of age, t(509) =
−2.89, p = .004, β = −.23, 95% CI = [−0.06, −0.01], and
sex, t(509) = 2.04, p = .042, β = .12, 95% CI = [0.02, 0.04].
Results indicate that (a) participant reports of the extent to
which status-seeking is reflected in their responses decreased
with age, and (b) men reported status-seeking as being more
strongly reflected in their self-actualization responses than
did women (see Figure 2a).
Mate acquisition. There was a significant effect of sex,
such that men reported mate acquisition as more strongly re-
flected in their responses than did women, t(509) = 2.12, p = .034,
β = .12, 95% CI = [0.04, 0.97], consistent with sex differences
in obligate parental investment (e.g., Kenrick, Sadalla, Groth,
& Trost, 1990). There was also a marginally significant in-
teraction between age and sex, t(509) = −1.89, p = .059, β =
−.14, 95% CI = [−0.07, 0.001] (see Figure 2b). We probed
this interaction at one standard deviation below (~20 years
old) and above (~50 years old) the mean age (~35 years old).
Because this analysis left out the oldest portion of our sam-
ple, we also looked at the results at three standard deviations
above the mean age (~70 years old). As expected, there was a
significant sex difference for younger adults, t(509) = 3.83, p
< .001, β = .23, 95% CI = [0.46, 1.43]: Young men (Mpredicted
= 3.27) reported a greater reflection of mate acquisition than
did young women (Mpredicted = 2.24). This same pattern held
for middle-aged participants (~50 years old), t(509) = 3.48,
p = .001, β = .31, 95% CI = [0.50, 1.87], but was no longer
significant for older adults (~70 years old; p = .158).
Mate retention. These data echo those for mate acquisi-
tion. Entering all variables into the model revealed a margin-
ally significant interaction between participant sex and age,
t(506) = −1.75, p = .081, β = −.13, 95% CI = [−0.08, 0.00].
Younger participants show a sex difference in mate retention,
t(506) = 2.75, p = .006, β = .17, 95% CI = [0.23, 1.35], with
men (M = 3.89, SE = .29) reporting it as reflected more than
did women (M = 3.11, SE = .20). This difference is no longer
present in middle-aged adults (p = .74).
Do the fundamental motives reflected in self-actualizing vary
as a function of relationship status?. Recall that we predicted
that, whereas people in committed relationships would report
a greater reflection of mate retention (but not acquisition) in
their self-actualization, single people would report a greater
reflection of mate acquisition (but not retention) in their self-
actualization. These predictions received mixed support.
(We largely replicate these results in Study 3, discussed in
the Supplementary Materials available online.)
Figure 2. Sex differences is reflected in (a) status-seeking and (b) mate acquisition across age.
8 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 00(0)
Study 1. To test the influence of relationship status, we
first aggregated participants into two relationship status
categories—single (n = 137) or partnered (n = 52)—based
on whether participants were in an exclusive romantic relationship.
We then conducted a 2 (relationship status) × 2 (participant
sex) × 7 (fundamental motives) mixed-factors ANOVA.
There was a significant main effect of fundamental motives,
F(6, 1122) = 38.93, p < .001, h2
p = .172, as well as a signifi-
cant interaction of the fundamental motives and relationship
status, F(6, 1122) = 2.96, p = .007, h2
p = .016.
As expected, single participants indicated that the desire
to attract mates was more strongly reflected in their responses
(M = 3.21; SE = .18) than did partnered participants (M =
2.15; SE = .29), F(1, 187) = 9.46, p = .002, h2
p = .048, 95%
CI = [0.40, 1.74]. Surprisingly, single participants did not
report less reflection of mate retention than did partnered
participants. Indeed, other than mate acquisition, no other
fundamental motive showed a difference as a function of
participant relationship status (ps > .15). The pattern of
means may suggest that, in the minds of single participants,
mate acquisition and retention are both facets of self-actual-
ization. That is, perhaps participants anticipate their self-
actualizing to involve not only finding a desirable mate but
also retaining him or her (see Figure 3a).
Study 2. We again divided participants into single (n = 229)
or partnered (n = 278) groups, and ran a 2 (relationship status)
× 2 (participant sex) × 7 (fundamental motives) mixed-factors
ANOVA. We found significant main effects of fundamental
motives, F(6, 3018) = 64.14, p < .001, h2
p = .113, and sex, F(1,
503) = 11.98, p = .001, h2
p = .023, and signifiant interactions
between sex and motives, F(6, 3018) = 2.17, p = .043, h2
p =
.004, between relationship status and motives, F(6, 3018) =
8.45, p < .001, h2
p = .017, and with sex, relationship status,
and motives, F(6, 3018) = 2.39, p = .26, h2
p = .005.
Looking first at the relationship status by motives inter-
action, we replicate the pattern of data seen in Study 1:
Single participants reported that mate acquisition was
reflected more in their responses (M = 2.85; SE = .13) than
did partnered participants (M = 2.23; SE = .12), F(1, 503) =
12.33, p < .001, h2
p = .024, 95% CI = [0.27, 0.97]. Unlike in
Study 1, these partnered participants reported mate reten-
tion as being reflected more in their responses (M = 3.63;
SE = .14) than did single participants (M = 2.88; SE = .15),
F(1, 503) = 13.69, p < .001, h2
p = .026, 95% CI = [0.35,
1.15]2 (see Figure 3b). Thus, whereas the overall pattern of
these data is substantially similar to that from Study 1, it is
possible that, in this older sample, partnered peoples’ current
(vs. single peoples’ prospective) mate retention concerns
are simply more salient–perhaps, for example, because
existing relationships may be relatively longer lived.
Furthermore, this pattern seems differentiated by sex.
Simple comparisons show that single men reported mate
acquisition was reflected more in their responses (M = 3.41;
SE = .18) than did partnered men (M = 2.43; SE = .19), F(1,
503) = 14.05, p < .001, h2
p = .027, 95% CI = [0.46, 1.48], but
single women did not report that mate acquisition was
reflected significantly more in their responses (M = 2.29; SE =
.21) than did partnered women (M = 2.02; SE = .15; p = .264).
Furthermore, partnered men (M = 3.85; SE = .21) did not
report that mate retention was reflected significantly more in their
responses than did single men (M = 3.36; SE = .21; p = .103), but
partnered women reported that mate retention was reflected
significantly more in their responses (M = 2.40; SE = .21)
Figure 3. Participant self-ratings as a function of relationship status in (a) Study 1 and (b) Study 2.
Note. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.
Krems et al. 9
than did single women (M = 3.41; SE = .18), F(1, 503) =
13.56, p < .001, h2
p = .026, 95% CI = [0.47, 1.56].
Do the fundamental motives reflected in self-actualizing vary
as a function of having children?. Recall that we predicted that
people who had children, compared with those without,
would report kin care as being more strongly reflected in
their self-actualization. We expected that this pattern would
be exaggerated for people with younger children (aged 5
and younger), whose care requires more time and parenting
effort. These predictions were supported. (We largely repli-
cate these results in Study 3, discussed in the Supplementary
Materials available online.)
Because only four individuals in the Study 1 sample
reported having children, we explored the effect of children
in only Study 2’s sample. Therein, we segmented partici-
pants into those with children (n = 174) and those without
(n = 333). A 2 (having children or not) × 2 (participant sex) × 7
(fundamental motives) mixed-factors ANOVA revealed sig-
nificant main effects of fundamental motives, F(6, 3018) =
65.41, p < .001, h2
p = .115, and participant sex, F(1, 503) =
8.00, p = .005, h2
p = .016, as well as a significant fundamental
motives × children interaction, F(6, 3018) = 14.11, p < .001,
h2
p = .027, and a significant three-way interaction, F(6, 3018) =
2.94, p = .012, h2
p = .006.
As expected, kin care was reflected more in responses
from those with children (M = 4.07; SE = .17) than those
without (M = 3.87; SE = .12), F(1, 503) = 39.49, p < .001, h2
p =
.073, 95% CI = [0.94, 1.79]. Participants with children
reported that kin care was more strongly reflected in their
responses than any other motive (ps < .020). By contrast,
participants without children reported that a status-seeking
motive (M = 4.39; SE = .12) was more strongly reflected in
their responses than any other motive (ps < .005).
Also as implied by life history strategy’s explicit trade-
offs between mating and parenting efforts, mate acquisition
was reflected less in responses of those with children (M =
2.68; SE = .11) than those without (M = 2.12; SE = .16), F(1,
503) = 8.84, p = .003, h2
p = .017, 95% CI = [0.19, 0.93]. In
addition, status-seeking was also reflected marginally less in
responses of those with children (M = 4.37; SE = .11) than
those without (M = 4.00; SE = .16), F(1, 503) = 3.35, p =
.068, h2
p = .007, 95% CI = [−0.03, 0.76] (see Figure 4).
Exploring that three-way interaction, we find that both
men and women with children emphasized kin care (Mmen =
4.57; SEmen = .29; Mwomen = 4.73; SEwomen = .21) more than did
same-sex individuals without children (Mmen = 3.56; SEmen =
.18; Mwomen = 3.02; SEwomen = .17), Fmen(1, 503) = 9.19, p =
.003, h2
p = .018, 95% CI = [−1.67, −0.36], and Fwomen (1, 503) =
38.41, p < .001, h2
p = .071, 95% CI = [−2.26, −1.17].
Whereas both men and women without children tended to
report that status-seeking was reflected more than any other
motive (ps < .020 for men, ps .095 for women), men with
children tended to rate kin care above all other motives (ps
.065), except status-seeking (p = .591) and affiliation (p =
.149). By contrast, women with children reported that a kin
care motive was reflected significantly more than any other
motive (ps < .001).
Finally, men with children report a diminished reflection
of mate acquisition (compared with men without children),
whereas women with children report a diminished reflection
of status-seeking (compared with women without children):
Men with children reported that mate acquisition was less
strongly reflected in their responses (M = 3.22; SE = .15)
than did men without children (M = 2.11; SE = .25), F(1,
503) = 14.51, p < .001, h2
p = .028, 95% CI = [−1.68, −0.54].
Women with children reported status-seeking was less
strongly reflected in their responses (M = 3.64; SE = .20)
than did women without children (M = 4.23; SE = .16), F(1,
503) = 5.44, p = .020, h2
p = .011, 95% CI = [−1.09, −0.09]
(see Figure 5).
Young children. We examined kin care reflections for
those with altricial children (i.e., young and highly depen-
dent), who typically require the highest investment. On the
basis of participants’ responses to whether they had children
and, if they did, whether the youngest of those children was
aged 0 to 5 or was 6 years old and up, we divided participants
Figure 4. Participant ratings as a function having children.
Note. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.
Figure 5. Men’s and women’s ratings, showing the sex difference
in possible trade-offs for heavier investment in kin care.
Note. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.
10 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 00(0)
into three groups: those with at least one child 5 years old
or under (n = 64), those whose children were 6 years old or
above (n = 120), and those without children (n = 320). A 3
(children) × 2 (participant sex) × 7 (fundamental motives)
mixed-factors ANOVA revealed significant main effect of
fundamental motives, F(6, 2988) = 55.32, p < .001, h2
p = .100,
and of sex, F(1, 498) = 3.91, p = .049, h2
p = .008, as well as
a marginally significant Fundamental Motives × Sex interac-
tion, F(6, 2988) = 2.00, p = .062, h2
p = .004, and a significant
Fundamental Motives × Children interaction, F(12, 2988) =
9.83, p < .001, h2
p = .038. These were qualified by a significant
three-way interaction, F(12, 2988) = 2.58, p < .001, h2
p = .010.
Among those without children, status-seeking was more
prominent than any other motive (M = 4.39; SE = .12; ps <
.005), whereas among those with young children, kin care
was more strongly reflected than any other motive (M = 5.63;
SE = .28; ps < .001). For those with older children, no single
motive was statistically different from the others (ps > .200).
Furthermore, those with young children reported kin care as
being more strongly reflected in their responses than both
those without children (M = 3.23; SE = .12), p < .001, 95% CI
= [1.81, 3.00], and also those with older children (M = 4.13;
SE = .21), p < .001, 95% CI = [0.82, 2.19] (see Figure 6).
This same pattern was echoed in both men and women.
Men without children again emphasized status-seeking (M =
4.51; SE = .17) more than any other motive (ps < .025),
whereas men with young children emphasized kin care (M =
5.27; SE = .40) more than any other motive (ps < .050) except
status-seeking (p = .465). Likewise, women without children
again emphasized status-seeking (M = 4.27; SE = .16) more
than any other motive (ps < .001), except affiliation (M =
3.95; SE = .16; p = .075), whereas women with younger chil-
dren again emphasized kin care (M = 6.00; SE = .38) more
than any other motive (ps < .001). In men and in women with
older children, no single motive was statistically more prom-
inent than others (ps > .200).
Discussion
Results from Studies 1 and 2 support Implications 1a and 2,
as derived from a functional take on self-actualization, suggest-
ing that self-actualizing might further functional outcomes.
Specifically, we find support for our first prediction—that
lay perceptions of realizing one’s full potential are linked to
the fundamental motive of achieving status and esteem. This
particular finding supports the proposition made by Kenrick
and colleagues (2010) in their renovation of Maslow’s (1943)
pyramid and is also in line with other psychological research
linking self-actualization to achievements (e.g., Kerr, 1985;
Walker et al., 1992).
We also found some support for our second implication,
involving life history theory (see Table 2). For example,
status-seeking and mate acquisition were especially empha-
sized by young males, as we predicted. To some extent, these
two motives may be tightly linked—again especially for
young males—insofar as achieving status can lead to
increased mating opportunities. Additional results also sug-
gest that single people view their anticipated self-actualization
as reflecting mate acquisition more strongly than did part-
nered people, also as we predicted; however, single people
reported a somewhat higher than expected reflection of mate
retention (especially in Study 1’s college student sample),
casting doubt onto whether partnered people view their
anticipated self-actualization as reflecting mate retention
more strongly than do single people. Finally, having children
did affect which motives people saw as being reflected in
their anticipated self-actualization; as predicted, people with
children—and especially younger, altricial children—
reported a stronger reflection of kin care in their anticipated
self-actualization than did participants with older children or
without children.
Study 3
Studies 1 and 2 imply that the activities people believe they
would be doing if they were realizing their full, unique
potentials are activities that would garner status. For exam-
ple, college students often reported that, if they were self-
actualizing at this point in their lives, they would be getting
all As in their classes, whereas those in the MTurk commu-
nity sample often reported that they would be achieving fame
and/or fortune in their chosen fields of endeavor. Are people
in these two samples merely preoccupied with achieving sta-
tus, in general, or is the emphasis on status specific to lay
perceptions of self-actualization?
Study 3 aims to tackle this question by examining lay per-
ceptions of alternative types of well-being. Specifically, we
explore lay perceptions of eudaimonic, hedonic, and subjec-
tive well-being, as well as which fundamental motives peo-
ple view as being reflected in their pursuits of each of these
types of well-being. Whereas well-being and self-actualiza-
tion have been centrally discussed in research on human hap-
piness, meaning, and life satisfaction (e.g., Diener, Sapyta, &
Suh, 1998; Ryan & Deci, 2001; Ryff & Singer, 1998), we
would make differential predictions about which specific
functional outcomes (i.e., which fundamental motives) the
pursuit of each type of well-being might promote. Indeed,
Figure 6. Participant ratings of importance of kin care to self-
actualization as a function of children’s presence and ages.
Note. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.
Krems et al. 11
those activities that give us pleasure might be different from
those that make our lives meaningful, just as those activities
that make our lives meaningful might not be the same activi-
ties that make our lives happy and/or satisfying (e.g.,
Baumeister, Vohs, Aaker, & Garbinsky, 2013).
Eudaimonic well-being is “about” realizing one’s poten-
tial, as well as finding or making meaning and purpose in
one’s life (e.g., Ryff & Singer, 1998). Research on what
makes life meaningful might suggest that getting good grades,
high-paying jobs, and other status-related recognition might
not make life meaningful, per se; rather pursuing fulfilling
relationships with others, particularly with one’s children,
might make life feel meaningful (e.g., Nelson et al., 2012). By
contrast, hedonic well-being, which is “about” maximizing
pleasure and avoiding pain, might be linked to the fundamen-
tal motives of mate acquisition (which includes pursuing
pleasure) and/or self-protection (which includes avoiding
pain)—but not caring for kin or seeking status. For example,
some mothers found parenting to be less pleasurable than
watching TV, shopping, or making meals (Kahneman,
Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2004). Likewise,
although actually having status might be pleasurable, the
sometimes grueling process of attaining status can be unpleas-
ant. Finally, subjective well-being is “about” maximizing the
extent to which one’s life, work, health, and social relation-
ships are desirable, enjoyable, and valuable (Deiner et al.,
1998; Deiner & Lucas, 2000; E. Diener, personal communi-
cation, May, 2016). Given that this type of well-being is more
global in its scope, it is possible that multiple fundamental
motives might be strongly reflected in lay perceptions of sub-
jective well-being.
Study 3 tests our prediction that status-seeking will be the
motive most strongly reflected in people’s self-actualizing
(but not eudaimonic, hedonic, or subjective well-being). In
other words, whereas people might perceive pursuing self-
actualization as being linked to pursuing status and esteem,
people probably do not view pursuing status and esteem as
making their lives meaningful, pleasurable (or not painful),
or subjectively happy and satisfying. (Study 3 also tests the
replicability of some of the life history effects examined in
Studies 1 and 2; for those analyses, see the Supplementary
Material available online.)
Method
Participants. We recruited participants, all residing in the
United States, from Amazon’s MTurk. Given the effect size
information from Study 2, in light of our within-subject
design, we sought to maintain a similar sample size as Study
2, yielding 565 participants (326 female, five gave no sex
information) who completed all focal responses to what they
would be doing if they were pursuing various outcomes and
whose answers were comprehensible. Participants’ mean age
was 37.97 (SD = 13.00), and the range of ages was from 19 to
87 years old. Of participants reporting their ethnic
backgrounds, 80% were Caucasian, 6.4% were African
American, 4.1% were Asian American, and 4.8% were His-
panic/Latina.
Procedure. Participants were first instructed that we were
interested in four related concepts and that we would be ask-
ing them each about all four concepts. Concepts (self-actual-
ization, eudaimonic, hedonic, subejctive well-being) and
corresponding colloquial descriptions of them were all pre-
sented on one page. Then, as in Studies 1 and 2, participants
responded to questions assessing their actualizing or well-
being-related activities. Here, we also asked participants to
freely respond to what they would be doing if they were pur-
suing (a) “self-actualization, which is about fully realizing
your own potential”; (b) “eudaimonic well-being, which is
about finding meaning and purpose in life”; (c) “hedonic
well-being, which is about maximizing the amount of plea-
sure in your life (and minimizing the amount of pain)”; and
(d) “subjective well-being, which is about maximizing the
extent to which your life, work, health, and social relation-
ships are desirable, enjoyable, and valuable.” All four con-
cepts were presented to participants in randomized order.
After responding to common demographic and individual
difference measures, participants then viewed each of their
answers (i.e., “If you were [self-actualizing] right now, you
wrote that you would be [participant response]”), again in
randomized order. While viewing each response, participants
rated that response for how strongly each fundamental
motive was reflected in it, as in Studies 1 and 2.
Results
Are lay perceptions of self-actualization distinct from lay percep-
tions of other forms of well-being?. To determine whether the
motives reflected in self-actualization were distinct from the
other forms of well-being, we ran a 2 (participant sex: male,
female) × 4 (type of well-being: self-actualizing, eudai-
monic, hedonic, subjective well-being) × 7 (fundamental
motive: self-protection, disease avoidance, affiliation, status-
seeking, mate attraction, mate retention, kin care) mixed-
factors ANOVA. We found significant main effects of
participant sex, F(1, 558) = 20.09, p < .001, h2
p = .035; type
of well-being, F(3, 1674) = 62.95, p < .001, h2
p = .101; and
fundamental motive, F(6, 3348) = 59.23, p < .001, h2
p = .096.
These effects were qualified by significant interactions of
participant sex and fundament motive, F(6, 3348) = 11.51, p
< .001, h2
p = .020, and type of well-being and fundamental
motive, F(18, 10044) = 32.52, p < .001, h2
p = .055, as well as
a significant three-way interaction, F(18, 10044) = 2.74, p <
.001, h2
p = .005. To explore whether the motives reflected in
each type of well-being were different, we first explored the
type of well-being by fundamental motive interaction.
Self-actualization. Replicating results from Studies 1 and
2, people reported that status-seeking (M = 4.07; SE = .09)
12 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 00(0)
was the fundamental motive most strongly reflected in their
self-actualizing (ps < .035). To further underscore the dif-
ferences across pursuits, status-seeking was more strongly
reflected in self-actualizing than it was in any other type of
well-being (ps < .001), again suggesting that peoples’ per-
ceptions of what it means to realize their full potentials are
linked–uniquely so–to achieving status and esteem.
Eudaimonic well-being. By contrast, for eudaimonic well-
being (meaning in life), affiliation (M = 4.07; SE = .09) was
more strongly reflected than any other fundamental motive
(ps < .001), with the exception of kin care (M = 3.92; SE =
.11; p = .248, 95% CI = [−0.10, 0.40]. Affiliation was also
more strongly reflected in eudaimonic well-being than it was
in any other concept (ps < .001), suggesting that people per-
ceive finding meaning in life to be strongly linked to forming
and maintaining social relationships.
Hedonic well-being. Unlike either self-actualization or
eudaimonic well-being, self-protection (M = 3.77; SE =
.10) was the fundamental motive most strongly reflected
in participants’ hedonic well-being (ps < .002), which fits
hedonic well-being’s focus on avoiding pain. As expected,
mate attraction was significantly more strongly reflected in
hedonic well-being than in it was in self-actualization or in
eudaimonic well-being (ps < .001), and more—but not sig-
nificantly so (p = .111)—than it was in subjective well-being.
Subjective well-being. Affiliation (M = 4.62; SE = .09) was
the fundamental motive most strongly reflected in subjective
well-being (ps < .001).
Sex and self-actualization. In light of the three-way inter-
action, we also explore these differences separately within
men and women (see Figure 7). Similar to the results of
Studies 1 and 2, whereas men reported that status-seeking
(M = 4.32; SE = .14) was the fundamental motive most
strongly reflected in their self-actualizing than any other
motive (ps < .042), women reported that status-seeking
(M = 3.80; SE = .12), affiliation (M = 3.72; SE = .12), and self-
protection (M = 3.67; SE = .13) were equally reflected (ps >
.381), with status-seeking being reflected more than the remain-
ing fundamental motives (ps < .001) (see Table 3 for all means).
Sex and eudaimonic well-being. For eudaimonic well-
being, men reported that affiliation (M = 4.02; SE = .14) and
kin care (M = 4.02; SE = .16) were equally reflected (p =
.999), with these motives being more strongly reflected than
the others (ps < .058). Women reported that affiliation (M =
4.64; SE = .11) was more strongly reflected in eudaimonic
well-being than any other motive (ps < .001), except kin care
(M = 4.07; SE = .13; p = .074, 95% CI = [0.03, −0.62]).
Sex and hedonic well-being. For hedonic well-being, men
reported equally strong reflections of self-protection (M =
4.64; SE = .11) and mate acquisition (M = 4.64; SE = .11;
p = .659), with these motives being only marginally more
strongly reflected than affiliation (M = 4.64; SE = .11; p =
.089, 95% CI = [−0.05, 0.66]) and mate retention (M = 4.64;
SE = .11; p = .059, 95% CI = [−0.01, 0.72]), whereas women
rated self-protection (M = 3.72; SE = .13) as being more
strongly reflected than any other motive (ps < .001).
Sex and subjective well-being. For subjective well-being,
men rated self-protection (M = 4.11; SE = .15), mate reten-
tion (M = 4.07; SE = .15), and kin care (M = 4.07; SE =
.16) equally highly (ps > .800), whereas women rated affilia-
tion (M = 4.64; SE = .11) more highly than any other motive
(ps < .001).
Discussion
Replicating our findings from Studies 1 and 2, people view
status-seeking as being the fundamental motive most strongly
reflected in self-actualization. (Also largely replicating find-
ings from Study 2, peoples’ life history features seem to shape
their anticipated self-actualizing. For these results, see Table 2
and the Supplementary Material available online.) Extending
these findings, this emphasis on status-seeking was unique to
self-actualization, as opposed to the other types of well-being
assessed. (Life history features also differently affect individ-
ual perceptions of these types of well-being. See the
Supplementary Material available online.) Lay perceptions of
eudaimonic well-being (meaning in life) emphasized the fun-
damental motives of affiliation and kin care (but not status-
seeking), lay perceptions of hedonic well-being (maximizing
Figure 7. Males’ and females’ ratings of selected fundamental
motives (status-seeking, affiliation, and mate attraction) reflected
in their (a) self-actualization, (b) eudaimonic well-being, (c)
hedonic well-being, and (d) subjective well-being.
Note. Error bars represent standard errors.
Krems et al. 13
pleasure and avoiding pain) emphasized self-protection (but
not status-seeking)—and, as predicted, mate acquisition was
also endorsed more for hedonic well-being than it was for any
other type of well-being—and lay perceptions of subjective
well-being (global happiness and life satisfaction) also empha-
sized affiliation (but not status-seeking).
General Discussion
What do people say that they would be doing if they were real-
izing their full, unique potentials, and might these activities
further functionally relevant goals? We examined lay percep-
tions of self-actualization; in doing so, we identified implica-
tions of taking a functional approach to self-actualization and
generated specific predictions derived from those implica-
tions. First, we predicted—and found—that people view the
fundamental motive of status-seeking as being strongly
reflected in their anticipated self-actualization. That is, when
asked which motives were linked to the behaviors they gener-
ated as being self-actualizing, participants generally rated sta-
tus-seeking as the motive most strongly reflected in their
generated responses. This was unique to self-actualization.
Lay perceptions of other types of well-being—eudaimonic
(meaning in life), hedonic (maximizing pleasure and
avoiding pain), and subjective (global happiness and life satis-
faction)—see them as reflecting alternative, distinct funda-
mental motives.
That status-seeking is seen as linked to self-actualization
fits with other conceptualizations of self-actualization, which
have operationalized the construct in status-related ways,
such as academic achievement and success in recognized
fields of endeavor (Kerr, 1985; Reis & Callahan, 1989;
Walker et al., 1992). Although perhaps phenomenologically
distinct, the pursuit of self-actualization and the pursuit of
status may be rooted in a common motivational system and
may produce functionally similar outcomes. In this light, the
pursuit of self-actualization may provide an alternative path-
way to biological and social payoffs associated with the
attainment of status, including perhaps the often-related
acquisition of mates (e.g., Miller, 2000). Moreover, these
findings would seem to support one implication of taking a
functional approach here—specifically that self-actualiza-
tion may not necessarily be a distinct, nonfunctional drive. In
turn, this lends further support to our broader hypothesis that
even these lofty outcomes (i.e., pursuing self-actualization)
may be linked to biologically and socially relevant payoffs.
Table 3. Means (SEs) of Fundamental Motives Reflected in Phenomena.
Phenomenon Fundamental motive Males Females
Self-actualization Self-protection 3.94 (.15) 3.67 (.13)
Disease avoidance 3.15 (.14) 2.72 (.12)
Affiliation 3.94 (.14) 3.73 (.12)
Status-seeking 4.33 (.14) 3.81 (.12)
Mate acquisition 3.06 (.12) 2.02 (.11)
Mate retention 3.19 (.14) 2.41 (.12)
Kin care 3.32 (.15) 2.94 (.13)
Eudaimonic well-being Self-protection 3.70 (.14) 3.09 (.12)
Disease avoidance 3.23 (.14) 2.40 (.12)
Affiliation 4.02 (.14) 4.11 (.12)
Status-seeking 4.02 (.14) 3.02 (.12)
Mate acquisition 2.84 (.12) 2.03 (.12)
Mate retention 3.42 (.14) 2.42 (.12)
Kin care 4.02 (.16) 3.82 (.14)
Hedonic well-being Self-protection 3.81 (.15) 3.72 (.13)
Disease avoidance 3.26 (.15) 3.21 (.13)
Affiliation 3.50 (.14) 3.26 (.12)
Status-seeking 3.30 (.13) 2.41 (.11)
Mate acquisition 3.72 (.15) 2.52 (.13)
Mate retention 3.46 (.15) 2.83 (.13)
Kin care 3.00 (.15) 3.00 (.13)
Subjective well-being Self-protection 4.12 (.15) 3.48 (.13)
Disease avoidance 3.70 (.15) 3.65 (.13)
Affiliation 4.60 (.13) 4.64 (.11)
Status-seeking 3.60 (.14) 3.00 (.12)
Mate acquisition 3.53 (.13) 2.40 (.11)
Mate retention 4.07 (.15) 3.39 (.13)
Kin care 4.07 (.16) 4.07 (.13)
14 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 00(0)
Also supporting a functional take on self-actualization,
life history features seem able to systematically predict
which motives people see as reflected in their self-actualiz-
ing. Multiple predictions derived from life history theory
found support across Studies 1 to 3: Age, sex, and relation-
ship and parenting statuses each affect lay perceptions of
self-actualization in sensible ways. In other words, what
people view as self-actualizing may differ, depending on
their life history features (see Table 2). For example, men,
but not women, tended to report that the pursuit of status was
more strongly reflected in their responses than every other
motive—and this was especially true for younger men.
Indeed, young men were especially likely to emphasize both
status- and mating-related motives. This accords with expec-
tations from a modern functional perspective, as seeking sta-
tus is a primary means for men to attract romantic partners
and thereby increase their reproductive fitness (e.g.,
Griskevicius et al., 2006). However, status-seeking was rela-
tively highly reflected in self-actualizing in both men and
women in the college student sample (Study 1)—perhaps
because university students are actively engaged in further-
ing their education, often for the explicit purpose of attaining
higher paying jobs.
Also across samples, single (vs. partnered) participants
emphasized mate acquisition relatively more in their responses.
Results from the adult samples further suggest that single men
(vs. women) are relatively more likely to emphasize mate acqui-
sition, whereas partnered women (vs. men) are more likely to
emphasize mate retention, which is consistent with research
demonstrating high fitness benefits of mate acquisition for men
and high fitness benefits of mate retention (and high fitness
costs of mate loss) for women (e.g., Buss, Larsen, Westen, &
Semmelroth, 1992). Similarly, the existence of children (and
those children’s developmental stages) also influenced reported
motive reflection: Participants without children emphasized
status-seeking, whereas participants with children—especially
those with young children—emphasized kin care.
In sum, these results suggest support for Implication 2—
that life history features may explain how and why self-actu-
alization differs across individuals. This finding makes sense
in a functional view; behaviors that make us feel as if we are
realizing our full potential are shaped by our life history fea-
tures, likely in such a way as to promote the pursuit of those
behaviors that would increase our inclusive fitness given our
life history features (e.g., parenting for parents, gaining sta-
tus for young men, finding mates for single people, and
keeping mates for partnered people). In a related vein, this
finding may also begin to elucidate Maslow’s (1943) asser-
tion that self-actualization takes different forms for different
people: for example, parents via parenting, painters via
painting, and athletes via sports. Life history strategy pro-
vides one functionally relevant framework in which to
understand how and why these different pathways might take
shape.
Limitations and Implications
These findings suggest that there are sensible links between
the pursuit of self-actualization and other functional motiva-
tions. But that should not be taken to imply that people inter-
ested in self-actualization ought to be encouraged to pursue
status on a moment-to-moment basis. Indeed, some research
suggests that creative individuals do better work when they
are not obsessing over external rewards (Amabile, 1983),
and other work suggests that attaining status is not a guaran-
tee of feeling actualized (Kasser & Ryan, 1993). Nor do
these findings imply that the experiences inherent in realiz-
ing one’s full potential are necessarily less authentic, enjoy-
able, or satisfying just because they may lead to eventual
social rewards or reproductive fitness.
Table 4. Maslow’s Exemplars of Self-Actualization.
Abraham Lincoln (President of the United States)
Albert Einstein (winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and Time’s “Person of the Century)
Thomas Jefferson (principal author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States)
Eleanor Roosevelt (longest serving and most celebrated First Lady of the United States, highly celebrated member of the United Nations)
William James (prominent philosopher and author of the classic psychology textbook)
Frederick Douglass (famous author, leading abolitionist, eminent public speaker)
Jane Addams (Nobel Peace Prize winner)
Albert Schweitzer (world-renowned philanthropist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize)
Benedict Spinoza (prolific writer and highly esteemed philosopher)
Aldous Huxley (prolific writer, author of Brave New World)
Ruth Benedict (one of the most famous and influential anthropologists of the 20th century)
Max Wertheimer (pioneering psychologist, founder of Gestalt school in psychology)
Helen Keller (prolific author and social activist)
Henry David Thoreau (author of Walden, leader of Transcendental School of Philosophy)
Mahatma Gandhi (leader of the Indian independence movement, which overthrew British rule)
Mother Theresa (Nobel Laureate and candidate for Sainthood)
John Muir (prominent author and activist, founder of Sierra Club)
Walt Whitman (considered by many to be America’s preeminent poet)
Krems et al. 15
But, one might ask: When individuals report what they
would be doing if they were realizing their full potentials, is
this linked to “true” self-actualization? Maslow’s original
and romantically appealing idea has often been taken to
mean that “true” self-actualization is divorced from social
and biological motives. From that perspective, a reasonable
objection to our findings is that the individuals in these sam-
ples are not, after all, truly pursuing self-actualization; if they
were, they would not link the realization of their full poten-
tials with status-seeking and other so-called “lower tier”
motives. As others have previously implied, maintaining self-
actualization as the exclusive realm of “the very few who
have satisfied all their other needs” could be considered
unnecessarily exclusive (e.g., Peterson & Park, 2010, p. 322;
Peterson et al., 2005; Sumerlin & Norman, 1992).
It is perhaps relevant to this argument to consider some of
those individuals Maslow (1954, 1970) himself saw as self-
actualized (listed in Table 4). Many achieved levels of status
well beyond those aspired to by most mortals. One might
argue that their social status was a completely incidental by-
product of their striving to do what they were fitted for (e.g.,
Peterson & Park, 2010; but see conceptualizations of self-
actualization by Kerr, 1985; Reis & Callahan, 1989; Walker
et al., 1992). Importantly, a functional approach is agnostic
about whether these exemplars consciously pursued status or
achieved it as a by-product of self-actualizing. Our data sug-
gest that, upon reflection, people may consciously link the
everyday pursuit of self-realization with social payoffs.
A final implication of our findings is that people make
clear distinctions between realizing their unique potentials
and finding meaning and purpose in life (eudaimonic well-
being), maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain (hedonic
well-being), and maximizing the extent to which one’s life,
work, health, and social relationships are desirable, enjoy-
able, and valuable (subjective well-being). These results
also imply that our (Western) participants are not merely
driven by status. Put differently, people may perceive that
pursuing status and esteem helps them to realize their
potential, but they also perceive that pursuing social rela-
tionships and caring for family are pathways to eudaimonic
well-being (meaning); that thwarting threats to physical
safety and acquiring mates are primary means to hedonic
well-being (maximizing pleasure, minimizing pain); and
that pursuing close affiliative relationships is a key to sub-
jective well-being (global happiness and satisfaction). This
makes some intuitive sense; for example, for most people,
the sort of single-minded behavior required to achieve
high-level success in many domains (e.g., scholarship,
politics, the arts) might not necessarily feel meaningful or
even pleasurable in the moment.
People engage in many different kinds of behavior to pur-
sue self-actualization and other forms of well-being. Yet our
data suggest that, despite the different paths people might
take to the good life, these pursuits may remain linked to
basic, fundamental social motives, which, in turn, underpin
and shape these pursuits.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
Notes
1. Note that, whereas we are questioning whether people view their
self-actualization as being linked to functional outcomes, we are
not implying that people consciously link their self-actualization
to functional outcomes.
2. Partnered participants (M = 3.94; SE = .14) reported that kin care
was reflected marginally more in their responses than did single
participants (M = 3.57; SE = .16), F(1, 503) = 3.09, p = .079, h2
p
= .006, 95% confidence interval [CI] = [−.79, .04]. Conducting
these analyses among only participants without children, as hav-
ing children and being partnered are often concomitant, there is
no longer a significant difference between single and partnered
participants on kin care (p = .65).
Supplemental Material
The supplemental material is available online.
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... Spirituality and its practices help in developing tomorrow's leader's work-life balance and enthuse others (S. D Ramachandaran et al 2017).The most recurrent themes of SI suggest that this form of intelligence comprises of understanding one's true purpose in life, its meaning, ability to transcend between various levels of consciousness or metacognition (Krems, Kenrick& Neel;2017, Satpathy & Samanta, 2020a, 2020b, 2020c (Furnham, Wytykowska, & Petrides, 2002) that existential intelligence i.e. existential contemplation and existential reasoning. ...
... Preaching Spirituality and spiritual values facilitate budding leaders (Ramachandaran et al., 2017, Samanta, 2020c, thus in long run spiritual intelligence motivates the peer circle of the leaders. The most persistent themes of spiritual intelligence put forward that this form of intelligence encompass the understanding one's true reason in life, its connotation, ability to go beyond various level of perception or metacognition (Krems, Kenrick and Neel;2017). David B. King and Teresa L. DeCicco (2009) have developed a scale SISRI (Spiritual Intelligence Self report Inventory) based on 4 constructs through extensive literature such as Critical existential thinking (CET), Personal meaning production (PMP), Transcendental awareness (TA), and Conscious state expansion (CSE). ...
... The Layer of Self-Actualization − Self-actualization is the realization and development of one's full, unique potentials which include talents, capabilities etc. [62]. It is a process of continual ongoing personal growth. ...
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