About Human Givens

Do you ever wonder?

Why you just cannot stop yourself from feeling stressed all the time?

Why people who have lots of money seem obsessed with making even more?

How some brands work and other don’t?

Why you seem to be sleeping more but still feel tired all the time?

Why you did not get that promotion even though you believe your skills and experience are better than the person who did?

Why many organisations, governments and societies in our so called information age, continue to be messed up and fail to put much from what they learn  from past experiences into practical use for the greater good?

Human Givens practitioners can help you with the answers to these questions. The Human Givens approach to human motivation and behaviour has been developed from emerging ideas and recent scientific discoveries about how the mind works. A fifteen year collaboration between Joe Griffen [Social Psychologist, Director of The Human Givens College] and Ivan Tyrrell  [Psychotherapist, Director of the Human Givens College]  has resulted in a new organising approach to human psychology that has relevance to every individual wanting to fulfil their own potential,  but also to building sustainable organisations, to healthcare, education, to society and governments.

This article is of interest to anyone who is interested in learning more about what motivates their own individual behaviours, the behaviours of others, of groups, organisations and societies. It is also useful reading to anyone wanting to improve their own mental health and life choices.  The ideas, tools, knowledge and skills of Human Givens practitioners are increasingly being used to improve the treatment of a range of mental health problems and in influencing educational reform. More recently Human Givens practitioners  are also becoming involved in organisational design and development projects that require a detailed but practical application of the complexities involved with understanding human behaviours and decision making.

Fact – The law of all living organisms is that, in order to survive, they must take nourishment from the environment so they can continually maintain and rebuild themselves.   So we come into this world already equipped with our very specific  human genetic template that incorporates a complex set of needs [human givens] linked to our survival and well being.

The basic human ‘givens’ for survival such as the physical need for water, food, clean air etc. are well understood because if they are not met we quickly die. However, our genetic template is also primed with other less obvious nutritional needs, equally crucial to our well being and ultimately, our survival. Generally this second group of innate needs are referred to as our emotional needs.

Science recognises that our innate needs influence our behaviours, but the major theories to explain human motivation, tend to take either a  biological, social, emotional or cognitive approach. Most of them have something to offer in relation to improving our understanding of human behaviour and how to influence it, but most also fall short of dealing with the total complexity of human nature as it interacts with the complexity of an ever changing environment.

One of the most quoted proponents of a needs based theory of human motivation is Abraham Maslow and his “Hierarchy of Needs”. Most of us are aware of Maslow’s pyramid based on 5 hierarchical levels [basic needs (e.g. physiological, safety, love, and esteem) and growth needs (self-actualisation). Maslow believed people are motivated to achieve these needs and as one level is fulfilled they seek to fulfil the next level and so on.

Research by Tay & Diener (2011) tested Maslow’s theory by analysing data of 60,865 participants from 123 countries, over five years from 2005 to 2010. Results support the view that universal human needs exist regardless of cultural differences. but Maslow’s ordering of the needs within the hierarchy was not correct.

Although the most basic needs might get the most attention when you don’t have them,” Diener explains, “you don’t need to fulfil them in order to get benefits [from the others].” Even when we are hungry, for instance, we can be happy with our friends. “They’re like vitamins,” Diener says on how the needs work independently. “We need them all.”

We now know that Maslow’s assumptions about lower level needs needing to be fulfilled before a person can reach their potential and self actualise is false. Many people sadly still live in poverty, but thankfully are still capable of higher level needs such as love and belongingness.

David McClelland built on Maslow’s work in his 1961 book, “The Achieving Society”.  He identified three motivators he believed everyone has: a need for achievement, a need for affiliation, and a need for power.  His theory being that individuals have different characteristics depending on their dominant motivator. McClelland suggests these motivators are learned (his theory is sometimes called the Learned Needs Theory) and our dominant motivator is largely dependent on our culture and life experiences.  McClelland’s approach has been used in organisations as a means of identifying peoples dominant motivations.

A criticism of McClelland’s theory is the contention it raises about peoples needs being permanently acquired – McClelland appears to be the only theorist arguing that peoples intrinsic needs can be changed socially through education or training thus suggesting blurring of the distinction between “needs” and learned/conditioned “wants”.

Human Givens [HG] is a school of psychology that proposes an organising approach incorporating the latest ideas and scientific evidence across different fields of science including social psychology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology. The HG approach suggests we have 9 innate emotional needs, additional to our innate physical needs that come programmed into us from our genes. These include our needs for:

  • security – an environment where we can develop fully  and live without experiencing excessive or undue fear
  • attention – we need to receive attention from others but also give it to others – nutrition that fuels individual, family and cultural development
  • autonomy – some degree of control over what happens to us and around us, exercising some volition gives us feedback from our environment that we exist
  • emotional connection to others – friendships, loving relationships, intimacy
  • sense of community – being part of something bigger than ourselves [we are social animals]
  • status – feeling valued and accepted in the various social groups we belong to
  • privacy – space and time to reflect and consolidate our experiences
  • self esteem – a sense of our own competence and achievements, avoiding feeling inadequate
  • meaning – which comes from being stretched and challenged in what we do and how we think. It gives us a sense of purpose.

Behaviour itself is not inherited, what is inherited is DNA, the genes that encode patterns important for the development of neural circuits underpinning behaviour. But it would be incorrect to think of DNA as a full detailed blueprint for our development. Our genes matter but they are given to us by nature as complex and interactive sources of natural order. Thy need a nudge at critical points and they are sensitive to conditions under which extra genetic sources of order can be exploited. Therefore  The HG approach places equal importance on the influence of both nature and nurture. Nature predisposes us to having a certain temperament but many aspects of our personality are also determined by how well we get our innate needs met in balance, starting from birth through to our death. So from the HG perspective, innate needs are only half of the story, an equally important concept is how we develop and use the templates that nature provides us with [refined over thousands of years] to help us get these needs met. These innate internal guidance systems [also called innate resources] that help us get our needs met include;

  • our ability to develop complex long-term memory to add to our innate knowledge and learn
  • our ability to build rapport, connect with and empathise with others
  • our imagination enables us to focus out attention away from our emotions and problem solve more objectively/creatively
  • a conscious, rational mind that can question, analyse, plan and check out our emotions
  • unconscious patterns – the ability to know things and understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching
  • our observing self – ability to step back from our individual reality separate from intellect, emotion and conditioning, be more objective
  • a dreaming brain that resets our emotional arousals not dealt with in the previous day

How we  develop and use our innate internal guidance systems determines how successful we are at getting our needs met in a balanced way and how good we become at adapting appropriately  to changes in our environment.  The HG approach is holistic in that it considers human psychology and motivations as complex inbuilt patterns that seek fulfilment in a complex environment that is subject to change and the influences of both nature and nurture.

To summarise, the way in which our innate emotional needs are met and the way we use the innate resources that nature has given us, determines our physical, mental, social, professional and moral well being. If we use our innate resources inappropriately, unwittingly or otherwise, then our needs do not get met  in a balanced way and this creates negative consequences for us individually. others around us and even for society.

When organisations prevent people from getting their innate needs met and the prevailing cultural norms [often because of a particular dominant leadership style] encourage people to use their innate resources inappropriately,  the consequences can be very costly, employee engagement is lower, productivity and customer services suffer and risk management is poor.


Article by Ingrid Blades December 2014

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