The Man Behind Isaac Asimov’s Psychohistory in The Foundation Series

David McClelland was an American behavioral and social psychologist who developed the Motivational Needs Theory during the latter half of the 20th century.  He was also involved in quantitative history, a field of research referred to as psychohistory and popularized by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.  McClelland believed that, using vast amounts of economic and demographic data across various civilizations, one could determine specific behavior patterns pertaining to the growth and decline of society.  These scientific patterns could then be used to predict the future.

McClelland attained his Master’s from the University of Missouri.  He later attended Yale and spent over 30 years teaching at Harvard University.  The following list reflects a few of his published works regarding Motivational Needs Theory:

The Achievement Motive (1953)

The Achieving Society (1961)

Power Is The Great Motivator (1976)

Human Motivation (1987)

Overview of Motivational Needs Theory

There are two types of theories related to motivation:  process and content.  Content theories focus on what motivates an individual.  David McClelland’s Motivational Needs Theory is a content theory focused on three main identifier needs that drive work performance.  All goals and objectives are established through these needs:  Affiliation, Power, and Achievement.

Affiliation is the need for interpersonal relationships and loyalty to others.  Power is the need to control others.  Achievement is the need to overcome obstacles and accomplish goals.  Achievement is characterized by a need for feedback and some risk.

Of the three, McClelland praised individuals that exhibited a higher level of Achievement need.  He believed that the degree of societal economic growth is positively related to the degree of individual achievers in that society.  Put simply, the greater number of entrepreneurs and inventors a society holds, the greater its wealth.

McClelland derived these three needs from the work of Murray’s Theory of Psychogenic Needs from 1938.  McClelland’s theory was also influenced by the Hawthorne Studies conducted in the 1920s by Elton Mayo at Western Electric Company in Chicago.

Researchers discovered through a series of observations of 6 female employees under various altered work conditions, that peer group observation improved their performance.  This proved to McClelland that humans are motivated by more than financial incentives, unlike popular economic theory of that time period.

To determine what type of motivational need a person has, McClelland would administer the TAT. This was a series of photographs related to a story that were given to a subject along with a set of questions. The subject’s immediate answers to these questions would determine his or her motivational need: affiliation, achievement, or power.

One very significant study done in psychohistory is the following one shown below. This study proved a positive correlation between generations of children who were read books that focused on achievement and later industrialization of their country and the advancement of entrepreneurial and invention-type progress.

Author: J. Speer

I like to write. I have 5 books currently on Amazon, mostly fiction. I try to write positive and uplifting children's stories, expressive poetry for women, and interesting articles about personal growth, alternative medicine, and spirituality. My stories are often about diverse people but with human connection in mind through inner perspective. I love my characters especially the ones from my first book, Searching for Fire. I moved recently to Vermont. I live in the North Country region near Lake Willoughby, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. My heart will always be with Kansas but I love travel and meeting new people with diverse perspectives on life. I have found Vermonters to have many admirable qualities like stoicism and a love and stewardship of nature. My hobbies are writing, gardening, outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing, and hiking. I am an amateur herbalist. Many years ago, an alternative medicine doctor cured me of a respiratory illness by teaching me about vitamins and for that, I owe her a debt of gratitude. I recently bought a Jeep Wrangler that fits my personality and love for adventure. Associated with the military in my younger years, I have lived in Israel, Germany, and Virginia as well - all of which I loved in different ways. I thoroughly believe in the military spouse phrase, "bloom where you are planted" and endeavor to carry a positive optimism wherever I roam. Most days are good but admittedly I get down sometimes. I am prone to sadness or severe cynicism at times, so I turn to music as my consolation and source of expression or inspiration. My favorite songs currently are "How Deep is Your Love" by the Beegees, "La Vie en Rose", "A Million Dreams" or maybe Karen Carpenter singing "Close to You" or Elton John singing "Your Song." I also like "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us" by Starship or "I'll Stand by You" by The Pretenders. "Faithfully" by Journey always reminds me of rollerskating with friends in the 1980s. My favorite quotes are from the Velveteen Rabbit, Steve Jobs, and this one..."To the caterpillar it was the end of the world, but to the butterfly it was merely a beautiful beginning." Or there is the quote from Peter Pan teaching Wendy..."What if I fall? But, oh my darling, what if you fly?" I also believe in being a pearl - graceful on the outside but full of grit and gratitude on the inside. My favorite women of the Bible are Ruth, Hannah, and Hagar. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Cheers, friend.

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