Saturday, December 13, 2014

The 'Big Four' Human Drives

In previous posts, I described how Leisure Drive and Legacy Drive should be considered as fundamental motivational domains for a renovation of Maslow’s (1943) ‘pyramid of needs’.
The ‘four-drives’ model for additional renovation of the pyramid of human needs,
 building on the explicitly Darwinian framework incorporated by Kenrick et al. 
(2010). Needs are represented here within four fundamental human 'drives’, 
representing products of selection for distinct domains of human motivations 
that were essential — collectively as an integrated set, it is argued — for 
effecting gene transmission success in ancestors. The latter — the overarching 
evolutionary ‘goal’/consequence — thus occupies the apex position.

As in the Kenrick et al. (2010) renovation, the four-drives pyramid also assumes a developmental but integrative hierarchy, and this is signified by the arrow within the pyramid connecting across all levels. In other words, for the same reasons outlined by Kenrick et al. (2010), and echoing Maslow (1943), higher order goals/drives are generally more active at later developmental stages / ages, and are generally less likely to be satisfied if lower order needs are unmet. Lower level drives, however, can be activated at any stage (i.e. they are not replaced by higher level drives), and once developed, the activation of a drive, or ‘goal system’, will usually be triggered when relevant environmental cues are salient (Kenrick et al. 2010). Becker and Kenrick (2014) elaborate:
“Certain stimuli elicit stronger reactions than others, because they have more significant and/or consistent consequences in the ancestral (or developmental) past. Cognitive systems have thus evolved (or are biologically prepared to learn) a vigilance for stimuli relevant to fundamental goals. Neither the stimuli nor the goals exist in isolation; the psychological system has coevolved with features of the ecology” (p. 137).

This speaks to the appealing notion of different ‘subselves’ (Martindale 1980, Becker & Kenrick 2014), defined by domain-level ‘pyramid’ goals, activated by environmental cues [and underlying a central theme within two recent popular books from Kenrick (Kenrick 2011, Kenrick & Griskevicius 2013)]. Accordingly, we might expect activation of the ‘Legacy-Drive-subself’ versus the ‘Leisure-Drive-subself’ to be contingent on local ecology / culture. One recent study of responses to mortality salience provides an intriguing example of this: European Americans tended to choose responses that focused on achieving symbolic immortality (legacy), while East Asians generally chose responses aimed at engaging in and enjoying life (leisure) (Ma-Kellams and Blascovich 2012)].

The arrowhead in the human needs pyramid, ‘collecting’ the impact of all of the drives, resides in the pyramid apex, representing the ultimate but imperceptible evolutionary ‘goal’ — copying and transmission success for one’s resident genes — subserved by the cognitive goals/drives of one’s conscious (and/or subconscious) mind. And most importantly, regardless of rudimental need fulfillments from deployment of lower drives, the ultimate evolutionary goal remains unattained if there is no sex/mating, and may also be missed (even with sex/mating) if parenting is neglected — although there may be some effective compensation (inclusive fitness) if there is kin-helping.

As in the Kenrick et al. (2010) model, certain specific motivations in the four-drives pyramid may be deployed in solving problems across domains. For example, attraction to religion / spiritualism / mysticism, career achievements, and showing kindness to others, all represent not just ventures for Legacy Drive; they also feel good (satisfying Leisure Drive), they garner resources and/or may earn favor within one’s social group (thus reaping advantage for Survival Drive), and a reputation of success in these pursuits can also be attractive to potential mates (addressing Sexual/Familial Drives). The simple joy from wonder and discovery also feels good at any age, and at the same time can earn acclaim within one’s social group. Accumulation of wealth of course ensures survival, but it also earns status (legacy), buys toys and conspicuous consumption (leisure), and attracts romance (sex). Particular sources of pleasure, providing the self-impermanence anxiety buffers of Leisure Drive, therefore, cut across multiple levels, e.g. involving
physiological needs (eating), but also mating needs (sexual arousal).  Similarly, attraction to parenthood (and grand-parenthood) — an option for delusional legacy through meme uploading to impressionable offspring (and grand-offspring) minds — may also be triggered by Leisure Drive. In other words, intrinsic pleasure rewards can be evoked from the sense of attachment security and self-worth connected with feelings of admiration and acceptance by others that is normally associated with close family relations (and evoked also by intimate relations) (e.g. see Shaver & Mikulincer 2012b, Yaakobi et al. 2014, Nelson et al. 2014).

In many cases then, there is likely to be a blurred distinction, or even a blending, in the deployment of Legacy and Leisure Drives. Human achievements and triumphs define the history of cultural evolution, in large part because they generously rewarded the reproductive success of ancestors. It should be no surprise, therefore, that we are routinely more than content, instinctively so (through evolutionary bequeathal), to endure the striving and struggling needed to reach our individually prescribed goals and achievements — even finding pleasure from the toil itself (sensu Camus’ (1942) depiction of Sisyphus; “The struggle itself … is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy”).

Accordingly, distractions of leisure and delusions of legacy may commonly be deployed at the same time in making meaning /happiness for one’s life, all while remaining largely (and safely) incognizant of the fact that time annihilates all that we do.

An example of this blend, it seems, can be found in recent pro-natalist movements that involve attraction to large family size (typically supported by wealth, and combined often, but not in all cases, with religion) (Kaufman 2010, Rowthorn 2011, Caplan 2012). It is interesting to consider whether this represents a distinct motivational ‘sub-domain’ that has perhaps never (or only locally or occasionally) had opportunity, through evolutionary bequeathal, to be conspicuous within human populations — ‘parenting drive’ (Aarssen 2007). This is not the same thing as attraction to legacy through parenthood, or to pleasurable rewards that may be triggered by it (as discussed above). ‘Parenting drive’ here is defined as attraction to legacy through offspring, but one that is heavily layered/infused with intrinsic attraction to a particular kind of pleasure reward at the same time — triggered specifically (odd as it may seem to some) by the hard work of parenting. [Again, there can be a kind of pleasure (a distracting leisure) in purposeful toil and routine (Baumeister et al. 2013)].  And the hard work of parenting is available in greater abundance, of course, with increasing family size (Angeles 2010, Nelson et al. 2013).

Important to note here is that weak parenting drive — despite it’s obvious disadvantage for evolutionary fitness — probably never had widespread opportunity to be strongly disfavoured by natural selection. Historically, many or most women were essentially forced, by patriarchal subjugation and/or religious imperatives, to bear offspring (often many) regardless of whether they had any intrinsic desire to be hard-working mothers (and presumably, often they didn’t). But women now, more than ever, are in control over their own fertility, and their empowerment for this and other basic human rights continues to grow rapidly on a global scale.  And choosing to be ‘childfree’
— as women are now increasingly free to do — means zero gene transmission through direct lineage. Accordingly, selection against weak parenting drive may soon be ramping up (Aarssen 2007). If so, we might ask whether this selection could, within say a generation or two, spell an abrupt end to the now popular childfree culture that accounts in part for the population implosion (below-replacement fertility) that has surfaced in many developed countries in recent years (Aarssen and Altman 2012).

Being fooled by the soothing delusions of ‘post-self’ legacy, and distracted by the lure of pleasurable, ‘outside-of-self’ leisure — and hence also their inducements by mortality awareness and anxiety — all turn out then to be in the best interests of resident genes. And these interests are served only if being fooled and distracted can be sufficiently maintained
until reproductive maturity is reached, and thus long enough to effect potential for successful gene transmission to descendants. As age advances beyond reproductive maturity, however, one may become less easily fooled and distracted. Legacy Drive, it seems then, presents as a kind of revolt against self-impermanence, with perhaps (as an empirical prediction) greater activation expected prior to mid-life — whereas Leisure Drive may serve as more of a therapeutic reconciliation, especially perhaps in later life, when one may be more likely to ‘come to terms’ with the inevitability of self-impermanence. Propensity for self-deception then equips us with more than just skill for deceiving others (Trivers 2011); it protects us from knowing ourselves too much for our own good, or more precisely, for the sake of our gene transmission success.

Male displays of accomplishment / fame (in seeking legacy), and displays of artistic and athletic skills (for acquiring and enjoying leisure) can also, in a different sense, be in the best interests of resident genes: as ‘fitness signals’ in advertising mate quality (Miller 2000, 2009, Saad 2007). Attractiveness of a potential mate in this sense is typically interpreted to be correlated with his prospects (through genetic bequeathal) for resourcefulness (including through creativity) or for providing protection — thus addressing Survival needs for oneself and one’s offspring. And as a product of evolution, it is correlated then with his prospects for passing on these adaptive traits to male offspring. An interesting (and unexplored) extension here is to ask whether these displays are attractive in part because they also signal a potential mate who is well-equipped in deploying delusions for ‘extension of self’
and distractions for ‘escape from self’, thus representing a good prospect as a positive, uplifting companion, and for helping to raise offspring that are similarly well-equipped (through genetic bequeathal) with the Legacy and Leisure Drives needed to keep self-impermanence anxiety and other inevitable human disquietudes at bay. Of course, in none of the above does the adoring female need to be aware that her attraction to the potential mate has been informed by genetic inheritance, or that its consequence is likely to effect her own gene transmission success.

For a self-conscious species with a theory of mind, that can foresee its own death and feel anxiety because of it, Legacy Drive and Leisure Drive, I suggest, are critical for gene transmission success. Legacy Drive serves an intrinsic domain-general need: to be at least periodically fooled into thinking that, despite knowledge of a mortal body, one’s mind (or manifestations of it) can transcend death. In an odd twist of irony then, the fear of failed legacy turns out to be an adaptation, rooted in delusional perceptions of post-self, symbolic immortality through offspring. It may commonly manifest as a cost or trade-off of consciousness, but normally — in the ‘antagonistic pleiotropy’ sense (Williams 1957) — only in the advancing, ‘wiser’ years of older age. In other words, feeling mortality anxiety acutely in later life necessarily imposes a decreasing penalty on evolutionary fitness, because normally by this time (at least for most of our ancestors), gene copies have
already been transmitted to the next generation. And so, while these distractions and delusions may persist beyond middle age in defining psychological needs (e.g. Tinsley and Eldridge 1995, Iwasaki 2008), their effectiveness becomes much less (or un-) important for gene transmission success (especially for post-menopausal, hence infertile, women) — although these needs may serve to ramp up attraction to grandparenting (with attendant rewards for gene transmission success). In addition, it is worth noting that only with recent science and technology have humans become routinely capable of achieving average life expectancies as high as 80 years.

Importantly, however, when the wisdom of age makes us not so easily deluded, Leisure Drive can still ‘come to the rescue’ (if one submits to it) by serving another intrinsic domain-general need: to be at least periodically distracted from the uniquely human
agonizing uncertainty/suspicion — and for those so persuaded, from the conclusion of Darwinism — that we cannot transcend death, that there is no symbolic immortality or everlasting ‘post-self’, that legacy of the self is just a beautiful dream. Leisure Drive then protects us from learning, understanding, believing, and/or remembering that the only ‘unifying purpose’ or ‘intelligent design’ of life (if it can be called these) lies in the laws of physics and mathematics that shape the emergent properties of chemical, structural, and behavioral phenotypes. As Francis Crick put it: “You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and your free-will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve-cells and their attendant molecules” (Crick 1994, p. 3). Humans, and apparently no other animals, have evolved not just the cognitive capacity to arrive at this diagnosis, but also a desperate need to purge it from consciousness.

This above tutelage from Crick then does not imply — as interpreted by Mary Midgley — that the self does not exist; it does not deny that humans are “… creatures with needs, tendencies and directions of their own” (Midgley 2014, p.62). It just says that the self, the ‘inner life’, is not what our evolved hope is for it to be — an evolved hope that nevertheless served well our ancestors’ genes. Importantly, evolution by natural selection tracks fitness, not happiness. As Nettle (2005) put it: “The idea of happiness has done its job if it has kept us trying. In other words, evolution hasn’t set us up for the attainment of happiness, merely its pursuit. ... We don’t necessarily learn from experience that this is a trick, because we are not necessarily designed to do so” (p. 68). In fact, as argued here, we are designed to be tricked, because this ‘blind’ pursuit, all by itself, has served well in propelling ancestral gene copies into future generations.

Components of Survival Drive and Sexual/Familial Drives and their evolutionary roots, are supported by a large body of literature, comprehensively reviewed by Kenrick et al. (2010) and others. Legacy Drive and Leisure Drive, however, represent mostly hypotheses yet to be tested with more research. I predict that future studies will support the interpretation that these drives served well our ancestors’ genes by palliating the potentially incapacitating ‘curse’ of consciousness — at least over the several years of reproductive immaturity
required prior to successful mating and parenting. In this way, Legacy and Leisure Drives served to prevent the uniquely human fitness benefits of self- and time-awareness, and theory of mind from being compromised by self-impermanence anxiety. Recent advances in the field of ‘terror management’ theory — showing deployment of various mortality anxiety buffers, manifesting as behaviours that bolster self-steem/ meaning/ purpose/ redemption/ value for one’s life, and connected with a sense of membership within (and validation for) larger-than-self cultural worldviews (Greenberg et al. 2004, Vess et al. 2009, Pyszczynski et al. 2010, Solomon et al. 2010, Vail et al. 2010) — already point to the plausibility of the evolutionary interpretations argued here.

The four fundamental drives model proposed here, I suggest, has potential for informing both theory and application for metrics of ‘flourishing’ and subjective well-being in positive psychology (Land et al 2012, Wong 2012, Freire 2013, Leontiev 2013, Batthyany & Russo-Netzer 2014, Tay et al.2014). Even more generally, I suggest, it lays groundwork for a novel view of the evolutionary roots of human nature and social life, and hence the rich and puzzling variety of cultural norms, celebrated across the globe, and underlining the scholarly interpretations of human history.


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Aarssen, L. W., & Altman, T. (2012). Fertility preference inversely related to ‘legacy drive’ in women, but not men: Interpreting the evolutionary roots, and future, of the ‘childfree’ culture. The Open Behavioral Science Journal, 6, 37-43.

Angeles L. (2010). Children and life satisfaction. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 523-538.

Batthyany, A., & Russo-Netzer, P. (Eds.) (2014). Meaning in Positive and Existential Psychology. New York: Springer.

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., Aaker, J. L., & Garbinsky, E. N. (2013). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8, 505–516.

Becker, D. V., & Kenrick, D. T. (2014). Selfish goals serve more fundamental social and biological goals. Behavioral and Brain Science, 37, 137-138 doi:10.1017/S0140525X13001957.

Camus, A. ([1942] 1955). The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays (O’Brien J, trans). New York: Knopf.

Caplan, B. (2012). Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. New York: Basic Books.

Crick, F. (1994). The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search For The Soul. New York: Touchstone.

Freire, T. (2013). Positive Leisure Science: From Subjective Experience to Social Contexts. Dordrecht: Springer.

Greenberg, J., Koole, S. L., & Pyszczynski, T. (Eds.). (2004). Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology. New York: Guilford Press.

Iwasaki, Y. (2008). Pathways to meaning-making through leisure-like pursuits in global contexts. Journal of Leisure Research, 40, 231-249.

Kaufmann, E. (2010). Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century. London: ProfileBooks.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Legacy Drive

In a previous post [ here ], I discussed how easy it is to notice that people everywhere seem to be routinely drawn to opportunities for free-time indulgence in leisure, with magnitudes of variety, scale, and commitment not seen in other animals. I interpret this motivation as instinctual — a deeply ingrained product of natural selection, rewarding our ancestors with reproductive success because it provided them with effective and easily deployed distractions from the uniquely human awareness of — and universal anxiety about — self-impermanence. Here I argue that self-impermanence anxiety buffers can also manifest in a distinctively different sense — as delusions for nevertheless leaving recognition of oneself   for the future: ‘Legacy Drive’ (Aarssen & Altman 2006).  Hence, whereas Leisure Drive facilitates meaning in terms of hedonic wellbeing, as an ‘escape
from self’, Legacy Drive facilitates meaning in terms of eudaimonic wellbeing, as an ‘extension of self’. Their distinction is real and important; recent experimental studies have shown that a satisfying life can be hedonically happy but eudaimonically meaningless, whereas in other cases it can be eudaimonically meaningful but hedonically unhappy (Baumeister et al. 2013, Delle Fave 2013).

Legacy delusions may manifest through at least three distinct ventures for human flourishing, self-referentiality, larger-than-self-identity, after-life transcendence, and/or symbolic immortality: religion, parenthood, and accomplishment. The latter has overshadowed the other two within the cultural evolution of modern times, with historically increasing opportunities — particularly in more developed countries (and especially for women) — for
a wide array of human endeavors that normally draw attention and earn acclaim or favorable reputation. Accomplishment is fueled by attraction to things like financial wealth and consumerism / materialism (e.g. Gountas et al. 2012, Shrum et al. 2013), successful business / institutional affiliations (e.g. Fox et al. 2010), philanthropy (e.g. Wade-Benzoni et al. 2012), and presumably many others (Maltby 2010): academic awards, competition for trophies / championships, volunteering for community service, showing kindness to others, recognition of virtue or bravery/heroism in a civilian crisis or in war,
and pursuits of rewarding careers that commonly evoke admiration and/or prestige — e.g. in politics, government, law, teaching, social work, medicine, health care, the military, professional sports, research and invention, and the arts (involving literature, acting, film production, musicianship and other artistic displays and creative products) (Aarssen 2010).
A sense of purpose/esteem/recognition might also be evoked by something as simple as praise or promotion from an employer for good work (Barrick et al 2013), providing mentorship for a colleague, taking a stand in championing a ‘cause’ among peers within club memberships or public protest/grassroots movements, commanding respect from family or from rivals, or just earning popularity and admiration from a circle of friends or associates (Greenwood et al. 2013). Celebrity/notoriety can, of course, also be earned from displays of non-conformity, ranging from
harmless projections of ‘cool’, or making a personal ‘statement’of rejection against fads / customs / societal norms (Warren and Campbell 2014), to deplorable extremes of deviant behavior and criminal activity (Parnaby and Sacco 2004).

The key argument here is that these many alternative engagements for a sense of recognition/status, belongingness, pride, and fulfillment of one’s perceived potential are likely to be routinely successful in fooling the mind/self into thinking that it need not be impermanent after all. In other words, the sentient human mind is predisposed (by evolution) to be easily drawn into believing, naively, that it can have a ‘post-self’ by being ‘larger-than-self’ — i.e. through ‘membership’ within a conspicuous cultural world-view, or by residing as a soul/spirit
or as reincarnations throughout eternity (Solomon et al. 2010, Vail et al. 2010, Ellis and Wahab 2013); by attaining symbolic immortality as memes residing in the minds of one’s offspring (Higginson and Aarssen 2011), or as fond remembrances or records of success / status / reputation residing in the minds of one’s contemporaries (e.g. Greenberg et al. 2010, Wojtkowiak & Rutjens 2011, Sligte et al. 2013), with
a potential chain of influence passed on to their descendants in perpetuity; and/or as representations of legacy imbued in artifacts, inscribed on monuments, or stored in the written archives of history (Shneidman 1973, Aarssen 2010, Cave 2012).

Importantly, feeling a sense of meaning/purpose though Legacy Drive is always just a delusion. Consider that today, for every deceased human that has ever existed (save for a miniscule micro-fraction), it is as though s(he) never did. Only genes have legacy (Dawkins 1989), but Legacy Drive has a powerful hold on human nature nonetheless, potentially, it is argued, because of its evolutionary roots in an ancestral attraction to ‘memetic legacy’ through feeling a sense that one can create a lasting ‘carbon-copy’ of self by shaping the minds — the ideas, values, beliefs, ego, self-
image/esteem, personality, and virtue of character — of one’s offspring. This is also mostly a delusion, with parents easily fooled (e.g. see Harris 1998), but the reward nevertheless goes to genes because offspring are the very vehicles of genetic legacy, including importantly, for genes that might inform Legacy and Leisure Drives (Aarssen 2007, 2010). As Barash (2012) put it, “Maybe awareness of mortality isn’t merely a tangential consequence of consciousness but its primary adaptive value, if it has the effect of inducing people to seek yet another way of rebelling against mortality: by reproducing” (p. 301).

Several recent experimental studies of mortality priming have shown that the perception of parenthood can be an effective death-anxiety buffer (Wisman & Goldenberg 2005; Fritsche et al. 2007; Mathews & Sear 2008; Zhou et al. 2008, 2009, Yaakobi et al. 2014). On one level this might be interpreted as a consequence of traditional life history theory, applied broadly to more than just humans; i.e. “…fertility behaviour is likely to be particularly sensitive to mortality levels and patterns, given the key importance of mortality in determining the payoffs to life history decisions such as when to stop growing and reproducing, how to allocate investment between quantity and quality of children, etc. … High and unpredictable mortality regimes are likely to favour an early start to reproduction and high fertility, whereas low and stable mortality is predicted to lead to later and lower fertility” (Mathews & Sear 2008, p. 156).

Alternatively (or in addition), as interpreted here, perceptions of offspring and parenthood provide deep-seated symbolism for immortality. Gene transmission per se of course is not a cognitive human goal (or at least never was prior to Gregor Mendel, less than two centuries ago). But pride in offspring (and also adopted children), forethought/planning for having them, and eager anticipation of their birth (or adoption) and family membership are all (we can reasonably assume) universal and uniquely human emotions and intentions. And they represent obvious manifestations of attraction to legacy, bolstering a delusional confidence in being able to leave extensions of ‘self’ (or at least the self that one aspires to, or at one time did) that might transcend death. As Schaller et al. (2010) recognize, an “…affective reward comes as we make progress toward the underlying evolutionary objective — when
… the child scampers off the school bus and proudly produces a remarkable report card.” (p. 336). Importantly here, it is the parent who especially feels pride (e.g. see Brooks 2013; Feiler 2013), and this is more than just a symptom of parental care instinct shared with other animals; it is a principal phenotype of the universal and uniquely human drive to leave something significant of oneself — a post-self — for the future.

In a future post, I will consider how Legacy Drive and Leisure Drive are likely to be deployed often in a blended fashion, triggered by developmental and environmental cues, and integrated with other goal systems, all shaped in part by genes inherited from ancestors — genes informing a framework that ensured their own copying and transmission success to future generations: a ‘pyramid of human needs’.


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Maltby, J. (2010). An interest in fame: confirming the measurement and empirical conceptualization of fame interest. British Journal of Psychology, 101, 411-432.

Mathews, P., & Sear, R. (2008). Life after death: An investigation into how mortality perceptions influence fertility preferences using evidence from an internet based experiment. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 155–172.

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Sligte, D.J., Nijstad, B.A., & De Dreu, C. K .W. (2013). Leaving a legacy neutralizes negative effects of death anxiety on creativity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 1152-1163.

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Vail, K. E., Rothschild, Z. K., Weise, D. R., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., & Greenberg, J. (2010). A terror management analysis of the psychological functions of religion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14, 84–94.

Wade-Benzoni, K. A., Plunkett Tost, L., Hernandez, M., & Larrick, R. P. (2012). It’s only a matter of time: death, legacies, and intergenerational decisions. Psychological Science, 23, 704-709.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Leisure Drive

Leisure is an integral component of the human pursuit of happiness and wellbeing (Newman et al. 2014), with roots in Epicureanism, the ‘pleasure principle’ of Freudian psychology,
and the ‘nirvana’ of Buddhism. It has long been an institution unto itself, with whole journals dedicated to its study in sociology and social psychology (Tinsley & Tinsley 1986, Crawford et al. 1991, Iwasaki 2008, Kleiber et al. 2011, Brajsa-Zgnanec et al. 2011, Barnett 2013, Freire 2013). Few (if any) other animals can be said to engage in leisure. But if they do, the scale, complexity, and time / energy / material allocation commitments involved all pale in comparison to humans.  

Attraction to leisure, or ‘Leisure Drive’, was introduced in a previous post [ here ] about pyramids of human motivation. Here, I develop greater definition of Leisure Drive — as a deeply ingrained adaptive cognitive domain, defining a fundamental need to dispel negative mood, deployed mainly as a reprieve from the cost of consciousness: self-impermanence anxiety (Aarssen 2007, 2010). Leisure Drive is satisfied by hard-wired pleasure perceptions associated with various forms of sensory gratification, relaxation, cognitive/intellectual stimuli and enlightenment, social affiliations, physical fitness / exercise involving recreational athletics/team sports, and various emotions involving intimacy, family relations, companionship, belongingness, etc. Initially, pleasure-based motivations to seek
and engage with these experiences — modulated by prescribed ‘cocktails’ of hormones and neurotransmitters — would have evolved because of their particular rudimental or proximate effects on evolutionary fitness — i.e. in promoting survival (e.g. resting, eating nutritious foods, cultivating social alliances, learning and understanding through curiosity and imagination, using play and games to practice social skills and rehearse for war), and in promoting reproduction (e.g. sexual arousal, courtship, parental care) and welfare for one’s collateral lineage (e.g. affection for kin).

Importantly however, as posited here, natural selection was not finished. Attraction to the above activities and pursuits was honed further by evolution, purely for the sake of their sheer intrinsic enjoyment. In other words, these ancient, innately endowed pleasure modules became not just anticipated within daily routines, but also intentionally planned and prioritized for free-time indulgence — i.e. directly functional as a domain-general need in its own right. As ventures of leisure, they served (and continue today in serving, probably uniquely for humans) a primary role in propelling ancestral genes into future generations: by providing easily deployed distractions (buffers) from the inevitable
anxieties of life, including the most elemental and most debilitating of all — awareness of self-impermanence, and its associated fear of failed legacy. ‘Forgetting of self’ and ‘decreased awareness of time’ are regarded as key cognitive attributes of leisure experiences (Tinsley and Tinsley 1986), to which we can thus add — in addition to those above — mind-altering escapism in things like stories, videos, comedy, carnivals, festivals, thrill seeking, shopping, toys, hobbies, vacations, aesthetics, music, nostalgia, yoga, meditation, secular spiritualism, sleep, mood medication, and substance-induced intoxication and hallucination. Opportunities for these various indulgences have, of course, grown exponentially through cultural evolution ever since the dawn of Neolithic agriculture.

By distracting the mind with these many options for triggering pleasure / bliss / ecstasy / nirvana, Leisure Drive then enables a forgetting of self, and hence a denial of death (Becker 1973). It delivers an escape from time and from the terror of history (e.g. see Ruiz 2011) by palliating the many hardships, sufferings, and absurdities that (for most of ancestral as well as contemporary humanity) were/are routine consequences of just being alive (Benatar 2006). These distractions (occurring with sufficient magnitude, duration and frequency), it can be argued, thus served our ancestors genes by preventing self-impermanence salience and other anxieties from compromising the successful deployment of Sexual/Familial Drives. After all, for many people, ‘escape from self’ also has a darker side, as motivation for suicide (Baumeister 1990). Recent studies have shown that when the mind is allowed to wander disengaged, essentially unoccupied by fulfilling motivations and unprotected by ‘present-moment’ mindfulness, it is usually an anxious,
unhappy mind (Killingsworth and Gilbert 2010, Wilson et al. 2014). Leisure Drive then functions — probably subconsciously much of the time — to help ensure that such anxieties are kept largely in check by more edifying ventures for escape to ‘outside-of-self’, at least until reproductive age is attained.

Accordingly, a sense of ‘meaning’ in life is evoked here — and ironically, is actually defined — in terms of being sufficiently distracted (through pleasure) from the nagging worry (echoing Camus 1942) that there possibly/probably isn’t any meaning. Pre-occupation, activated by Leisure Drive, effectively diverts the sentient mind from its impulsive
tendency to arrive at (and to relentlessly revisit) an unsettling deduction: that notions of self-transcendence or of a grand cosmic purpose for one’s life are / may be nothing but imaginary mental constructs. For many then, a life may be meaningful by simply filling it adequately with things that feel good, without knowingly harming others of course — because, for most people today (thanks in part to genetic bequeathal), pleasure is normally evoked by helping (not harming) others, and by showing kindness (Rudd et al. 2014) and cooperation (Bowles and Gintis 2011) with others.

All of this, however, begs the question: why is the above deduction, for most humans, so routinely salient and at the same time so immediately unsettling in the first place? One hypothesis, argued in a later post, is that this whole syndrome of mental anxiety generated a uniquely human goal system that played a critical role in driving ancestors to reproduce. All animals have Sex Drive, but only humans have Legacy Drive.


Aarssen, L W. (2007). Some bold evolutionary predictions for the future of mating in humans. Oikos, 116, 1768-78.

Aarssen, L. W. (2010). Darwinism and meaning. Biological Theory, 5, 296–311.

Barnett, L. (2013). What people want from their leisure: The contributions of personality facets in differentially predicting desired leisure outcomes. Journal of Leisure Research, 45, 150-191.

Baumeister, R. F. 1990. Suicide as escape from self. Psychological Review, 97, 90-113.

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., Aaker, J. L., & Garbinsky, E. N. (2013). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8, 505–516.

Becker, E. (1973). The Denial of Death. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Benatar, D. (2006). Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (2011). A cooperative species: human reciprocity and its evolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Brajsa-Zganec, A., Merkas, M., & Sverko, I. (2011). Quality of life and leisure activities: How do leisure activities contribute to subjective well-being. Social Indicators Research, 102, 81-91.

Camus, A. ([1942] 1955). The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays (O’Brien J, trans). New York: Knopf.

Crawford, D. W., Jackson, E. L., & Godbey, G. (1991). A hierarchical model of leisure constraints. Leisure Sciences, 13, 309-320.

Freire, T. (2013). Positive Leisure Science: From Subjective Experience to Social Contexts. Dordrecht: Springer.

Iwasaki, Y. (2008). Pathways to meaning-making through leisure-like pursuits in global contexts. Journal of Leisure Research, 40, 231-249.

Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330, 932.

Kleiber, D.A., Walker, G.J., & Mannell, R. C. 2011. A Social Psychology of Leisure, 2nd edn. State College PA: Venture Publishing.

Newman, D. B., Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2014). Leisure and subjective well-being: A model of psychological mechanisms as mediating factors. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15, 555-578.

Rudd, M., Aakerb, J., & Nortonc, M. I. (2014). Getting the most out of giving: Concretely framing a prosocial goal maximizes happiness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 54, 11–24.

Ruiz, T. F. (2011). The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tinsley, H. E. A., & Tinsley, D. J. (1986). A theory of the attributes, benefits and causes of leisure experience. Leisure Sciences, 8, 1-45.

Wilson, T. D, Reinhard, D. A., Westgate, E. C., Gilbert, D. T., Ellerbeck, N., Hahn, C., Brown, C. L., & Shaked, A. (2014). Social psychology. Just think: the challenges of the disengaged mind. Science. 345, 75-77.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pyramids of needs

Other animals spend their whole lives trying to get fed, stay alive, and get laid. That’s about it. But the needs of modern humans involve much more. This is captured especially well I think in the work of French philosopher Albert Camus (1942), suggesting that we humans are creatures who spend our whole lives trying to convince ourselves that our existence is not absurd.

Motivation theories have inspired many decades of research in the behavioral sciences (Deci & Ryan 2000, Cosmides & Tooby 2013). In one of the early influential models, Maslow’s (1943) ‘pyramid of needs’ defines several more or less universal features of human nature in terms of a hierarchical series of motivations. Thus the most basal categories are ‘immediate physiological needs’ followed by ‘safety’, and higher order needs are distinguished by ‘love (affection, belongingness)’ and ‘esteem (respect)’, with ‘self-actualization’ occupying the apex of the pyramid. The pyramidal architecture then serves to represent that higher order needs are normally not attained unless more basal needs are met first, and that these commonly manifest along a developmental trajectory with advancing age.

An important update of the Maslow pyramid was proposed recently by Kenrick et al. (2010) to give it a more explicitly Darwinian framework, firmly grounded in modern evolutionary theory — i.e. where motivations are linked to their presumed/probable functions as adaptive cognitive domains in rewarding the reproductive success of ancestors. This approach has parallels in the more recent ‘Selfish Goal’ model of Huang and Bargh (2014) and in an earlier account of self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan 2000), which also regards “…psychological needs as universal aspects of human nature…” and which “…fits broadly in an adaptationalist perspective that emphasizes how our common evolutionary heritage produces such regularity” (p. 252).

Fig. 1. The pyramid hierarchy of fundamental human needs /
motives by Kenrick et al (2010), modified from Maslow (1943).
In the Kenrick et al. (2010) pyramid ‘renovation’ (Fig. 1), Maslow’s lower and mid-level needs are essentially retained (with some revised labelling) but the major and significant distinction is the replacement of the pyramid apex by three goals drawn from evolutionary life history theory: mate acquisition, mate retention, and parenting. In this renovation, Maslow’s ‘self-actualization’ is not regarded as a functional need, and is considered instead to be “… largely subsumed within status (esteem) and mating-related motives” (Kenrick et al. 2010, p. 239).

But something important it seems to me is missing here. Building on inspiration from the Kenrick et al. renovation, I offer another version for remodeling a pyramid of human needs or ‘drives’ (Fig. 2) — also conceptually framed by Darwinian evolution. To reinforce the central importance of the latter, the exalted pyramid cap represents not a motivation per se, but the overarching functional (adaptive) consequence connected to all of the underlying needs / drives: gene transmission success. The lowest and highest categories of motivations in Figure 2 have essentially the same elements as corresponding levels in the Kenrick et al. version. In the latter, those levels associated with the core of ‘somatic effort’ — Immediate Physiological Needs, Self-Protection, and Affliliation (Fig. 1) — are subsumed here under Survival Drive (Fig. 2). Similarly, the higher order ‘reproductive effort’ needs — Mate Acquisition, Mate Retention, and Parenting (Fig. 1) — are distilled within Sexual/Familial Drives, which also includes kin-helping (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. The ‘four-drives’ model for additional renovation of the pyramid of 
human needs, building on the explicitly Darwinian framework incorporated 
by Kenrick et al. (2010) (Fig. 1). Needs are represented here within four 
fundamental human ‘drives’, representing products of selection for distinct 
domains of human motivations that were essential — collectively as an 
integrated set, it is argued — for effecting gene transmission success in 
ancestors. The latter — the overarching evolutionary ‘goal’/consequence — 
thus occupies the apex position (the only level in the hierarchy distinguished 
as a pyramid in its own right).

The most significant renovation proposed here involves greater emphasis on a ‘narrative of the self’, involving motivational elements that include and expand on notions of self-actualization — not as a priority (in the Maslow sense) only after all other core needs are satisfied, but rather as a more integrative construct at the mid-level. In this sense, ‘Legacy Drive’ is inserted as a distinct intermediary domain of motivation (Fig. 2) — and within which, the ‘Status/Esteem’ needs of Kenrick et al (2010; Fig. 1) are subsumed. ‘Legacy Drive’, together with a second intermediary domain — ‘Leisure Drive’ (Fig. 2) — represent adaptive cognitive systems rooted in uniquely human, innate predilections for existential meaning, purpose and larger-than-self identity (Aarssen 2010, Klinger 2012, MacKenzie & Baumeister 2014). Importantly, it is argued, failure to meet these domain-level psychological needs — as with failure to meet survival needs — can be expected to limit or incapacitate deployment of the higher order (Sexual/Familial) Drives linked most proximally to reproductive / gene-transmission success.

Others have also called for retaining greater emphasis on components of meaning and self-actualization within the needs pyramid framework (Kesebir et al. 2010, Peterson & Park 2010), and this chimes with an emerging field of research in existential psychology (Vess et al 2009, Schnell 2012, Shaver & Mikulincer 2012a, Batthyany and Russo-Netzer 2014). What remains, however, is to place these drives explicitly within the context and logical implications of an evolutionary analysis like that of Kenrick et al. (2010) — i.e. to consider how these uniquely human drives are likely to have played a critical role in propelling the genes of ancestors into future generations, thus deserving domain-level distinction in the pyramid hierarchy. Indeed, in a response commentary, Kenrick and coauthors seem at least partially sympathetic to this objective: “…perhaps it is worth thinking a bit more deeply about motivations associated with meaning … There is no doubt that, as a result of relatively recent historical circumstances within which human culture and human cognition coevolved, people uniquely attach symbolic meaning to a dazzling array of ideas and artifacts. There is also no doubt that people seek meaning … The bigger question, then, is whether the needs for meaning … have unique implications for reproductive fitness and thus qualify for a place in our pyramid” (Schaller et al. 2010, p. 337).

In later posts, I will argue that they do.


Aarssen, L. W. (2010). Darwinism and meaning. Biological Theory, 5, 296–311.

Batthyany, A., & Russo-Netzer, P. (Eds.) (2014). Meaning in Positive and Existential Psychology. New York: Springer.

Camus, A. ([1942] 1955). The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays (O’Brien J, trans). New York: Knopf.

Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2013). Evolutionary psychology: New perspectives on cognition and motivation. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 201–09.

Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2000). The ‘‘what’’ and ‘‘why’’ of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.

Huang, J. Y., & Bargh, J. A. (2014). The selfish goal: autonomously operating motivational structures as the proximate cause of human judgment and behavior. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37, 121-175.

Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Neuberg,, S. L., & Schaller, M. (2010). Renovating the pyramid of needs: contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5, 292-314.

Kesebir, S., Graham, J., & Oishi, S. (2010). A theory of human needs should be human-centered, not animal-centered: Commentary on Kenrick et al. (2010). Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5, 315–319.

Klinger, E. (2012). The Search for Meaning in Evolutionary Goal-Theory Perspective. In Wong, P. T. P (Ed.), The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications (2nd edn.), pp. 23-55. New York: Routledge.

MacKenzie, M. J. & Baumeister, R. F. (2014). Meaning in Life: Nature. Needs, and Myths. In P. A. Batthyany and P. Russo-Netzer (eds.), Meaning in Positive and Existential Psychology, pp. 25-37. New York: Springer.

Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370–396.

Peterson, C., & Park, N. (2010). What happened to self-actualization? Commentary on Kenrick et al. (2010). Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5, 320–322.

Schaller, M., Neuberg, S.L., Griskevicius, V., & Kenrick, D.T. (2010). Pyramid power: A reply to commentaries. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5, 335–337.

Shaver, P. R., & Mikulincer, M. (Eds.) (2012a). Meaning, Mortality, and choice: The Social Psychology of Existential Concerns. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Schnell, T. (2012). An existential turn in psychology. Meaning in life operationalized. Habilitation Treatise. Innsbruck: University of Innsbruck.

Vess, M., Routeldge, C., Landau, M. J, & Arndt, J. (2009). The dynamics of death and meaning: The effects of death-relevant cognitions and personal need for structure on perceptions of meaning in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 728-744.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why are university researchers still using commercial publishers?

Universities have always been the principal homes and facilitators of scholarly research.  Now they are ready to become its publishers.

With the virtual replacement of paper publication by electronic (online) journal publication, and the coincident emergence of open access, university libraries, in addition to archiving, are now equipped to administer both peer review service and journal publication for the research community that they support.  Even most of the key personnel and expertise — authors, editors, and reviewers — already reside there.  They always have.

Surprisingly, however, commercial publishers still have almost complete control over the publication of university research.  But the wheels are in motion for radical change [1]. Researchers, through a consortium of university libraries, have the power to take over this control with ease — by just deciding to do it.  

Both stand to reap major cost savings.  But even more importantly, a transition to libraries as the principal publishers of university research would open up a badly needed escape route from one of the most crippling limitations on the progress of science and the advance of knowledge:  impact factor (IF) elitism.

Elitism is nothing but varnished bias, dressed up to look innocent and desirable.  But bias is the enemy of science, and stifles the pursuit of knowledge.  It is a baffling twist of irony, therefore, that researchers today are born into a ‘publish or perish’ culture where the central mission is for elitism [2].  This is vigorously indoctrinated by many journal publishers and their editors that are more concerned about preservation and elevation of journal impact factor, and competing with other journals for IF status, than they are concerned with dissemination of discovery.  High impact factor generates profit for commercial publishers because there is a market willing to pay dearly for it:  authors clamouring to find ways to pay for high article processing fees to open access journals; and libraries gouged by high journal subscription fees for reader access.  

This market system—founded upon and sustained purely by elitism—breeds two chronic problems associated with the traditional peer-review model:

Draconian pre-publication peer review filters

Many editors routinely instruct their editorial board members to reject good papers and accept only the ‘best of the best’.  Often they endeavor to disguise this elitism with claims of limited page space for traditional paper publication (despite that virtually no one reads from paper anymore).  Insistence on keeping the space limitations of paper empowers them with a gate-keeping censorship tool for maximizing journal impact factor.  Even when libraries cancel paper subscriptions to save money, their electronic (online only) subscription costs usually remain ridiculously high.    

These unscrupulous rejections by elitist editors delay publication of meritorious research, or leave it unpublished altogether, unavailable to science, lost entirely from the pool of knowledge.  Rejection of their good papers also transforms authors into apathetic or petulant reviewers, conditioned to retaliate with nominal effort, or with aggressive, biased reviewing (recommending in turn the rejection of good papers by other authors), thus maintaining excessively stringent peer review filters [3]. 

Publishers and their editors love this — a self-sustaining mechanism for protecting and inflating IF status, further reinforced by a long-standing tradition of blind and voluntary (free) peer-review.   Because reviewer identities are secret, and the contents of their reviews are not public, callous and aggressive reviewers can ‘hide’ behind anonymity.  This also enables them to exercise power over colleagues — power to approve manuscripts that support the reviewer’s own research and reject those that conflict with it, or those authored by competitors.   This in turn gives editors another tool for rejecting good submissions without ‘looking’ elitist — because they can conveniently ‘pass the buck’ to the anonymous negative reviewer.  And because reviewing is voluntary, with no significant reward for good reviewing service, there are no deterrents for bias, no accountability, and hence no quality control.

Author addiction to chasing impact factor

Young academics are now routinely lured into a culture of chasing IF as a metric of merit.  Despite its poor record for measuring this [4], ‘impact factor mania’ [5] persists, essentially because (as yet) no other alternative measures are widely perceived as equally effective for bolstering academic reputation / status.  In many cases, this addiction leads to exasperation and burn-out, thus breeding susceptibility to academic misconduct.  And when exposed, this results in lost public confidence in the integrity of academic research and the value of funding it. 

This addiction then is what accounts for the exorbitant costs imposed by many publishers; like drug dealers, they are essentially ‘selling’ an elite status symbol to addicted authors through inordinately high author (article processing) fees, and hence to libraries through excessive subscription costs.  Even many open-access online-only journals (with their much lower, paperless operating cost) can get away with charging outrageous author fees for access to their much coveted impact factor [6]  

Madly chasing impact factor leaves not just authors fatigued, but also their reviewers — who are also authors, and hence already fatigued from also chasing impact factor.  Total reviewing time load is multiplied when the same paper is submitted to several journals, as disillusioned authors frantically ratchet down the impact factor ladder, wasting time and resources reformatting and re-submitting papers for different journals (the ‘tragedy of the reviewer commons’).  Everyone is desperately overworked.  With no incentives, willing reviewers have become harder and harder to find; they are fed up with providing free service for journals while their publishers collect exorbitant profits from library subscriptions and author fees.  With never enough hours in the day, requests to review are declined more and more frequently by more and more potential reviewers — thus leaving the real tragedy:  few papers ever get reviewed by the most talented and best qualified reviewers.    

A better way for the future

Traditional elitist journals are unlikely to take the lead in efforts to correct the above problems.  It is in their best interests (for corporate profit generation) to keep the current system in place and to instill complacency about limitations, false pride in the ‘traditional way’, and false confidence in the view that, although not perfect, the current system is the ‘best we can do’.

But it’s not.  The technology for electronic/digital publication — that first allowed us to abandon paper and thus pursue the benefits of open access — has now combined with modern, easily accessible online platforms (for everything from manuscript submission and reviewer management, to editing tools, website hosting, and pdf article production) to provide the means for dispensing with profit-based commercial publishers altogether.  This movement is now starting to gain significant momentum [7] [8], and several institutional libraries [9], including my own at Queen’s University, already host publication of a growing selection of peer-reviewed journals.

Researchers can now easily organize themselves, under an administrative consortium of their institutional libraries, to publish their peer-reviewed, open-access work digitally (online), with author fees kept down to cost-recovery level only — thus leaving more money to support the front-line operating costs of research — and guided by a mission for discovery, rather than a mission for impact factor elitism.  With freedom from the heavy cost burden of library subscription fees to profit-driven publishers, university library budgets will be more than equipped to fund their transformation in becoming the principal non-profit publishers of science and other disciplines, and repositories for digital data and other research products.  The reputations of universities for accountability and commitment to the pursuit of knowledge will also provide branding that can match or exceed the integrity of the biggest multi-national publishers. 

And most importantly, in my view, this new domain for peer-review publication clears the way to break free from the malignant addiction to chasing IF.  Not all researchers will be anxious to walk away from elitism; addiction can have a powerful hold.  But for the brave and forward-thinking, this new opportunity will motivate and enable researchers to experiment broadly with different models [e.g. 10] for identifying and using peer-review filters that are optimal for the progress of science and discovery, and to foster a new merit culture based on ‘author impact factor’ that is earned, rather than journal impact factor elitism, purchased from a profit-hungry commercial publisher. 

What are we waiting for?


[2]  Aarssen LW, Lortie CJ  (2009) Ending elitism in peer-review publication. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution 2: 18-20.   

[3]  Aarssen LW  (2012)  Are peer-review filters optimal for the progress of science in ecology and evolution. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution 5: 9-12.

[4]  Eyre-Walker A, Stoletzki N  (2013)  The assessment of science: The relative merits of post-publication review, the Impact Factor, and the number of citations. PLoS Biol 11(10): e1001675. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001675

[5]  CasadevallaA, Fang FC  (2014)  Causes for the persistence of impact factor mania.  mBio 5(2):e00064-14. doi:10.1128/mBio.00064-14.

[6]  Wright JM  (2014)  Open Access and the Public Purse.  Academic Matters July 28, 2014.

[7]  Aarssen, L.W. & Lortie, C.J. 2012. Science Open Reviewed: An online community connecting authors with reviewers for journals.  Ideas in Ecology and Evolution 5: 78-83.

[8] Brembs  B, Button K, Munafo M  (2013)  Deep impact: unintended consequences of journal rank.  Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:291. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00291