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.


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

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.

Kenrick, D. T. (2011). Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing our View of Human Nature. New York: Basic Books.

Kenrick, D. T, & Griskevicius, V. (2013). The Rational Animal: How Evolution Made Us Smarter Than We Think. New York: Basic Books.

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.

Land, K. C., Michalos, A. C. & Sirgy, M. J (Eds.) (2012). Handbook of Social Indicators and Quality of Life Research. New York: Springer.

Leontiev, D. A. (2013) Positive psychology in search for meaning: An introduction. The Journal of Positive Psychology 8, , 457–458.

Ma-Kellams, C., & Blascovich, J. (2012). Enjoying life in the face of death: East–west differences in responses to mortality salience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 773-786.

Martindale, C. (1980). Subselves: The internal representation of situational and personal dispositions. In L. Wheeler (ed.), Review of personality and social psychology, pp. 193–218. Beverly Hills, Ca: Sage.

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

Midgley, M. (2014). Are You An Illusion? Durham: Acumen.

Miller, G. (2000). The Mating Mind. New York: Random House.

Miller, G. (2009). Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behaviour. New York: Viking.

Nelson, S. K., Kushlev, K., English, T., Dunn, E. W., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2013), In defense of parenthood: Children are associated with more joy than misery. Psychological Science, 24, 3–10.

Nelson, S. K., Kushlev, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). The pains and pleasures of parenting: when, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being? Psychological Bulletin, 140, 846–895

Nettle, D. (2005). Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Koole, S., & Solomon, S. (2010). Experimental existential psychology: Coping with the facts of life. In Fiske, S., Gilbert, D. & Lindzey, G. (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology. London: John Wiley and Sons.

Rowthorn, R, (2011) Religion, fertility and genes: a dual inheritance model. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, 278, 2519–2527.

Saad, G. (2007). The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T. Cohen, F., & Ogilvie, D.M. (2010). Teach these souls to fly: Supernatural as human adaptation. In M. Schaller, A. Norenzayan, S. J. Heine, T. Yamagishi, & T. Kameda (Eds.). Evolution, Culture and the Human Mind (pp. 99-118). New York: Psychology Press.

Tay, L., Chan, D, & Diener, E. (2014). The metrics of societal happiness. Social Indicators Research, 117, 577-600.

Tinsley, H. E. A., & Eldredge, B. D. (1995). Psychological benefits of leisure participation: A taxonomy based on their need-gratifying properties. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 42, 123-132.

Trivers, R. (2011). The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-deception in Human Life. New York: Basic Books.

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.

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.

Williams, G. (1957). Pleiotrpy, natural selection and the evolution of senescence. Evolution, 11, 398-411.

Wong, P. T. P (Ed.) (2012). The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications (2nd edn.). New York: Routledge.

Yaakobi, E., Mikulincer, & Shaver, P. R. (2014). Parenthood as a terror management mechanism: The moderating role of attachment orientations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 762-774.  

1 comment:

  1. Very Good Food for Thought

    Gopinathan Krishnan is a Scientist in the 7th “World”


Follow by Email