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Psychology Essays - Satisfaction Biological Needs

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Satisfaction Biological Needs

What do people want? Implicit in this question lays the assumption that human desideratum encompasses not only the satisfaction of biological needs, but also the fulfillment of a variety of psychological, physical, and social endstates that are distinct from our biological needs. Thus, marking Nagel’s contention that human desires are primarily of two kinds: unmotivated desires, such as wanting food when one lacks it, which “simply assail us” and motivated desires, such as wanting to become a lawyer, which are arrived at through “reasoning and deliberation” (Nagel, 1970, pg. 29).

Substantial evidence exists to suggest that people generally have desires to obtain (amongst other things) positive evaluations of themselves and the groups to which they belong; form lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships; maintain consistency among their self-concepts; and attain personal happiness, at least amongst Western individuals (e.g., Heine, Lehnman, Markus, & Kitayama, 1999; Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Swann, 1987; Schyns, 1998). Much philosophical and psychological literature has focused on the importance of desires in the genesis of human actions and their influence on social cognition (Perugini & Bagozzi, 2004).

Importantly, the majority of studies that have embarked on the quest to elucidate what people desire have capitalized on inferring desires from quantitative self-report measures with pre-structured frameworks of measuring human desires or from behavioral reactions to laboratory feedbacks rather than on qualitative first-person descriptions of desired changes. Such research also have tended to focus on abstract and coarse conceptions of what people desire with its appeal for explaining the causal relations among large sets of variables with relatively few constructs (Pyszcynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1997).

For instance, a fundamental desire such as the need for positive evaluation can be appealed to explain a wide variety of phenomenon such as the denial or neglect of negative attributes, biased attributions, altruism, and aggression (Pyszcynski et al., 1997). Further, desires can also aid in accounting for how a array of stimulus conditions can lead to congruent behavior. For instance, a need or desire for positive evaluation can account for an overly positive global evaluation of oneself after having being stood-up on an anticipated date, or after receiving a C on a paper, and tripping over oneself in public.

Perhaps, with the trend to place a premium on what Taylor (1985) coined as “brute data and “univocal operations” (p. 118) – data that is intersubjectively univocal and operations which are interpretation free, respectively – in contemporary psychological studies, there has been a paucity of qualitative descriptive studies on human desires. However, what a person desires is very much a function of his personal interpretation and its presentation and mental representation for the layperson is in everyday language and concepts rather than through abstract descriptions and concepts such as the “desire for self-verifying evaluation”.

Accordingly, the current study proposes to examine what people desire from their subjective perspective without relying on pre-conceived categories of desires. We will limit our focus to one method of inquiry into human desires, asking people for their desire to change aspects of their life. Specifically, we will look at what university undergraduates desire by asking them to write about aspects of their life that they want to change, given unlimited power to do so.

These self-reported desired changes may not be totally veridical, in that people often selectively construct their desires to fit their self concepts or to appear socially desirable, but they do represent what the person believes is important (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Wotman, 1990).

Desires, Beliefs, and Actions

Desires can be defined as a state of mind characterized by an agent’s personal motivation to perform an action or to achieve a goal (Perugini & Bagozzi, 2004). Personal desires are propositional attitudes – a desire about a possible represented state of affairs (Wellman & Woolley, 1990). I want to gain a purpose in my life, becomes: I want there to a purpose in my life, and that I obtain it. Thus, personal desires are inextricably connected with our personal beliefs.

If I want to gain a purpose in my life, then it implies that I have the belief that there to be a purpose in my life and that I have the means to obtain it. Further, actions are brought forth by corresponding desires and beliefs. Thus, the desire to become a lawyer in the future met with the corresponding beliefs such as that there lawyers exist and that one has the means to become a lawyer lead to intentions to become one and finally to actions directed at realizing the desire to become a lawyer (e.g., studying ferociously in school).

However, not all desires are actualized for one may desire to quit smoking but believe that one does not have the means to do so. Still, one’s desires and a corresponding belief that one has the means to obtain one’s desires do not ipso facto lead to actions that fulfill our desires, as one’s beliefs may be false (Engel, 1999).

Desires and Values

Values have been defined as desirable trans-situational goals that serve as guiding principles in people’s lives (Rokeach, 1973; Schwartz, 1992). They are closely related to desires in that, when something is desired by an individual, it acquires eo ipso a value for that individual (Kohler, 1938). Previous research on human values has been directed towards the goal of identifying fundamental pan-cultural human values, which have been conceptualized in highly abstract terms (e.g., Schwartz, 1992).

For instance, Benevolence is one value amongst the 10 fundamental human values identified by Schwartz. By definition, it is “the preservation and enhancement of the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact” (Lindeman & Verkasalo, 2005; p. 175).

It is, however, doubtful that such abstract conceptions of values would capture the typical students’ or layperson’s conscious expression of desires and hence, values because they are not representative of how values are conceived my individuals on an everyday level. In the present study, we include a rough measure of these abstract values, the Short Schwartz Value Survey (SSVS; Lindeman & Verkasalo, 2005) to test this claim.

Self-esteem and Working Towards Realizing Desired Changes

Surprisingly, within social psychology and attitude theory in particular, there is little reference to the concept of desires (for an exception, see Bagozzi, 1992). The proximal causal factor to actions, intentions, are seen as the result from the combined contact of attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control (Ajzen, 1991). On the other hand, within the literature of goals, desires which are often referred to as wishes, are clearly distinguished from intentions.

Goal intentions, defined as the intention to achieve a certain goal, are seen as the end result of the deliberation of wishes, marking the transition to the preactional phase (e.g., Heckhausen &Gollwitzer, 1987). A growing body of research suggests that desires strongly influence intentions and significantly mediate most of the effects of attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioural control, and other personal reasons for acting on intentions (e.g. Bagozzi & Edwards, 1998; Bagozzi & Kimmel, 1995; Leone, Perugini, & Ercolani, 1999).

Intentions to perform an action towards realizing a desire generally occur only when one has a reasonable level of self-confidence that he/she can perform the action (Perugini & Bagozzi, 2004; p. 71). Thus, self esteem should be an important factor that determines the extent to which one decides to and implements efforts and actions towards realizing desired life changes.

Self-esteem and Desired Changes

Self-esteem generally has been seen as a unidimensional construct, represented by individuals as a global positive or negative attitude toward oneself. For instance, the most commonly used self-esteem measure, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES; Rosenberg, 1965) represents self-esteem as a unidimensional phenomena. However, Tafarodi and colleagues have shown that the RSES taps two distinct yet related constructs which they labeled self-competence (SC) and self-liking (SL) (Tafarodi & Milne, 2002; Tafarodi & Swann, 1995).

SC is defined as the one’s global evaluation of one’s power and efficacy whereas SL is defined as one’s global evaluation of personal worth. Stated otherwise, SC bears many similarities with self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997) and is an evaluation of one’s ability to bring about desired outcomes, whereas SL is a judgment of self-worth based on internalized criteria of social worth such as morality, attractiveness, and membership in valued groups (Tafarodi & Swann, 1995; 2001). Although interrelated, SL and SC do demonstrate divergent relationships to theoretically linked constructs, and thus, should be distinguished conceptually (see Tafarodi & Swann, 1995; 1996; 2001 for review).

Is SC associated more strongly with the magnitude of efforts and actions exerted towards fulfilling one’s desired changes in life or is SL the more overriding factor? Past research has little documented self-liking as a variable of interest, however, theoretical and empirical work has evaluated the link between related constructs to self-competence such as self-efficacy and perceived control and active engagement, commitment to and persistence in goals (e.g., Bardone, Perez, Abramson, & Joiner, 2003; Bandura, 1977; Heatherton & Nichols, 1994 ).

According to Bandura (1977) an individual with a strong sense of efficacy, a self-belief regarding one’s ability to perform a specific task, will attempt a given behavior more often and will persist longer in the face of difficulty. Consistent with this claim, beliefs of self-efficacy and perceived control have been found to positively correlate with persistence in academic tasks, change in binging in purging symptoms amongst bulimics, and attempted life changes as well as successful accounts of desired life changes (Zimmerman, Bandura, Martinez-Pons, 1992; Bardone, Perez, Abramson, & Joiner, 2003; Heatherton & Nichols, 1994).

In the current study, we seek to understand what students want to change in their lives, given unlimited power to do so but through a qualitative descriptive approach. Accordingly, we will ask participants to provide written descriptions of aspects of their life that they would particularly like to change. Given the exploratory nature of this study, we do not have any a priori hypothesis or pre-conceived categories of desired changes.

Further, participants will be asked to rate the extent to which they are actively working towards realizing their desired changes. Consistent with previous research indicating a strong relationship between self-efficacy beliefs and efforts and actions exerted towards realizing goals (Zimmerman, Bandura, Martinez-Pons, 1992; Bardone, Perez, Abramson, & Joiner, 2003; Heatherton & Nichols, 1994) and the greater similarity between SC and self-efficacy beliefs than SL, we predict that SC would be a greater predictor of such efforts and actions than SL. As a subsidiary hypothesis to this study, we also predict that the reported desires by students will not readily chart onto the abstract values measured by the SSVS.



A total of 100 Western European Canadian students (50 men and 50 women) will be recruited for participation in this study from an introductory psychology course at the University of Toronto. This select sampling of Western European Canadians is aimed to reduce within-group heterogeneity and to maximize distinction with other cultural samples (e.g., Japanese undergraduates) in anticipated future studies.

Materials and Procedure

Participants who have identified their cultural background as Western European on a mass-administered test at the beginning of the semester will be recruited via the phone for participation in this study in exchange for one course credit. They will be told that the researchers are interested in finding out more about what undergraduate students want in their lives. The experiment will be run in a group-testing format with 15 participants per group.

Participants will first complete the Desired Changes in Life Questionnaire (DCLQ), a self-instructional questionnaire, containing both open-ended and closed-ended questions, created for this study, which consists of three parts. In the first part, participants are asked to reflect for a period of 5 minutes on six most personally significant desired changes they would like to implement in their life as it currently stands, given unlimited power to do so. Desired changes are instructed to be perceived in a broad and inclusive manner including: “acquiring things and achieving goals, gaining experience, knowledge, or recognition, forming relationships with others, overcoming problems or correcting perceived shortcomings, and transforming lives of other or condition of things in the world.”

Furthermore, participants are told that these desired changes can “apply directly to them, or, equally, to people with whom and things with which they are directly or indirectly involved.” These six most personally significant desired changes are instructed to be expressed in a word, phrase, or sentence, in ranked order of personal importance. Participants are then asked to provide the relative personal importance of the six desired changes that they have reported by assigning some percentage of 100 total points to each. Further, participants are instructed to rate the extent to which they are actively working, through their efforts and actions, toward realizing each of the six desired changes they had previously reported.

Ratings are made on a 7-point Likert-type scale with endpoints labeled 1 (not trying at all) and 7 (trying very hard). This question was included to better illustrate various changes undergraduates are actively working towards realizing. It was also included, in part, due to the recognition that many desires are not necessarily actively sought by individuals for reasons such as the possibility that their desires may not be accompanied by facilitative environmental factors or the belief that one does not have the means to implement one's desired changes. Next, participants are asked to rate how happy they are with their life at the moment, without making any changes; they will make this rating on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (very unhappy) to 7 (very happy).

This was included, in part, due to the recognition that individuals who report polar extremes of levels of happiness may be motivated to maintain stability rather than change and thus, may not report as many desired changes. As part of this questionnaire, participants will also complete a measure of self-esteem, the Self-Liking/Self-Competence Scale - Revised (SLCS - R; Tafarodi & Swann, 2001). Ratings for this measure are made on a 5-point scale with endpoints ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly sagree). The Self-Liking subscale (SL) consists of items such as, “I never doubt my personal worth,” whereas the Self-Competence subscale (SC) consists of items such as, “I am highly effective at the things I do.”Participants will then move on to the second and third parts of the questionnaire, in which they will be asked to provide corresponding sets of responses for three of the questions encountered in the first part of the study but from the perspective of an average University of Toronto student of their age and gender and from the perspective of an average Sapporo University student who is of Japanese ethnicity and of their age and gender, respectively.

The three questions were those that asked for the participants to list, in order of personal importance, the desired changes in their life; the relative importance, expressed in percentages, assigned to each of the desired changes; and level of happiness with their life. Participants are asked to give their best estimates. The second and third parts of the questionnaire are intended to measure self and other-stereotypes of desired changes and level of happiness, respectively. The self-stereotype condition is included as an indicator of perceived normative desired changes in their own right, but also to check whether participants were, in fact, reporting genuine personally desired changes as oppose to perceived normative desired changes in the first part of the questionnaire.

The other-stereotype condition is included to allow for comparisons across Canadian and Japanese samples in an anticipated future comparative study. Two additional items included are, a modified version of the Short Schwartz value Survey (SVSS; Lindeman & Verkasalo, 2005) and a general demographic questionnaire. The former item is a 10-item questionnaire, rated on a 9-point Likert-type scale, designed to briefly assess fundamental universal human values.

Although items from this survey are typically rated on a 9-point scale, in order to allow for comparison with ranked responses to our open-ended questions, we will ask participants to rank each item in order of their personal importance. The latter item asks participants to provide general demographic information including their age, gender, and cultural background. Participants will complete these items after they have finished the DCLQ.

Expected Results

Thematic analysis will be performed in order to identify emergent themes in the propositional content of participant responses to the open-ended questions. Thus, there are no a priori coding schemes or expectations regarding the content of desired changes that will be reported by participants.

Consistent with our hypothesis that active efforts and actions exerted towards realizing desired changes would be more strongly related to levels of SC than to level of SL, the magnitude of reported efforts and actions should be correlated with both SC and SL, however, significantly more strongly with the former than the latter. Furthermore, regression analyses with SC and SL entered as predictors of exerted efforts and actions towards realizing desired changes should reveal that while both predictors contribute independent variance, SC is a significantly greater predictor.

Congruent with our prediction that the SVSS d41oes not provide high resolution into subjective accounts of desired changes, reported desired changes should not neatly map onto the abstract values measured in the SVSS.


While this study allows for an investigation into desired changes from the perspective of the participants, because we did not ask participants to write the underlying reasons behind their desired changes, the motivation behind the reported changes cannot be inferred.


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