Achievement Need

Henry A. Murray's theoretical focus was to catalog all possible human needs. This led to a wide range ofunderstanding; however, it was left to later researchers to add depth to the understanding ofneeds. One ofthe best researched of the secondary needs is the need for achievement. This need of individuals to overcome obstacles and accomplish what often are very difficult tasks has been investigated in detail by David McClelland and his colleague John Atkinson. They developed a system for scoring individuals' responses to TAT cards to abstract achievement-oriented themes. They observed that individuals who had a high need for achievement completed more tasks under competitive conditions, were more productive in their jobs, and tended to get better grades. They used this information and measuring system to develop a training program for industry that has been shown to increase employees' need for achievement and job productivity. Their system was found to be working even two years after the program was begun. Interesting questions remain, however; for example, at what level does the need for achievement become unproductive? At some point it will lead to unrealistic expectations, unnecessary stress, and related health problems.

One ofthe fascinating things about the McClelland and Atkinson method of assessing an individual's need for achievement is that it is not restricted to measuring responses from TAT cards. Their scoring system can be used with any written material; therefore, it can be adapted to a vast amount of literary, historical, and biographical information. McClelland conjectured that he could predict the economic growth and decline of a country from the number of achievement themes evident in its children's stories. He looked at the economic conditions of twenty-three nations from 1929 to 1950 and scored their children's stories from the prior decade (1920-1929). While it is apparent that children's stories are not the only factor related to economic well-being, McClelland did discover that those countries with a higher number of achievement themes in the children's stories experienced the most economic growth.

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