Press Concept

Although Murray's elaboration and description of human needs was one of his major contributions to psychology, his focus on the situational context for behavior foreshadowed psychology's future emphasis on environmental events. He proposed the concept of "press," or forces provided by situations or events in the environment. These forces may help or hinder individuals in reaching their goals. For example, a student may have a need for achievement that would result in her attending college and receiving a degree. Environmental conditions such as poverty, however, may hinder her progress or pressure her away from these goals and necessitate that she take ajob to support her family. In this situation, Murray also distinguished between "alpha press," or actual pressure resulting from environmental situations, and "beta press," or subjective pressure that results from individual interpretation of the events. In the example of going to college given above, alpha press might be the college board scores or the money necessary to go to certain colleges. These are real, and they involve little interpretation. Beta press might be the interpretation that if the student does not get into a certain college, she will be viewed as an embarrassment and a failure. This type of pressure comes from an internal evaluation of environmental events.

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