“The dominance hierarchy is a mechanism that selects heroes and breeds them.”
— Jordan Peterson.
The three most studied needs by personality psychologists are as follows: the need for achievement, the need for power, and the need for intimacy. Although there are several other needs (e.g., see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) these three are the most researched and empirically tested.
Needs are motivating factors, and thus, we are motivated to fulfil them. The trio of needs presented here, is transcendent to deficiency needs like food, shelter, and sexual reproduction. You could say they are more relevant in our modern society, as most of us have our basic needs met. They are sociologically important, as in; they help us navigate the social realm and influences a lot of our relational behaviors. Even though these needs are highly relevant to our social experience, it does not mean they are socially constructed. They have a strong evolutionary basis, as each of them map on to the theory of dominance hierarchies.
The dominance hierarchy is an evolutionary based structure, where the most competent/powerful people —in a given domain — claims the top positions. There are many different dominance hierarchies to climb, and each differs in what they regard as valuable. The most famous propagator of this theory is the now legendary Jordan Peterson (I highly recommend checking out his work if you’re unfamiliar with it). He has suggested that instead of calling them dominance hierarchies, the hierarchies should be called competence hierarchies. Indeed, this reflects their function in modern society (dominance may be favored in certain hierarchies, but as you will see, this is not always the case).
Just as the hierarchies, needs are also largely determined by evolutionary, or, biological factors. That being said, you can still improve in all three areas, but you may not be equally motivated to fulfill all of them. Simply being aware of what characterizes the different needs, might help you attain to their potential benefits.
Everyone differs in their composition of needs. Some will have a high need for achievement, others for power, and yet others will have a high need for intimacy. Some people might also have a somewhat even need for all three. There’s no shame in being motivated by any of the needs. What matters is how you handle them and how you’re trying to fulfill them.
Figuring out your primary need can be important, as it will motivate most of your behavior. It will be your fuel in the social world, and exploiting it can really help you excel in a hierarchy. It is also important to note that, working on the needs that are less natural to you, can increase your competence, as most hierarchies values a combination of all three.
Let’s examine each of the needs in turn, and look at how they fuel into competence and dominance hierarchies:
The need for achievement
The need for achievement is defined as the need to do better, to be successful (high status), and to feel competent. Things that drive behavior for this need are typically incentives of challenge and variety. Feelings of interest, surprise and curiosity is likely to be present in individuals high in this need.
Achievement is valued in our society, as those with a high need are likely to solve problems, build businesses, and do a great job at what they’re doing. Therefore, people high in this need are will likely excel in hierarchies where success matters. Several studies have shown that people high in this need are suited for entrepreneurial activates, as this will satisfy many of the driving factors. There’s challenges and risks, variety, and success is a matter of personal responsibility. Further, the opportunities to succeed are enormous.
The Need for Power
The need for power is defined as a readiness and preference for having an impact on other people. The opportunity to exert power and to control people and situations, are the main drives of behavior. Assertive and dominant behavior are likely present.
The ability to lead and manage people is a valuable asset in many domains. Therefore, people high in this need will likely excel in controlled and stable hierarchies. Executive positions might be a good choice, as this is a highly powerful position, with the opportunity of leading a lot of people.
The need for Intimacy
The need for intimacy is defined as the preference or readiness for warm, close, and communicative interaction with others. Opportunities for intimacy and meaningful human contact drives behavior. Experiencing pleasant emotions in human interactions and engaging in deep conversations, are characteristics for people high in this need.
A high need for intimacy is valued, because genuine human interactions are a large part of what makes the human experience enjoyable. Therefore, hierarchies that value social intelligence and empathy are good fits for people high in the need for intimacy. Psychologists, doctors, and human care in general, are good positions.
You might think that there are big differences between men and women when it comes to these needs. Contrary to popular belief, the need for achievement and the need for power do not show any marked gender differences. That is, relative to the needs which are present within a given individual. However, there exist a difference regarding the need for intimacy. Women have, on average, a higher need than men.
When it comes to excelling to the very pinnacle of the hierarchies, men tend to sacrifice more to get there. This does not imply that women can’t reach the top, but it does imply that men are more willing to get there. On average. This may be because men place more value on social status and dominance over people, whereas women place more value on connecting with people. This is not surprising, given our evolutionary history.
Figuring out your composition of needs, and finding your primary motivation might serve you in the quest for competence. Find the hierarchies that value what drives you, and you are much more likely to succeed. Picking a hierarchy, or a career, where your natural tendencies can serve you, will also make it easier for you.
If you have a high preference for two, or three, of the needs, finding areas where all your needs can be met should be the goal. Good luck!