Psychological needs

      The psychological needs, unlike the biological and sociological needs, are not primarily concerned with survival. Our species is nature's first deluxe model with trimmings beyond those necessary for mere survival. We have more needs than we really need. The psychological needs reflect organic potentiality rather than organic requirements. They enrich rather than simply maintain life, they ensure that we thrive rather than merely survive, they make us competent in our environment rather than just adapted to it. As far as I can see, so far no one seems to understand why such luxury needs would evolve. Perhaps they evolved out of survival needs. We needed to know our environment in order to survive in it, but subsequently, as the threat to survival decreased, we needed to know our environment simply in order to know our environment. Psychological needs were means to an end but became ends in themselves. They became functionally autonomous.

      How would you like $40 a day for lying in a comfortable bed doing nothing, with visors over your eyes, pillows around your ears, and cuffs around your arms, so that your leisure will not be disturbed? (Actually, it was $20 a day but those were 1956 dollars.) It sounds like a good deal. However, the McGill University undergraduates who were invited into this paradise for students were soon clamoring to get out. Such sensory deprivation turned out to be a very disturbing experience. Their thought processes deteriorated, their emotional responses became childish, and they had terrifying hallucinations. It seems that, just as the body needs food, so the mind needs stimulation.

      This need for stimulation persists even when you are asleep. The discovery that rapid eye movements accompany dreaming has made it possible to conduct objective studies of this subjective state. Nathaniel Kleitman awakened some subjects every time they started to dream during several successive nights. On subsequent nights, during which they were allowed to rest in peace, they dreamed significantly more than before. When you are deprived of eating, you subsequently eat more; when you are deprived of dreaming, you subsequently dream more. You have a need to eat; you have a need to dream.

      The satisfier of the need to eat is food, the satisfier of the need for stimulation is novel stimuli. Just as you seek food when you are hungry, you seek novel stimuli when you have a need for stimulation. A number of studies have demonstrated that organisms explore and manipulate their environment in search of novel stimuli. Rats will often choose the long scenic route over the short dull route between the start and goal boxes of a maze. They spend more time around unfamiliar objects put in their cage than around familiar objects. Monkeys will work hard to unfasten latches to open windows to see what is happening outside. Indeed, they will work to see nothing. They enjoy the manipulation of the latches as an end in itself. The activity is its own reward.

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