The 3-S Model of Fundamental Human Needs

We are all motivated by three fundamental needs

Psychologists and social scientists observed long ago that human behaviour is motivated by needs, and I am not the first person to create a model to understand these needs. I have had the opportunity to learn about and use many of these other models. However, I found that Maslow’s model fails to explain certain behaviours, and that the more complex Max-Neef model was too cumbersome to be practical. Other personality theories are often useful for explaining traits and characteristics of personality but fail to address the underlying motivations for the ways in which human beings behave. The 3-S Fundamental Needs Model developed by me in 2008 (updated 2021) addresses these shortfalls.

The 3-S Fundamental Needs Model explains all human behaviours through a dynamic blend of just three fundamental needs:

  1. Security Needs
  2. Social Needs
  3. Stimulation Needs
The 3-S Model of Fundamental Human Needs by Allan Revich, M.Ed.
The 3-S Model of Fundamental Human Needs by Allan Revich, M.Ed.

It is important to note that the 3-S Model is Dynamic

The overlapping circles on the Venn diagram are not fixed in either size or position. Different people will prioritize their fundamental needs in different ways. Some people will have very high security needs, and very low social status needs. Others will have extremely high stimulation needs, but low security needs. This is the big advantage of the Fundamental Needs Model over other models. It accounts for behaviours that other models fail to account for.

Dynamic changes in the 3-S Model of Fundamental Human Needs by Allan Revich, M.Ed.
Dynamic Changes in The 3-S Model of Fundamental Human Needs by Allan Revich, M.Ed.

Security Needs
(Survival, Safety)

Security needs are the easiest to conceptualize, and generally form the core of other behaviour and motivation models. These needs include physical survival requirements like food, shelter, and clothing, as well as safety requirements like freedom from violence,

Beyond these basic safety needs, security needs can extend to financial security, to level of physical comfort, and dwelling or transportation quality.

Social Needs
(Status)

Human being are social animals. We cannot thrive without social interaction. The degree to which we require social interaction varies from person to person, and it is critically important to recognize this—especially for professionals tasked with helping others.

Status needs are a critical aspect of social needs, in that they reflect perceptions of our status within society. One person with high status needs might aspire to leadership, another to power, and yet another might be extremely driven by the need to know exactly where they stand with others—regardless as to how “high or low” that relative status is.

Stimulation Needs

These are the most overlooked needs, but are in fact at least as important as other needs. Evidence of the importance of stimulation is overwhelming, as demonstrated by multiple sensory deprivation studies. It is well established that prolonged periods of solitary confinement lead to extremely negative mental health consequences.

Beyond the most basic stimulation needs are the varying needs of some individuals for specific kinds of stimuli. A motivational model needs to explain thrill seeking and risk taking behaviours. It must explain people who are driven to create art or make music. The 3-S model accomplishes this.

Maslow vs Max-Neef vs 3-S

The two best known and most used human needs models are Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and Manfred Max-Neef’s Fundamental needs model. How does the 3-S Fundamental Needs model compare to them?

Both of the other models have been subject to extensive review, testing, and validation. They have sufficient verification to retain their value as useful models. The other models also have shortcomings that are overcome by the 3-S Model.

While Maslow’s model accounts for Security Needs and Social Needs, it doesn’t assign sufficient importance to Stimulation Needs. Maslow’s model also fails to account for individuals who place higher order needs above lower level needs; risk takers and thrill seekers for example. His highest order need, “self-actualization” also suffers from a lack of clarity as to its nature, and is based on an assumption that all human beings have this as their ultimate goal.

The Max-Neef model, on the other hand, accounts for the factors that Maslow did not. Unfortunately, the model loses its utility for all but PhD level psychologists because of its complexity. It also uses terms and language that may be subject to more than one interpretation. So it may (or may not) be a more accurate model, but its accuracy is of little use if it cannot be easily applied.

What About Other Human Needs?

There are only three Needs that are “Fundamental”. That does not mean that these three needs are the only human needs that exist. Humans are complicated creatures with a whole myriad of needs. These other needs are explained by expanding the intersections of the the Three Fundamental Needs. 

Intersections of Human Needs

There are three places where each individual fundamental need intersects with one other, plus the intersection of all three fundamental needs. As these intersections are examined, it is important to remember that the greatest strength of the model is that it is dynamic. The possible intersections may be limited to four, but the dynamic range of each intersection is infinite. Each person will have their own personal Venn diagram that illustrates the degree of importance of each of their needs.

Social Needs – Security Needs

This is where Love lives. The intersection of social needs and security needs can be seen as representing the needs for various degrees of deep attachments, and long term stable bonds. The bonds between parents and children, between life partners and spouses, and the bonds between close friends.

Social Needs – Stimulation Needs

This is where the Party happens. It’s no secret that humans are social beings. Any model that can’t adequately explain this level of sociability cannot be considered either useful or successful. These needs are often underestimated, but the isolation imposed by the pandemic lockdowns of 2020/2021 brought them to the forefront. People need to interact socially with other people, not just for the extremes of deep relationships and transactional relationships, but also for the pure joy of feeling included in a group, and connected to other people.

Stimulation Needs – Security Needs

This is where Personal Activism is explained. The simplest way to understand this intersection might be through the example of an individual in whom this intersection is particularly pronounced. I would propose Greta Thunberg as a good example. A young person who from an early age began independently, strongly, and publicly advocating for action to combat climate change.

Social Needs – Stimulation Needs – Security Needs

Politics, Protest, and Participation. The area where all three Fundamental Needs intersect is possibly the most interesting. It’s here where these blended needs explain the most complicated human interactions. People are often drawn to causes. Sometimes this can take the form of individual activism, as in the case of Greta Thunberg, but more often, people prefer to “join a cause”. That is to say, that there is often a need to find validation and support for personal values through participation in a group with shared values. The blend of all three fundamental needs extends well beyond understanding only protest and politics though. It is also important for understanding virtually all complex group interactions, from marching bands, to athletic competitions, through trips to the theatre and attending arena rock concerts.

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