Need for achievement is a person's desire for significant accomplishment, mastery of skills, control, or high standards. The psychometric device designed to measure need-for-achievement, N-Ach, was popularized by the psychologist David McClelland.[1][non-primary source needed] A need for achievement figures as a secondary or psychogenic need in Henry Murray's system of needs.[2]



The pioneering research work of the Harvard Psychological Clinic in the 1930s, summarized in Explorations in Personality, provided the starting point for future studies of personality, especially those relating to needs and motives.[citation needed] David McClelland and his collaborators John William Atkinson, Russell A. Clark and Edgar L. Lowell later investigated achievement motivation.[3]

N-Ach measure


Using results based on the Thematic Apperception Test, McClelland concluded in a 1958 study that individuals in a society can be grouped into high achievers and low achievers based on their scores on what he called "N-Ach".[4]: 12–13  McClelland also found that high-need-for-achievers will accept risk only to the degree they believe their personal contributions will make a difference in the outcome.[4]: 41–43 

N-Ach is characterized by an enduring and consistent concern with setting and meeting high standards of achievement. This concern is influenced by an internal drive for action (intrinsic motivation), and by the pressure exerted by the expectations of others (extrinsic motivation). Measured with the thematic apperception test (TAT), need for achievement motivates an individual to succeed in competition, and to excel in activities important to them.[5]

N-Ach is related to the difficulty of tasks people choose to undertake. Those with low N-Ach may choose very easy tasks, in order to minimize risk of failure, or highly difficult tasks, such that a failure would not be embarrassing. Those with high N-Ach tend to choose moderately difficult tasks, feeling that they are challenging, but within reach.[citation needed]

McClelland’s research led him to formulate psychological characteristics of people with strong need for achievement. According to McClelland and David Winter (Motivating Economic Achievement), the following features accompany high level of achievement motivation:[4][6]

  • Moderate risk propensity;
  • Undertaking innovative and engaging tasks;
  • Internal locus of control and responsibility for own decisions and behaviors;
  • Need for precise goal setting.

A 1982 study conducted by McClellan and coauthors found that high need for achievement (N-Ach) was linked to success in lower-level management roles, in which promotions were influenced by individual contributions. At higher management levels where promotions were based on demonstrated leadership ability, high N-Ach was not associated with success.[7]

See also



  1. ^ McClelland, D.C. (1961). The Achieving Society. New York: Free Press.
  2. ^ Custom Continuing Education, LLC, Chapter 7.3: Henry Murray & the TAT, accessed on 17 July 2024
  3. ^ The Achievement Motive, By McClelland, D. C., Atkinson, J. W., Clark, R. A., Lowell, E. L., New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1953.
  4. ^ a b c McClelland, David C. (1958). "Methods of Measuring Human Motivation". In Atkinson, John W. (ed.). Motives in Fantasy, Action and Society. Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nos-trand.
  5. ^ "What is need for achievement? Definition and meaning". Archived from the original on 2015-04-23. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
  6. ^ McClelland, David C.; Winter, David G. (1969). Motivating Economic Achievement. New York: Free Press.
  7. ^ McClellan, David; et al. (1982). "Leadership Motive Pattern and Long-Term Success in Management". Journal of Applied Psychology. 67 (6). American Psychological Association: 737–743. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.67.6.737. ISSN 0021-9010.

Further reading

  • Breidebach, G. (2012). Bildungsbenachteiligung. Warum die einen nicht können und die anderen nicht wollen (in German). Hamburg: Dr Kovac Verlag.
  • Heyns, R.W.; Veroff, J.; Atkinson, J.W. "A scoring manual for the affiliation motive". In Atkinson, J.W. (ed.). Motives in Fantasy, Action and Society. New York: Van Nostrand.
  • Lenk, H. (1979). Social Philosophy of Athletics: A Pluralistic and Practice-Oriented Philosophical Analysis of Top Level Amateur Sport. Stipes Pub LLC.
  • McClelland, D.C.; Atkinson, J.W.; Clark, R.A.; Lowell, E.L. (1958). "A scoring manual for the achievement motive". In Atkinson, J.W. (ed.). Motives in Fantasy, Action and Society. New York: Van Nostrand.
  • Murray, Henry A (1938), Explorations in Personality, Oxford University Press.
  • Raven, J. (2001). "The McClelland/McBer Competency Models". In Raven, J.; Stephenson, J. (eds.). Competence in the Learning Society. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Veroff, J. "A scoring manual for the power motive". In Atkinson, J.W. (ed.). Motives in Fantasy, Action and Society. New York: Van Nostrand.