Shaping the Relative Importance of Needs from Recent to Early Autobiographical Experiences


  • Joseph P. Green The Ohio State University, Lima 4240 Campus Dr. Lima, OH 45804
  • Patrick J. Carroll The Ohio State University
  • Kathryn A. Williams Illinois School of Professional Psychology



enhancement, security, self-esteem, competence, autonomy, relatedness, needs


Although past work suggests that people place greater importance of enhancement needs (e.g., self-esteem) over safety needs, recent work demonstrates that contextual factors like event valence (satisfying or distressing) can shift the importance of security above enhancement needs. This study examines whether the effect of event valence on relative need importance for recent memories can carry over to shift the importance of safety relative to enhancement needs in one's earliest childhood memories. At time 1 (T1), participants recalled their most "distressing" (security-relevant) or "satisfying" (enhancement-relevant) experience and rated the importance of 10 needs in defining the event. Next, all participants freely recalled their earliest memory and rated the importance of different needs in defining that event. As predicted, event valence determined the importance of security relative to enhancement needs at T1, such that enhancement needs were more important for satisfying events whereas security needs were more important for distressing events. Moreover, as predicted, these differences in relative need importance at T1 (satisfying vs. distressing) carried over to shape relative need importance in participants' earliest memories. We close by discussing implications for human motivation.