Wants vs. Needs in Psychology

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Many people have difficulty at times distinguishing between wants and needs. In this lesson wants vs. needs in psychology will be defined, and relevant examples will be provided to further clarify the topic.

Jane and Eric

Jane and Eric have been in a committed relationship for the past three years. Recently, Jane noticed that Eric seems to be pulling away from her. He's not around as frequently as he was, and when he is, they don't really have much to say to each other. Last Friday Eric asked Jane if they could talk. He explained to her that he needed a break from their relationship. Jane was devastated. She called her best friend, Amy, and told her she didn't quite know what to do without Eric because she needs him in her life.


Human needs and wants are terms that people often confuse. Take Jane for example. She is extremely upset that Eric wants a break from their relationship and expresses that she needs Eric in her life. But does Jane really need Eric? A need is described as something we must have to survive. Needs include things such as:

  • a place to shelter you from the elements and keep you safe -- a home for example.
  • access to food and water -- without both we would eventually die.
  • oxygen -- without it we would suffocate.

Clearly Eric is not on this list of needs. However, it can be argued that we also have certain emotional needs, but, once again, Eric doesn't make the list. Emotional needs might include:

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