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:

  • the freedom to choose and pursue our goals and dreams.
  • the ability to be successful at something.
  • a sense of social connection and belonging.


So if the only human needs we have are listed above, what do we call the other things we believe we must have to live happily? These are called wants. Wants can be any number of things including wanting to be in a relationship, like Jane, to wanting the latest high-definition 50-inch flat-screen television. What distinguishes wants from needs is that they are not necessary for our survival. Just as Jane can go on to live a life without Eric, we can similarly live a life without a 50-inch flat-screen television.

Here are some additional examples of wants:

  • taking a yearly vacation
  • getting a new car
  • having the latest cell phone
  • getting concert tickets to see your favorite band
  • going out to a movie

As you can imagine, the list of wants is endless, and varies from individual to individual. Psychologists say that having wants is good as these wants can motivate us to perform better in order to make them a reality. Psychologists also caution, however, to view wants for what they are, rather than focusing on them so much that we view them as needs.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account