August 21, 2014

The Three Core Psychological Needs of Men and the Role of Gender in the Brain

A few days ago, I was reading a psychology study that discussed the difference between the physical brains of men and women and the real-world implications of these differences.

The best way to summate the data was the example of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  As he was shot, the typical response of men was, “Who is in charge?” whereas the typical response of women was, “Poor Jackie.  What about his children?  They are now orphans.  She had to watch her husband get shot right next to her.  What is she going to do now?”.

In terms of human survival both are vital.  Man could not exist without woman and woman could not exist without man.  It is the interplay between the two approaches that results in a better, more stable society.  (I read one report that argued rather convincingly women are better long-term investors and that firms led by women employed far less leverage and risk-taking than those by men because they were more concerned, on average, with protecting the existing employees and shareholders than gaining new ground.  Alpha-male environments would often put the entire company on the line or, as the phrase goes, “go for broke”.)

The Three Psychological Needs of Men

Anyway, the author of the work I was reading argued that there are three basic needs of men, hardwired into the DNA.  If they are not met, men become aggressive, commit crimes, and spend their life wasted or draining society.  For some reason or another, most won’t just “snap out of it” and change their life without some sort of exterior event or structure to push them onto the path.

  • The need to feel they belong and are connected to a group or tribe
  • The need for self-determination and autonomy
  • The need to feel competent at something that lets them feel a sense of pride in themselves

The Needs Can Be Met Constructively or Destructively

If these needs aren’t met through constructive means, they are so fundamental and deep, they will be met through destructive ones.  Take the first item, the need to belong and feel connected.  There is a reason that members of violent gangs are almost always younger men who have no father figures in their lives and no strong home.  That isn’t an accident.  The men who fall into this classification don’t feel shame for being in a gang, they feel pride.  For those who are members of well-adjusted families and groups, such pride is baffling.  Secret societies and clubs serve the same purpose on the opposite end of the social stratum at elite prep schools.

Construction Worker by Garin Baker

Psychology and biology now tell us that men are genetically wired with three core needs that are so deep, and so fundamental, they will be met even if it means through destructive means. One of them is the need to feel competence at a skill. An industry such as construction is the perfect example of this need; it has been around since the beginning of civilization.


The need for self-determination and autonomy is just as important.  A man becomes an empty vessel if he has to ask permission to do something.  There is a reason that the archetype of “king of his castle” is so powerful and enduring.  Feeling powerless leads to aimlessness, loss of drive, depression and apathy.  This is also related to the cause of affluenza, where men who live off of trust fund income feel like failures that can’t provide for their family, regardless of how rich they are.  This response is deep within the genetic code.  Likewise, a man who isn’t capable of supporting himself due to a low education might become a drug dealer or, in the older days, a slave driver because men need to feel in control of their own destiny.

The last core psychological need is to know that you are competent at something.  The skill that comes from being a great cabinet maker or designing a car, composing a symphony or building an empire is absolutely essential for the emotional well-being of men.  If a man can’t take pride in his work, he becomes either aggressively hostile, destroying the work of others out of deep seated resentment and anger, or like a bird with clipped wings, merely marking time until death.

The Three Psychological Needs of Men Manifest in Different Areas of Life

These three items explain, for instance, why the suicide rate among male dwarves is exponentially higher than the rate of among female dwarves.  That is why parents of young men who suffer from dwarfism are cautioned to be more vigilant about symptoms of depression.

This is also why you read historical accounts of men who have lost everything shooting themselves.  How often do you hear of women doing the same?  It is extraordinarily rare.

Due to different evolutionary and adaptive requirements, women handle suffering, physical pain, and a host of other traumas far better than men.  Perhaps it was because men died on the battle field, while women were left to pick up the pieces, endure, and protect the next generation.  Either way, I find it fascinating that gender has such a powerful influence on the brain.