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Berne's Six Hungers


Explanations > Needs > Berne's Six Hungers

Stimulus | Recognition | Contact | Sexual | Time structure | Incident |  So what?


Eric Berne, the originator of Transactional Analysis, identified what he called 'six hungers' that act as fundamental drivers that push us into action.

Stimulus hunger

We have five senses which we need to use. If they are insufficiently stimulated, this can cause a sense of numbness or distress.

When we are stimulated, we may well become physically aroused, with the added buzz from the effect of neural chemicals such as adrenaline.

Sensory deprivation removes all stimulus and can quickly lead to hallucination. This may be used in some therapeutic situations, where removal of external stimulus forces the person to look inwards. It is also used in coercive situations, such as interrogation, where the disorientation and distress caused leads to the person becoming more compliant.

Stimulation may also be intellectual and emotional, for example where we are excited by a book or upset by world events.

Recognition hunger

When others recognize and acknowledge us, our sense of identity is reinforced as we know ourselves to exist as individuals and to have an accepted place in society.

Recognition is related to both belonging and esteem, as we are accepted into groups and then gain status within them.

Recognition is built into society and we nod and smile to strangers, thanking them for holding open a door and complying with social norms.

Contact hunger

This is the need for physical contact with other people, touching them in various ways.

Touching another person boosts our sense of identity as it acknowledges that we are both separate from and connected with others. It goes beyond visual recognition to a more visceral sense of togetherness.

Contact creates a sense of connected and comfort. Children need contact with their parents and make much contact with other children during play.

We gain formal contact in greeting and departure rituals, where handshakes, hugs and kisses are normal, although these do vary with culture.

In a number of societies today, fears of being accused of inappropriate touching keeps people away from making contact in many situations. This becomes unhealthy when it causes isolation and distress.

Sexual hunger

The evolutionary need to procreate is essential for the survival and growth of the species. We hence constantly view others as potential partners, sizing them up and wondering what they would be like in bed.

Men tend to have more focus here but not exclusively so. The natural position of the male prosecuting his case in trying to get the female into bed still needs a woman who is ready to go along with this. In modern societies, women also have become more proactive in leading their own sexual revolution.

This hunger is also related to passion and love and, beyond basic copulation, we seek romance in our lives. Wider again we enjoy passion about anything, from sports to supporting international causes.

Time structure hunger

We all know that we have a certain amount of time in which to live our lives and want it to make sense. We find comfort in the regular passing of the years, of celebration days from birthdays to new year.

We fret about wasting time and worry about not having enough time. We plan and want to know what is going to happen, and when. We also want to have space in which to be relaxed and less ordered, though we often still want to organize this space.

And so we fill our lives with things to do. We go to classes, we book holidays. We keep diaries and calendars. We create careers with explanatory resumés trailing the past to make sense for the next job.

Incident hunger

Closely related to the need for stimulation, we look out for incidents, things that happen around use that we find interesting and which add spice to our lives.

Newspapers, TV and other media play directly to this need, with shock-horror stories that range from local crime statistics to celebrity divorces to global warming doom and gloom.

One reason that incidents work is the contrast between the previous humdrum and the stimulation of the incident. The contrastive effect makes the incident seem even more interesting than it might otherwise appear.

So what?

Understand how these effect you and so make more intelligent choices in your life. You can also, of course, use these as levers in changing minds.

See also

Transactional Analysis, Stimulation


Berne, E. (1970). Sex in Human Loving, Simon and Schuster, New York


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