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Summary Article: Mcclelland, David (1917-1998)
from Encyclopedia of Power

David McClelland was an American personality psychologist known for his research on implicit achievement motivation and later his studies of implicit power motivation. He was educated at Wesleyan University, the University of Missouri, and Yale University. Most of his career was spent at Wesleyan University, Harvard University, and Boston University.

In the 1940s, McClelland used motive arousal experiments to develop a content analysis system for scoring motive imagery in the stories that people wrote about pictures in the Thematic Apperception Test. In the 1970s, beginning with a study of the relationship between power concerns and drinking, and drawing on David G. Winter's research on power motivation, he then developed a general conception of the power motive in all its forms and manifestations. Specifically, he explored how power concerns are channeled in different stages of psychosocial adaptation to the environment, how the power motive may be divided into different components (such as strong vs. weak, sex aggression vs. others) that predict prosocial versus antisocial behavior, how power motivation combines with other personality variables, how power is expressed in religions, and how the different forms of power motivation are related to social and historical events such as national growth, resource mobilization, and war.

One combination of power-related variables extensively studied by McClelland and his colleagues is the Leadership Motive Pattern (LMP), a binary variable involving (a) high power motivation (above the median), that is (b) higher than affiliation motivation, and (c) high activity inhibition (above the median). People with the LMP are effective leaders and managers, able to increase morale and assemble resources.

In the late 1970s, McClelland began systematic research on the physiological aspects of power motivation. Power motivation and the LMP, especially under conditions of stress or inhibition, are associated with increased sympathetic nervous system arousal and increased secretion of specific hormones such as norepinephrine. Over time, this processes can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and reduced immune system functioning. Because of their less effective immune system, people with stressed power motivation are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. McClelland also explored relationships between implicit achievement and affiliation motives and various physiological processes and hormonal secretion. This line of research has been continued and expanded by Oliver Schultheiss, who had a postdoctoral fellowship with McClelland.

Throughout his career, David McClelland argued that the lack of correlation between implicit and direct (questionnaire) measures of power motivation (which he referred to as implicit and self-attributed motivational systems, respectively), as well as the different behavior correlates of the two measures, was strong evidence that these two kinds of measures represented two fundamentally different motive systems.

See Also

Power Motive, Testosterone, Power and

Further Readings
  • McClelland, D. C. (1975). Power: The inner experience. New York: Irvington.
  • McClelland, D. C.,; Boyatzis, R. E. The leadership motive pattern and long-term success in management. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67,: 1982.
  • McClelland, D. C.,; Koestner, R.,; Weinberger, J. How do self-attributed and implicit motives differ? Psychological Review, 96,: 1989.
  • Winter, D. G. Toward a science of personality psychology: David McClelland's development of empirically derived TAT measures. History of Psychology, 1,: 1998.
  • Winter, David G.
    © SAGE Publications, Inc

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