Some children love school. Others are sent to school kicking and screaming and loathe being in the classroom all day. While teachers and students' parents may believe that something is wrong with these children, Professor Steven Reiss doesn't think so.
Reiss, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University, has spent five years developing and testing a new theory of human motivation. The result of his research is published in the new book, "Who Am I? The 16 Basic Desires that Motivate Our Actions and Define Our Personalities." After conducting studies of more than 6,000 people, Reiss has found that 16 basic desires guide nearly all meaningful human behavior.
Reiss says the desires are power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise and tranquility. Everyone ranks high, average or low for each of these desires.
Reiss said some people have desires that don't fit within societal norms. Children who hate school (low in curiosity), for example -- along with workaholics (high need for power and status) and timid people (low need for social contact) -- are subject to being made to feel that there's something about them that needs to be "fixed."
"These people are probably happy just the way they are," Reiss said. "They just have personalities that don't fit in with much of our society."
The U.S. educational system, for example, is built on the premise that all children are naturally curious and have the same potential for learning. But Reiss found that people can differ dramatically in their maximum potential to enjoy learning.
"Not everyone is naturally curious," Reiss said. "A child can be very intelligent, yet lack a natural curiosity and not be interested in school.
"Children with low curiosity should not be medicated and referred to special education," Reiss added. "We need to look at children more positively and find out what they want to do. ... These children may like building things or athletics. Children should not be defined by what they DON'T like to do."
Reiss said that at least 14 of the 16 basic desires seem to have a genetic basis. Only desires for idealism and acceptance don't appear to have a genetic component. These basic desires change little over the course of a person's life. The failure to understand these individual differences causes problems in parent-child relationships, marital relationships and co-worker interactions.
"People can only be happy being who they are," Reiss said. "Don't let people who have different sets of desires tell you which desires to embrace."