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The CIA Needs Model


Explanations > Needs > CIA Needs Model

CIA Needs | Evolutionary needs | Underpinning needs | Inner and outer | Similar systems | So what?


This is an interconnected model of needs that is unique to the Changing Minds site. What makes it really useful is the simple focus it gives to three key needs. This lets us use it for persuasion by giving a map of the needs hot-buttons that drive people forward.

Note: The CIA Model is an update of the earlier CIN Model. Novelty has been now replaced with arousal as this is a deeper and more encompassing need.

CIA needs

CIA stands for Control, Identity and Arousal, which is the general priority order in which we experience them.

  • Our Sense of Control tells us when we are safe and can bend our environment to our purposes. 
  • Our Sense of Identity tells us who we are, especially relative to other people.
  • Our Sense of Arousal tells us that we are learning, improving and evolving. It also helps us compete.

Control and Identity are hidden in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, with lower needs for health and safety appearing in the need for a sense of control, and higher needs for belonging, esteem and actualization being related to the deep need for a sense of identity.

Note the we do not always need control and identity--what is important in most cases is that we believe that we have them. Hence the need is for a sense of them.

A common desire is to be 'rich and famous', which betrays the commonality of control and identity needs. Yet what do the rich and famous seek? Stereotypically, they want 'sex, drugs and rock-and-roll' -- in other words, to be aroused.

Evolutionary needs

Evolutionary needs are fundamental and drive satisfaction of the three key needs. These include:

  • If we can stay healthy and survive long enough, we may be able to procreate and have children. Control helps this.
  • To get the best mate, we will have to compete, which may mean fighting or trickery. Control helps, as does identity when it makes us confident and seek higher status.
  • For survival of the species, we also want our children to reach maturity and mate, so we need to protect them as best we can. Again, control is important and identifying with our family helps keep us together. 

Underpinning needs

There are a number of other needs which lead to the three key needs.

For a sense of control, we seek:

For a sense of identity, we seek:

  • Belonging to a group lends us the identity of the group.

  • To stay in the group we must conform to their rules.

  • The esteem of others raises our sense of identity and affords us status.

  • Everyone likes a winner so we try to succeed.

  • Being able to explain casts us as expert and rational.

For a sense of arousal, we are driven when:

  • Boredom and curiosity kick us into action.

  • Achievable challenges act to stimulate us.

  • Novelty attracts us.

  • Anticipation of pleasurable or painful arousal attracts or repels us (although pain can still be better than no arousal).

Inner and outer

Another way of exploring CIA is to consider the different inner and outer aspects of it. The table below gives indication of this, although it is not definitive.


  Inner Outer
Control Health


Inner calm


Knowledge and skills


Control of other people

Trust in other people

Identity Clear beliefs and values




Connecting with others

Belonging to groups

Esteem of others

Social status

Arousal Imagination and creativity



Social interaction

Physical contact with others

New experiences


Similar systems

There have been similar 3-level systems of needs proposed by others. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, there are some close parallels. The CIA model has proven particularly useful in situations of practical persuasion where understanding in these terms can help shape persuasive actions.


CIA model Control Identity Arousal
James (1892) Material Social Spiritual
Alderfer (1972) Existence Relatedness Growth
Mathes (1981) Physiological Belongingness Self-actualization
Deci/Ryan (1991) Autonomy Relatedness Competence


Apparently even Linus Torvalds, the orginator of the Linux operating system has described a parallel set of needs as survival, sociability, and entertainment, which is surprisingly close to the CIA needs.

So what?

So build tension by impacting their needs, possibly through the systems they have already built to satisfy those needs. Create closure by offering solutions that meet needs.

Give control through such as choice or involvement. Boost identity through such as inclusion or admiration. Offer arousal through such as novelty or challenge.

Our need for arousal and control can conflict. Control is about stability. Arousal may lead to change. As control is the deeper need, it often displaces arousal. So if a competitor is seeking arousal, you could shake their sense of control.

See also

Maslow's Hierarchy, McClelland's Acquired Needs Theory, Kano's needs, Herzberg's needs


Alderfer, C. (1972). Existence, relatedness, & growth. New York: Free Press

James, W. (1892/1962). Psychology: Briefer course. New York: Collier

Mathes, E. (1981). Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a guide for living. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 21, 69-72

Deci, E. and Ryan, R. (1991). A motivational approach to self: Integration in personality. In R. Dienstbier (Ed.), Perspectives on motivation. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press


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