The ideas and concepts from this theoretical perspective have certainly influenced thinking in the area of careers. For example, Anne Roe (1956, 1957), who trained as a clinical psychologist as an extension of occupational psychology, undertook research that was heavily influenced by psychodynamic theory. More recently, other researchers (for example, Bordin, 1990; Savickas, 1989; Watkins and Savickas, 1990) have begun developing and applying ideas fundamental to this theoretical perspective.

None emerge as particularly significant in the UK context, though since Roe was identified by practitioners in the research carried out by Kidd et al. (1993), a brief outline of her ideas, and some originating from Mark Savickas, follow.


Anne Roe began her development of a theory of personality career choices through observation of artists and research scientists focusing on “possible relationships between occupational behavior (not just choice) and personality” (Roe & Lunneborg, 1990, p. 68). In looking at previous studies, Roe identified and categorized a list of needs involving persons’ feelings concerning work. Roe (1956) agreed that people do not work just to earn a living but that “much more is involved in and expected of a job than a pay check” (p. 23). From these studies and her own work, Roe determined that one’s occupation forms a major focus through thoughts and activities. As part of her own theory, Roe turned to Maslow’s (1948) hierarchy of needs including physiological needs, safety needs, need for belongingness and love, need for importance, respect, self-esteem, independence, need for information, need for understanding, need for beauty, and a need for self-actualization. Maslow’s theory indicated people feel more urgency to satisfy the basic needs of food, shelter, and safety before they are capable of expressing needs on the higher levels, and, consequently, these other needs remain unachievable to the average individual until those basic needs are satisfied. Roe (1956) decided her use of Maslow’s hierarchy was fairly obvious, i.e., “in our society there is no single situation which is potentially so capable of giving some satisfaction at all levels of basic needs as is the occupation” (p. 29) of the person involved.

Roe (1956) emphasized the interaction of heredity and environment as the focus of her work. Roe (Sharf, 1992) decided intelligence and temperament were limited in development by heredity, but interests and aptitudes tended to be determined by satisfaction or frustration through how well individual needs are fulfilled during interactions with others. Needs that are easily satisfied will not become motivators, but needs which are difficult to satisfy, or frustrated, may indeed become motivators. For example, a person may seek information about a certain subject. If that subject is introduced during school class time, the student may develop further interest if information is presented in such a way as to stimulate that interest, but if the student becomes frustrated by inability to grasp the information or difficulty with absorption of the information, interest may not develop. If satisfied with the effort made, the student will work harder to learn more about the subject. If rewarded when meeting this inmost need, the student may be further motivated by seeking additional praise or higher grades.

General childhood development theory led Roe (1956) to theorize the psychological climate of the home: i.e., concentration on the child, avoidance of the child, or acceptance of the child brings about certain types of personalities within the child. Parental concentration on the child can be overprotection which encourages dependence within the child, restricting curiosity and exploration; or over demand from the child which seeks perfection and sets high standards of behavior. Parental avoidance of the child can be emotional rejection by lack of love and affection or by criticism; or neglect when the child is ignored due to parental concern with their own affairs, work, other children, and such. Parental acceptance of the child can be casual in which a minimum of love is offered; or loving with a warmer attitude while not fostering dependency. Roe further stated the parental attitudes of concentration or avoidance within homes caused children to be self-centered, aware of others’ views of themselves. These same children grow to be people who wish to be in positions of strength when dealing with others and may develop aggressive or defensive attitudes toward others, preferring to deal with data or things in their choice of occupations rather than people. Children growing up in accepting homes are not as likely to be aggressive or defensive, but more interested in working with people rather than data or things in their occupations (Roe, 1956). In support of Roe, Dawis (1997) stated that needs interacting with parent/child practices and attitudes produce a basic personality orientation, i.e., toward persons or toward nonpersons, influencing the development of the work personality and vocational behavior of the individual.

Based on this, Roe’s theory (Osipow, 1973, Walsh & Osipow, 1983; Roe, 1956; Roe & Lunneborg, 1990) posited:
1. Limits of potential development are set by genetic inheritance, including intellectual abilities, temperament, interests, and abilities.
2. General cultural background and socioeconomic position of the family affect the unique experiences of the individual.
3. Individual experiences which are governed by involuntary attention determine the pattern of development of interests, attitudes, and other personality variables that have not been genetically controlled.
a. Early satisfactions and frustrations as evidenced by the family situation, particularly relations with the parents; i.e., overprotectiveness; avoidance or acceptance of the child are evidence of individual experiences.
b. Degrees of needs satisfaction determine which of Maslow’s needs will become the strongest motivators.
4. The eventual pattern of psychic energies; i.e., attention-directed, is the major determinant of interests.
5. The intensity with which an individual feels (Maslowian) needs and the satisfying of these needs determine the degree of motivation to accomplish.

Dissatisfied with available classifications of occupations, Roe (1956) also developed a listing of eight occupational groups including service, business contact, organization, technology, outdoor, science, general culture and arts/entertainment. These groups were further divided into six levels based on degree of responsibility, capability, and skill needed to perform at each level, ranging from unskilled to professional and managerial levels.

Descriptive research conducted by Roe on artists and research scientists prior to her theory development was “primarily a series of investigations into personality characteristics, background factors, aptitude, and intellectual abilities as theory related to vocational choice” (Osipow, 1973, p. 24). Brown (1990b) felt Roe demonstrated little interest in practical application of her own ideas, doing little research following pronouncement of her theory. Brown, Lum, and Voyle (1997) argue that Roe’s theory has been too easily abandoned through misconstrued, invalid empirical tests of her hypotheses about parent/child interactions and their relation to career choice behavior. Additionally, Brown and Voyle (1997) state that Roe’s theory provides the only available model for linking early childhood experiences, development an individual’s need structure, and vocational behavior.

Although Roe (Roe & Lunneborg, 1990) developed only one measurement device, the Parent-Child Relations Questionnaire (PCR 1), used to explore basic orientations of people based on their early childhood experiences, other practitioners have developed many instruments based on Roe’s theory. Examples of instruments based on Roe’s theory include the Career Occupational Preference System (COPS) (Knapp & Knapp, 1984) and the Computerized Vocational Information System (CVIS) (Harris, 1968) which are based on Roe’s interest framework; Ramak and Courses, Meir and Barak (1973) and Miller-Tiedeman’s (1976) Individual Career Exploration (ICE).

Osipow (1973) and Walsh and Osipow (1983) criticized the lack of empirical support for her theory. A longitudinal study with Harvard sophomores conducted by Hagen (1960) failed to support Roe’s theory. Work by Kinnane and Pable (1962) supported parts of Roe’s theory but did not rule out other theories. Studies conducted by Levine (1963), Switzer, Grigg, Miller, and Young (1962), and Utton (1962) supported Roe’s theory of person- and non-person orientation, but provided no support on how or if background factors described by Roe influenced the development or non-development of these preferences. Studies conducted by Belz and Geary (1984), Cairo (1982), Erb and Smith (1984), and Gordon and Avery (1986) used Roe’s occupational groups and levels successfully in predicting target occupations, change within adjacent work fields, and job perceptions. Forty years later, Roe’s theory and classification of occupations is still the subject of research with Tracey and Rounds (1994) study of interest fields and Meir, Esformes, and Friedland’s (1994) use of the Courses Interest Inventory based on Roe’s classification to investigate Holland’s constructs of congruence. Brown et al. (1997), Dawis (1997), and Lunneborg (1997) called for additional research to more accurately test Roe’s theory as a means of better understanding early childhood experiences as they may relate to the development of an individual’s need structure.

Lunneborg and Roe (1990) agreed with Walsh and Osipow (1983) that Roe’s greatest achievement may lie, not in empirical research, but in career counselors’ use of the two-way job classification system and “obtain(ing) a family history from their clients (based) on Roe’s dimensions of people vs. ideas” (Walsh & Osipow, p. 60). Roe (1956) herself felt more attention should be paid to the role of occupation in the life of an individual and that occupations should be open to all, particularly women and minorities, since appropriate work can be satisfying not only to society but to the individual.


  1. SKILLED: requires apprenticeships or other special training or experience. E.g. engaging the youth and other secondary school leavers in one vocational assignment or the other.
  2. SEMI-SKILLED: Requires some training and experience, but less than that of level 4. Much less autonomy and initiative are permitted in these occupations. E.g. allowing the clique/group to engage in activities themselves without strict or close supervision.
  3. UNSKILLED: Requires no special training or education and not more ability is needed to follow simple directions and engage in simple repetitive actions. Group differentiation depends primarily on the occupational setting. E.g. when the group is engaged in what they already know.


Psychodynamic theories. Retrieved from https://www.guidance-research.org/EG/impprac/ImpP2/traditional/psychodynamic on 24th January, 2014.

Irish P. (2012). Anne Roe’s Theory of Occupational Choice. Retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/doc/109969417/Anne-Roe-s-Theory-of-Occupational-Choice on 24th January, 2014.


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