PSYCHOANALYTIC THEORY OF PERSONALITY

CHAPTER 3

A PSYCHODYNAMIC THEORY: FREUD’S PSYCHOANALYTIC THEORY OF PERSONALITY QUESTIONS TO BE ADDRESSED IN THIS CHAPTER SIGMUND FREUD (1856–1939): A VIEW OF THE THEORIST FREUD’S VIEW OF THE PERSON The Mind as an Energy System The Individual in Society FREUD’S VIEW OF THE SCIENCE OF PERSONALITY FREUD’S PSYCHOANALYTIC THEORY OF PERSONALITY Structure Levels of Consciousness and the Concept of the Unconscious Dreams The Motivated Unconscious Relevant Psychoanalytic Research Current Status of the Concept of the Unconscious The Psychoanalytic Unconscious and the Cognitive Unconscious Id, Ego, and Superego Process Life and Death Instincts The Dynamics of Functioning Anxiety, Mechanisms of Defense, and Contemporary Research on Defensive Processes Denial Projection Isolation, Reaction Formation, and Sublimation Repression Growth and Development The Development of the Instincts and Stages of Development Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development The Importance of Early Experience The Development of Thinking Processes MAJOR CONCEPTS REVIEW Chapter Focus The number-one player on the tennis team is getting ready to play for the state title. She has never met her opponent before, so she decides to introduce herself before the match. She strolls onto the court where her opponent is warming up and says. “Hi, I’m Amy. Glad to beat you.” You can imagine how embarrassed Amy was! Flustered, she corrected her innocent mistake and walked over to her side of the court to warm up. “Wow,” Amy thought, “where did that come from?” Was Amy’s verbal slip so innocent? Freud wouldn’t have thought so. In his view, Amy’s silly mistake was actually a very revealing display of unconscious aggressive drives. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is illustrative of a psychodynamic and clinical approach to personality. Behavior is interpreted as a result of the dynamic interplay among motives, drives, needs, and conflicts. The research consists mainly of clinical investigations as shown in an emphasis on the individual, in the attention given to individual differences, and in attempts to assess and understand the total individual. Contemporary researchers, however, devote much attention to the challenge of studying psychodynamic processes in the experimental laboratory. QUESTIONS TO BE ADDRESSED IN THIS CHAPTER How did Freud develop his theory, and how did historical and personal events shape this development? What are the key features of Freud’s theoretical model of the human mind? How do people protect themselves against experiences of anxiety, and in what ways (according to Freud) are these anxiety-reduction strategies a centerpiece of personality dynamics? How important is early childhood experience for later personality development? SIGMUND FREUD (1856–1939): A VIEW OF THE THEORIST Sigmund Freud was born in Moravia (in what is now the city of Fribor of the Czech Republic) in 1856. His family soon moved to Vienna, where he spent most of his life. Freud was the first child of his parents, but his father, 20 years older than his mother, had two sons by a previous marriage. His parents then had seven more children after his birth. Within this large group of family members, the intellectually precocious Sigmund was his mother’s favorite—and he knew it. Later in life, Freud famously commented, from experience, that a man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother “keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success” (Freud, 1900, p. 26). Sigmund Freud As a boy, Freud had big dreams. He wanted to become a great general or government official. But anti-Semitism limited the possibility for advancement in these fields for Freud, who was Jewish. He thus pursued a career in medicine instead. Freud’s medical training, at the University of Vienna, profoundly shaped his later theorizing about personality. A key figure in this training was a professor of physiology named Ernst Brücke, who took part in an intellectual movement known as mechanism. The mechanist movement addressed questions about the nature and possibilities of the science of biology. It is best understood by contrasting it with an opposing movement, “vitalism.” Vitalists argued that biological science could not fully explain biological life because life arose from nonmaterial forces (like a soul, or spirit, that animates an otherwise lifeless body). Mechanists argued that the principles of natural science could, in fact, provide comprehensive explanation. Basic physical and chemical factors could fully explain the functioning of organisms, including life itself (Gay, 1998). The mechanist position, which is taken for granted today, opened the door for a complete natural science of persons. Brücke’s rejection of vitalism and embrace of the scientific principles of mechanism provide a foundation for the dynamic view of personality Freud developed later in life (Sulloway, 1979). After earning his medical degree, Freud worked in the field of neurology. Some of his early research involved a comparison of adult and fetal brains. He concluded that the earliest structures persist throughout life—a view that was a precursor to his later views of personality development. However, for financial reasons, including the need to support a family, Freud abandoned this research career and became a practicing physician. In 1897, the year following his father’s death, Freud was plagued by periods of depression and anxiety. To understand his problems, Freud began an activity that proved utterly fundamental to the development of psychoanalysis: a self-analysis. Freud analyzed the contents of his own experiences, concentrating in particular on his dreams, which he thought would reveal unconscious thoughts and desires. He continued this self-analysis throughout his life, devoting the last half-hour of each workday to it. In his therapeutic work, Freud tried various techniques to uncover psychological causes of his patient’s problems. One was hypnosis, which he learned about from the renowned French psychiatrist Jean Charcot. But finding that not all patients could be hypnotized, he explored other methods. The one that proved crucial to his work was free association. In the free-association technique, the person being analyzed allows all of his or her thoughts to come forth without inhibition or falsification of any kind. By letting thoughts flow freely, one may discover hidden associations among ideas. For Freud, the free-association technique was both a therapy and a scientific method; it provided the primary evidence for his theory of personality. In 1900, Freud published his most significant work, The Interpretation of Dreams. Here, Freud no longer was concerned merely with treating patients. He was developing a theory of mind—a conceptual model of the mind’s basic structures and working principles. The book, though brilliant, was slow to catch on; in its first eight years of publication, The Interpretation of Dreams sold only 600 copies. Freud’s views about the psychology of childhood (which you’ll learn below) were ridiculed. Medical institutions that taught Freud’s views were boycotted. An early follower, Ernest Jones, was forced to resign a neurological appointment for inquiring into the sexual life of his patients, in the manner that Freud’s theory suggested. At a personal level, during World War I Freud lost his financial savings and feared for the lives of two sons in the war. In 1920, a daughter, age 26, died. This historical context may have partly contributed to Freud’s development, at age 64, of a theory of the death instinct—a wish to die, in opposition to the life instinct or a wish for survival. Yet Freud persevered and gradually achieved widespread recognition. Lectures in the United States in 1909 greatly enhanced his profile outside of Europe. An International Psychoanalytic Association was founded in 1910. During these and subsequent years, Freud published prolifically, had a waiting list of patients, and achieved increasing fame. Thanks to his efforts and those of his followers, by the time of his death in London on September 23, 1939 (he had fled Vienna a year earlier to escape the Nazis), he was an international celebrity. Today, Freud’s ideas and his psychoanalytic terminology are known even to people who never have read a word of his writing or taken a single psychology course. Among 20th-century figures, Freud’s contributions to Western intellectual life are exceeded perhaps only by those of Einstein. Many glorify Freud as a compassionate, courageous genius. Others, noting his battles and breaks with colleagues, see him as an authoritarian, intolerant figure (Fromm, 1959). Whatever one’s view of his personality, Freud unquestionably pursued his work with great courage. He bravely presented personal details of his own life to illustrate his theory. He withstood the criticism of colleagues and the scorn of society at large. He did this, as he wrote to an associate, “in the service” of “a dominating passion … a tyrant [that] has come my way … it is psychology” (Gay, 1998, p. 74). FREUD’S VIEW OF THE PERSON Throughout this book, when we introduce a theory of personality, we first will review the life of the theorist (as above, for Freud). Then, prior to detailing the given theory’s treatment of personality structures and processes, we will present its overall view of the person. Each major theory of personality contains a broad conception of human nature, or a view of the person. We present these conceptions at the outset for two reasons: (1) They provide a foundation for understanding. You quickly will gain knowledge of the most important ideas of a given theory—knowledge you can build upon when reading subsequent material. (2) These “View of the Person” sections answer a question you might be asking yourself: “Why should I bother to learn about this personality theory?” The answer is that, in all cases in this book, the given personality theory addresses big ideas: the nature of mind, human nature, and society. These “big picture” ideas are summarized in the View of the Person sections of the text. THE MIND AS AN ENERGY SYSTEM Freud’s theory of personality is fundamentally a theory of mind—a scientific model of the overall architecture of mental structures and processes. In formulating a model of mind, Freud explicitly “[considers] mental life from a biological point of view” (Freud, 1915/1970, p. 328). He recognizes the mind as part of the body, asks what the body is like, and derives principles of mental functioning from overall principles of physiological functioning. As we noted, to Freud the body is a mechanistic energy system. It follows, then, that the mind, being part of the body, also is a mechanistic energy system. The mind gets mental energies from the overall physical energies of the body. An energy-system view of mind contrasts with alternative perspectives one could adopt. For example, instead one could view the mind as an information system. In an information system, material is merely stored somewhere and drawn upon when needed. Information on the hard drive of your computer, or information written into a book on the shelf of a library, is like this—it merely sits there inertly, in storage, to be accessed as needed. In Freud’s energy model, however, mental contents do not merely sit in storage inertly. Mental contents do things. The mind contains instinctual drives that are “piece[s] of activity” that exert “pressure … [an] amount of force” (Freud, 1915/1970, p. 328) on the overall psychic apparatus. The overall mind, then, is a system that contains and directs these energetic forces. If one takes this view, then the major scientific problem is to explain what happens to mental energy: how it flows, gets sidetracked, or becomes dammed up. Freud’s view of mental energy includes three core ideas. One is that there is a limited amount of energy. If much energy is used in one way, less is available for other purposes. Energy used for cultural purposes, for example, is no longer available for sexual purposes, and vice versa. A second idea is that energy can be blocked from one channel of expression and, if it is blocked, the energy does not “just go away.” Instead, it gets expressed in some other manner, along a path of least resistance. Finally, fundamental to Freud’s energy model is the idea that the mind functions to achieve a state of quiescence (Greenberg & Mitchell, 1983). Bodily needs create a state of tension, and the person is driven to reduce that tension to return to a quiet internal state. A simple example is that if you are lacking food, you experience the state of tension we call hunger, and this drives you to seek some object in the environment that satisfies your hunger, eliminating the tension and returning you to a state of quiescence. (Of course, Freud explores examples of dramatically greater complexity than this one, as you will see.) The goal of all behavior, then, is the pleasure that results from the reduction of tension or the release of energy. The personality theory of Freud that you will learn about in this chapter is basically a detailed model of the personality structures and processes that are responsible for this dynamic flow of mental energy. Why the assumption that the mind is an energy system? It derives from developments in physics in Freud’s time. The 19th-century physicist Hermann von Helmholtz had presented the principle of conservation of energy: Matter and energy can be transformed but not destroyed. Not only physicists but also members of other disciplines were studying the laws of energy changes in systems. Freud’s medical training included the idea that human physiology could be understood in terms of physical forces that adhere to the principle of conservation of energy. The age of energy and dynamics provided scientists with a new conception of humans: “that man is an energy system and that he obeys the same physical laws which regulate the soap bubble and the movement of the planets” (Hall, 1954, pp. 12–13). Freud developed this general view into a well-specified theory of personality. In psychoanalysis, then, ideas have mental energy that remains stored in the mind; that is, the energy is conserved within the mind. However, under special circumstances the energy associated with an idea can be released. The question of how this occurs is central to psychoanalytic theory. Interestingly, the answer to this question did not first come from Freud but from an associate of his, the Viennese physician Joseph Breuer. In the summer of 1882, in an event of incalculably great importance to the development of psychoanalytic thought, Breuer told Freud about a patient of his named Anna O. Anna O. suffered from a bizarre collection of symptoms whose biological causes could not be determined: partial paralysis, blurred vision, persistent cough, and difficulty conversing in her native language, German, despite being able to speak fluently in her second language, English. Symptoms of this sort are known as hysterical symptoms, that is, symptoms of the disorder hysteria. Since the days of ancient Greek medicine, the term hysteria has been used to refer to a disorder in which people experience physical symptoms (especially involving disturbed motor movement or perceptual experience) that are caused by emotional problems rather than by ordinary physical disease or disability (Owens & Dein, 2006). In contemporary psychology and psychiatry, hysteria is known as conversion disorder, because an emotional problem is transformed, or converted, into a psychological problem involving motor movement or perception. (Conversation disorder is also known as a type of “somatic” disorder because psychological content affects the functioning of the body, or soma.) Anna O. herself stumbled upon a treatment for her hysterical symptoms. She found that she would experience relief from a symptom if she could trace it to a traumatic event in her past. If she managed to become aware of a long-forgotten event that was the original cause of the symptom, and if she relived the original emotional trauma associated with that event, the symptom would then either be reduced in severity or completely go away. Breuer, and then Freud, referred to this psychological experience as a catharsis. Catharsis refers to a release and freeing of emotions by talking about one’s problems. (In colloquial terms, we might say that in catharsis the person gets an experience “off his chest” or gets it “out of his system.”) By reexperiencing a traumatic event that she had stored away in her memory, Anna O. experienced a cathartic release of the pent-up mental energy that was causing her symptoms. Freud applied the cathartic method of treating hysterical symptoms to his own patients and reported great success. The notion of catharsis has two implications for understanding the human mind. One is that, to Freud, it further confirms his view that the mind is an energy system. It is the release of the energy associated with long-forgotten memories that allows for the patient’s improvement. The second implication is the following. Before a cathartic experience, Freud’s patients appeared totally unaware that their symptoms were caused by the contents of their mind. The traumatic events that originally caused their symptoms seemingly were completely forgotten. Yet the symptoms continued. This means that mental contents of which people were unaware were continuously active within their own minds. The mind, then, appears to have more than one part. It not only has a region of ideas of which people are consciously aware but also a more mysterious, hidden region of ideas that lie outside of awareness. Freud refers to these ideas as unconscious. Freud’s notion (which we review in detail below) that our day-to-day psychological life is governed by ideas that are unconscious revolutionized people’s understanding of human nature. When mental energy cannot be released, it does not merely disappear. It is conserved (as suggested by the physics principle of conservation of energy). Energy that would otherwise be released in the pursuit of sexual pleasure, but that is inhibited, may be channeled into other activities. A wide range of activities—indeed, Freud believed the whole range of cultural productivity—were expressions of sexual and aggressive energy that were prevented from expression in a more direct way. Personality and the Brain Hysteria (Conversion Disorder) When you first learn about hysteria, it probably sounds kind of weird. People experience disruptions in movement or perception—paralysis; blurred vision—that are caused by emotional problems? Could this be true? One reason it might not be true is that people are faking. Maybe they really have emotional problems, but, if nobody is paying attention to their problems, they feign injury or illness to attract more attention from others. When Freud first started studying hysteria, some of his peers in fact thought that hysterics were fakers. How could you find out if hysterical symptoms are real or fake? One possibility is to turn to contemporary evidence on personality and the brain. Researchers (Voon et al., 2010) have used brain-imaging techniques to study patients with conversion disorder (the contemporary term for hysteria; Owens & Dein, 2006). They studied 16 people diagnosed with the disorder. These individuals exhibited unexplained motor-movement symptoms such as tremors, tics, or abnormal movements when walking. The researchers compared this group of patients to a group of 16 psychologically and biologically healthy volunteers. Individuals from both groups had their brains scanned using fMRI (see Chapter 2) as they viewed pictures of faces that were displayed on a video screen. The faces displayed varying emotions: happiness, fear, or neutral (i.e., an emotionally neutral facial expression). With this research procedure, the researchers could determine whether brain activity in patients and healthy volunteers differed in response to emotional stimuli. There are, logically, two types of results. One possibility is that the brains of the two groups of people (patients and healthy volunteers) would not differ. The other, of course, is that their brains would differ, and perhaps in a way that revealed a biological basis for the connection hypothesized by Freud: a connection between emotional distress and symptoms of hysteria. And differ they did. Brain activation among conversion disorder patients differed from brain activation in healthy volunteers when emotional faces were displayed (Voon et al., 2010). The nature of the difference is fascinating. Within the brains of patients, there were stronger connections between regions of the brain associated with emotion and those associated with motor movement—exactly what Freud might have expected! As the researchers explain, these connections could generate the symptoms of the disorder. Among conversion disorder patients, emotional arousal would connect to, and disrupt, the normal functioning of those parts of the brain that produce motor movements. Subsequent research results similarly led to the conclusion that, in conversion disorder, regions of the brain involved in emotional response may “hijack” (Voon, Brezing, Gallea, & Hallett, 2011, p. 2402) the brain’s normal systems for controlling movements of the body. This research employed a technology unimaginable in Freud’s day. But it revealed exactly the sort of connection between emotion and bodily movement that he had in mind all along. THE INDIVIDUAL IN SOCIETY A second major aspect of Freud’s view of the person concerns the relation between the individual and society. Freud’s view contrasts with an alternative perspective that had been central to Western culture. The alternative sees people as essentially good. Society, however, corrupts them. People are born innocent but experience a world of temptations and fall from grace. This is the story of the Old Testament: Adam and Eve, created in God’s image, are born with inherent innocence and goodness but are corrupted through the temptation of Satan. This view also is prominent is Western philosophy. The great French philosopher Rousseau argued that, prior to the development of contemporary civilization, people were relatively content and experienced primarily feelings of compassion toward others. Civilization, he thought, changed things for the worse by creating competition for resources that, in turn, fostered feelings of jealousy and suspicion. Freud turned this conception on its head. In psychoanalysis, sexual and aggressive drives are an inborn part of human nature. Individuals, functioning according to a pleasure principle, seek the pleasurable gratification of those drives. The role of society is to curb these biologically natural tendencies. A major function of “civilization [is] to restrict sexual life” (Freud, 1930/1949, p. 51). Society teaches the child that biologically naturally drives are socially unacceptable, and society maintains social norms and taboos that drive this lesson home. Civilized society, then, does not cause innocent children to “fall from grace.” Children are far from grace when born; they possess erotic desires and aggressive drives that society takes steps to restrict. The response of civilization to these sexual drives of the individual is akin to the response of a politically dominant segment of society trying to maintain its power against a suppressed underclass: “fear of a revolt by the suppressed elements drives it to stricter precautionary measures” (Freud, 1930/1949, p. 51). Freud’s overall theory, then, includes not only a radical view of the mind but also this equally radical rethinking of the relation between the individual and society. FREUD’S VIEW OF THE SCIENCE OF PERSONALITY Freud’s view of science, within the study of personality, is complex. On the one hand, he was completely committed to a natural science of persons. Physics was his model. Freud was “passionately committed to a scientific model that would mirror physics, the paragon of the natural sciences (Tauber, 2010, p. 27). This commitment caused Freud to appreciate the relationship between theory and research, and the need for theoretical concepts that are sharply defined. Yet, in the conduct of his work, Freud proceeded in ways that you might not expect for someone so thoroughly committed to a scientific worldview. Scientists often construct theories carefully and only after accumulating great bodies of evidence. Freud, however, theorized boldly. He created a theory of enormous breadth, based on a body of evidence—his encounters with his patients—that was relatively narrow. Freud looked forward to scientific advances, in his lifetime and beyond, that might confirm his core insights. A second way in which Freud’s work violates one’s expectations about a scientific worldview concerns the type of data that he did, and did not, draw upon. Unlike all the other personality theorists you will learn about in this book, Freud neither ran experiments in a laboratory nor created or used standard psychological tests. He placed faith in only one of the three forms of evidence you learned about in Chapter 2: case study evidence. Freud analyzed case studies via the method of free association. This evidence, he felt, was necessary and sufficient for building a scientific theory of personality. The free-association method pursued by Freud and his followers provided a wealth of information about individual clients. Probably no other method in psychology even approximates the information about the individual that is yielded in a psychoanalytic case study. Yet contemporary scientists generally doubt that the evidence it yields is sufficient for theory building. They particularly question Freud’s lack of interest in laboratory research. “Instead of training scientists,” one scholar writes, “Freud ended up training practitioners in a relatively fixed system of ideas” (Sulloway, 1991, p. 275). Only after Freud’s lifetime did large numbers of research psychologists investigate the psychoanalytic phenomena through experimental methods; you’ll see their findings later in our coverage of psychoanalytic theory. FREUD’S PSYCHOANALYTIC THEORY OF PERSONALITY Chapter 1 explained that personality theories address personality (1) structures, (2) processes, and (3) development. Let’s see how Freud’s theory addresses these three topics now. STRUCTURE Freud’s goal in analyzing personality structure was to provide a conceptual model for understanding the human mind. He asked, “What are the basic structures of the mind, and what do they do?” The highly original answers he provided are complex. Freud provided not one but two conceptual models of the mind; the models complemented one another. One model addressed levels of consciousness: Are the contents of mind something that we are aware of (conscious) or not (unconscious)? The other concerns functional systems in the mind: What does a given mental system do? We review these models in turn. CURRENT QUESTIONS WHAT PRICE THE SUPPRESSION OF EXCITING THOUGHTS? Freud suggested that the price of progress in civilization is increased inhibition of the pleasure principle and a heightened sense of guilt. Does civilization require such an inhibition? What are the costs to the individual of efforts to suppress wishes and inhibit “unbridled gratification” of desires? Research by Daniel Wegner and his associates suggests that the suppression of exciting thoughts may be involved in the production of negative emotional responses and the development of psychological symptoms such as phobias (irrational fears) and obsessions (preoccupation with uncontrollable thoughts). In this research, subjects were told not to think about sex. Trying not to think about sex produced emotional arousal, just as it did in subjects given permission to think about sex. Although arousal decreased after a few minutes in both groups, what followed differed for subjects in the two groups. In the first group, the effort to suppress exciting thoughts led to the intrusion of these thoughts into consciousness and the reintroduction of surges of emotion. This was not found when subjects were given the opportunity to think about sex. The researchers suggest that the suppression of exciting thoughts can promote excitement; that is, the very act of suppression may make these thoughts even more stimulating than when we purposefully dwell on them. In sum, such efforts at suppression may not serve us well either emotionally or psychologically. Source: Petrie, Booth, & Pennebaker, 1998; Wegner, 1992, 1994; Wegner et al., 1990. Levels of Consciousness and the Concept of the Unconscious What’s going on in your mind? What thoughts are in your head? We generally answer this question by paying attention to our flow of thinking; for example, right now you may be thinking about the material in this chapter or about things you would prefer to be doing if you didn’t have to read this chapter for class. This flow of thoughts—the mental contents that you are aware of just by paying attention to your own thinking—are called “conscious” thoughts. One of Freud’s great insights is that the flow of conscious thoughts is not a complete answer to the question, What’s going on in your mind? Far from it. To Freud, conscious thoughts are just a fragment of mental contents—a tip of the iceberg. According to psychoanalytic theory, there are substantial variations in the degree to which we are aware of mental phenomena. Freud proposed three levels of awareness. The conscious level, as noted, includes thoughts of which we are aware at any given moment. A preconscious level contains mental contents of which we easily could become aware if we attended to them. For example, before reading the present sentence, you probably were not thinking about your phone number; it was not part of your consciousness. But you easily could think of your phone number (indeed, you may be doing so right now!); it is a simple matter to attend to information that is in the preconscious and to bring it to consciousness. The third level is the unconscious. Unconscious mental contents are parts of the mind of which we are unaware and cannot become aware except under special circumstances. Why not? According to Freud, it is because they are anxiety provoking. We possess thoughts and desires that are so traumatic or socially unacceptable that consciously thinking about them provokes anxiety. “The reason why such ideas cannot become conscious is that a certain force opposes them” (Freud, 1923, p. 4). Our desire to protect ourselves from the anxiety these thoughts elicit forces them to reside outside of conscious awareness, in the unconscious. Freud was not the first person to recognize that parts of mental life are unconscious. He was, however, the first to explore qualities of unconscious life in scientific detail and to explain a range of everyday behavior in terms of unconscious mental forces. How did he do this? Freud attempted to understand the properties of the unconscious by analyzing a variety of psychological phenomena: slips of the tongue, neuroses, psychoses, works of art, rituals. Of particular importance was his analysis of dreams. Dreams The content of dreams vividly reveals that the mind contains unconscious contents that differ dramatically from conscious thinking. In psychoanalytic theory, dreams have two levels of content: a manifest content, which is the storyline of a dream; and a latent content, which consists of the unconscious ideas, emotions, and drives that are manifested in the dream’s storyline. What Freud found in analyzing dreams is that unconscious life can be utterly bizarre. The unconscious is alogical (opposites can stand for the same thing). It disregards time (events of different periods may coexist). It disregards space (size and distance relationships are neglected so that large things fit into small things and distant places are brought together). It deals in a world of symbols, where many ideas may be telescoped into a single word and where a part of any object may stand for many things. Through processes of symbolization, a penis can be represented by a snake or nose; a woman by a church, chapel, or boat; and an engulfing mother by an octopus. An everyday action such as writing may symbolize a sexual act: The pen is the male organ and the paper is the woman who receives the ink (the semen) that flows out in the quick up-and-down movements of the pen (Groddeck, 1961). In The Book of the It, Groddeck gives many fascinating examples of the workings of the unconscious and offers the following as an example of the functioning of the unconscious in his own life. I cannot recall her [my nurse’s] appearance. I know nothing more than her name, Bertha, the shining one. But I have a clear recollection of the day she went away. As a parting present she gave me a copper three-pfennig piece. A Dreier…. Since that day I have been pursued by the number three. Words like trinity, triangle, triple alliance, convey some thing disreputable to me, and not merely the words but the ideas attached to them, yes, and the whole complex of ideas built up around them by the capricious brain of a child. For this reason, the Holy Ghost, as the Third Person of the Trinity, was already suspect to me in early childhood; trigonometry was a plague in my school days…. Yes, three is a sort of fatal number for me. Source: GRODDECK, 1923/1961, p. 9 Freud’s theory of dreams had a second component. In addition to positing two levels of dreams—their manifest and latent content—Freud proposed a particular relation between the two levels. The latent content consists of unconscious wishes. The manifest content is a wish fulfillment; the storyline of the dream (the manifest content) symbolically represents the fulfillment of unconscious wishes that it may be impossible to fulfill in everyday waking life. In the dream, the person can satisfy a hostile or sexual wish in a disguised and therefore safe way. A vengeful unconscious desire to kill someone, for example, may be expressed in a dream of a battle in which a particular figure is killed. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud analyzes a large number of dreams in the style of a detective, with each element of the dream treated as a clue to the underlying wish that the dream represents, but in disguised form. The Motivated Unconscious Although Freud believed the unconscious to be a region of mind that stores mental contents, it is critical to recognize that the nature of the storage is very different than, for example, the storage of books in a library. In a library, books are assigned their place based on logical grounds (a library classification system). Once on the shelf, the books just sit there doing nothing (until someone takes one off the shelf). The unconscious is nothing like this. It is not purely logical. And the material does not “just sit there.” The unconscious is highly motivated. Motivational principles come into play in two respects. First, mental contents enter the unconscious for motivated reasons. The unconscious stores ideas that are so traumatic that, if they were to remain in conscious awareness, they would cause psychological pain. These thoughts might include, for example, memories of traumatic life experiences; feelings of envy, hostility, or sexual desire directed toward a forbidden person; or a desire to harm a loved one. In keeping with our basic desire to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, we are motivated to banish such thoughts from awareness. Second, thoughts in the unconscious influence ongoing conscious experience. Indeed, that statement may be the best one-line summary of Freud’s fundamental message to the world. Our ongoing psychological experiences—our conscious thoughts, feelings, and actions—are, according to Freud, fundamentally determined by mental contents of which we are unaware, the contents of the unconscious. Why did we have a strange slip of the tongue? A dream that seems to make no sense? A sudden experience of anxiety when nothing anxiety provoking seemed to be happening? Strong feelings of attraction toward, or repulsion from, someone we just met? Feelings of guilt that seem irrational because we can’t figure out anything that we did wrong? All such cases, to Freud, are motivated by unconscious mental forces. Relevant Psychoanalytic Research The unconscious is never observed directly. What evidence, then, supports the idea of an unconscious part of the mind? Let us review the range of evidence that might be considered supportive of the concept of the unconscious, beginning with Freud’s clinical observations. Freud realized the importance of the unconscious after observing hypnotic phenomena. As is well known, people under hypnosis can recall things they previously could not. Furthermore, they perform actions under posthypnotic suggestion without consciously knowing that they are behaving in accordance with that suggestion; that is, they fully believe that what they are doing is voluntary and independent of any suggestion by another person. When Freud discarded the technique of hypnosis and continued with his therapeutic work, he found that often patients became aware of memories and wishes previously buried. Frequently, such discoveries were associated with painful emotion. It is indeed a powerful clinical observation to see a patient suddenly experience tremendous anxiety, sob hysterically, or break into a rage as he or she recalls a forgotten event or gets in touch with a forbidden feeling. Thus, it was clinical observations such as these that suggested to Freud that the unconscious includes memories and wishes that not only are not currently part of our consciousness but are “deliberately buried” in our unconscious. While some slips of the tongue may represent merely a confusion among choice of words, others seem to illustrate Freud’s suggestion that slips express hidden wishes. What of experimental evidence? In the 1960s and 1970s, experimental research focused on unconscious perception or what was called perception without awareness. Can the person “know” something without knowing that he or she knows it? For example, can the person hear or perceive stimuli, and be influenced by these perceptions, without being aware of these perceptions? Currently this is known as subliminal perception, or the registration of stimuli at a level below that required for awareness. For example, in some early research one group of subjects was shown a picture with a duck image shaped by the branches of a tree. Another was shown a similar picture but without the duck image. For both groups the picture was presented at a rapid speed so that it was barely visible. This was done using a tachistoscope, an apparatus that allows the experimenter to show stimuli to subjects at very fast speeds, so that they cannot be consciously perceived. The subjects then were asked to close their eyes, imagine a nature scene, draw the scene, and label the parts. Would the two groups differ, that is, would subjects in the group “seeing” the picture with the duck image draw different pictures than would subjects in the other group? And, if so, would such a difference be associated with differential recall as to what was perceived? What was found was that more of the subjects viewing the duck picture had significantly more duck-related images (e.g., “duck,” “water,” “birds,” “feathers”) in their drawings than did subjects in the other group. However, these subjects did not report seeing the duck during the experiment, and the majority even had trouble finding it when they were asked to look for it. In other words, the stimuli that were not consciously perceived still influenced the imagery and thoughts of the subjects (Eagle, Wolitzky, & Klein, 1966). The mere fact that people can perceive and be influenced by stimuli of which they are unaware does not suggest that psychodynamic or motivational forces are involved. Is there evidence that such is or can be the case? Two relevant lines of research can be noted. The first, called perceptual defense, involves a process by which the individual defends against the anxiety that accompanies actual recognition of a threatening stimulus. In a relevant early experiment, subjects were shown two types of words in a tachistoscope: neutral words such as apple, dance, and child and emotionally toned words such as rape, whore, and penis. The words were shown first at very fast speeds and then at progressively slower speeds. A record was made of the point at which the subjects were able to identify each of the words and their sweat gland activity (a measure of tension) in response to each word. These records indicated that subjects took longer to recognize the emotionally toned words than the neutral words and showed signs of emotional response to the emotionally toned words before they were verbally identified (McGinnies, 1949). Despite criticism of such research (e.g., Did subjects identify the emotionally toned words earlier but were reluctant to verbalize them to the experimenter?), there appears to be considerable evidence that people can, outside of awareness, selectively respond to and reject specific emotional stimuli (Erdelyi, 1985). Another line of research has examined a phenomenon called subliminal psychodynamic activation (Silverman, 1976, 1982; Weinberger, 1992). In this work, researchers attempt to stimulate unconscious wishes without making them conscious. This generally is done by presenting material that is related to either threatening or anxiety-alleviating unconscious wishes and then observing participants’ subsequent reactions. The material is shown for extremely brief periods of time, in theory, long enough to activate the unconscious wish but short enough so that it is not recognized consciously. In the case of threatening wishes, the material is expected to stir up unconscious conflict and thus to increase psychological disturbance. In the case of an anxiety-alleviating wish, the material is expected to diminish unconscious conflict and thus to decrease psychological disturbance. For example, the content “I Am Losing Mommy” might be upsetting to some subjects, whereas the content “Mommy and I Are One” might be reassuring. In a series of studies, Silverman and colleagues produced such subliminal psychodynamic activation effects. In one study, this method was used to present conflict-intensifying material (“Loving Daddy Is Wrong”) and conflict-reducing material (“Loving Daddy Is OK”) to female undergraduates. For subjects prone to conflict over sexual urges, the conflict-intensifying material, presented outside of awareness, was found to disrupt memory for passages presented after the subliminal activation of the conflict. This was not true for the conflict-reducing material or for subjects not prone to conflict over sexual urges (Geisler, 1986). The key point here is that the content that is upsetting or relieving to various groups of subjects is predicted beforehand on the basis of psychoanalytic theory and that the effects occur only when the stimuli are perceived subliminally or unconsciously. Another interesting use of the subliminal psychodynamic activation model involves the study of eating disorders. In the first study in this area, healthy college-age women and women with signs of eating disorders were compared in terms of how many crackers they would eat following subliminal presentation of three messages: “Mama Is Leaving Me,” “Mama Is Loaning It,” “Mona Is Loaning It” (Patton, 1992). Based on psychoanalytic theory, the hypothesis tested was that subjects with an eating disorder struggle with feelings of loss and abandonment in relation to nurturance and therefore would seek substitute gratification in the form of eating the crackers once the conflict was activated subliminally through the message “Mama Is Leaving Me.” Indeed, the eating disorder subjects who received the abandonment stimulus (“Mama Is Leaving Me”) below threshold showed significantly more cracker eating than subjects without an eating disorder or subjects with an eating disorder exposed to the abandonment stimulus above threshold. This study was replicated with the additional use of pictorial stimuli—a picture of a sobbing baby and a woman walking away along with the “Mommy Is Leaving Me” message and a picture of a woman walking along with the neutral stimulus, in this case “Mommy Is Walking.” Once more, significantly more crackers were eaten by the women with eating disorders subliminally exposed to the abandonment phrase and picture than by the women with eating disorders exposed to these stimuli above threshold or by the women without an eating disorder exposed to the stimuli above or below threshold (Gerard, Kupper, & Nguyen, 1993). Some view the research on perceptual defense and subliminal psychodynamic activation as conclusive experimental evidence of the importance of psychodynamic, motivational factors in determining what is “deposited into” and “kept in” the unconscious (Weinberger, 1992). However, the experiments have frequently been criticized on methodological grounds, and at times some of the effects have been difficult to replicate or reproduce in other laboratories (Balay & Shevrin, 1988, 1989; Holender, 1986). Current Status of the Concept of the Unconscious The concept of a motivated unconscious is central to psychoanalytic theory. But how is this idea viewed more generally by psychologists in the field? At this point almost all psychologists, whether psychoanalytic or otherwise, would agree that many mental events occur outside of conscious awareness and that unconscious processes influence what we attend to and how we feel. A leading researcher who is not a follower of psychoanalytic theory concluded that “unconscious influences are ubiquitous. It is clear that people sometimes consciously plan and act. More often than not, however, behavior is influenced by unconscious processes; that is, we act and then, if questioned, make our excuses” (Jacoby, Lindsay, & Toth, 1992, p. 82). This viewpoint is supported by research, such as work in which researchers present words related to people’s unconscious themes for such a brief period of time that the words cannot be perceived consciously. The fact that people respond distinctively to those words implies that unconscious processes are at play (Luborsky & Barrett, 2006). So does this mean that most contemporary psychologists are Fredians? Not at all. Research does indicate that much of mental life occurs outside of consciousness. But, as many writers emphasize (e.g., Kihlstrom, 2002), this fact does not necessarily support Sigmund Freud’s particular conception of the unconscious—a conception based on an energy model of mind and in which two primary forms of unconscious mental energy drive a spectrum of psychological processes. CURRENT APPLICATIONS MOTIVATED UNCONSCIOUS PROCESSES IN POLITICAL JUDGMENTS When you think about candidates for political office, how do you think? Are your thoughts analytical, rational, and calm—free from emotions and motivations that might color your conclusions? Freud’s theory of personality suggests that our thinking is never free from emotional and motivational biases. Just as we psychologically defend against information threatening to ourselves, we may defend against information threatening to our favored candidates. Evidence of this comes from research conducted during a U.S. presidential election (Westen, Blagov, Havenski, Kilts, & Hamann, 2006). Researchers presented to participants information threatening to one of three target persons: (1) a political candidate they favored, (2) the opposing candidate, or (3) a well-known but neutral figure (e.g., a famous athlete). While they were exposed to, and made judgments about, this information, participants’ brain activity was recorded using fMRI. Participants’ psychological and biological responses differed depending on whether the threatening information related to their favored candidate. First, consider the psychology. When thinking about information threatening to their favored candidate, participants were defensive. They judged that such information cast a bad light on the opposing candidate, but that it did not have the same negative implications for their favored candidate. And what about the biology? When participants were making judgments about information threatening to their preferred candidate, regions of the brain associated with emotional response were particularly active. Emotional reactions, then, appeared to drive defensive information processing. Another study provides evidence not only that motivated reasoning about political candidates can occur, but that it can occur unconsciously (Weinberger & Westen, 2008). This research built on earlier evidence that stimuli presented subliminally (outside of awareness) can affect the likability ratings of a target presented afterward in awareness. The research was inspired by an actual 2000 Bush campaign advertisement, which subliminally presented (perhaps accidentally) the word RATS in association with Democrats. Could such a subliminal (unconscious) presentation affect one’s political views? In this research, conducted over the Internet, subjects completed an information page and then were presented with one of four subliminal stimuli: RATS, STAR (rats spelled backward), ARAB, or XXXX, followed by a photograph of a young man above perceptual threshold. Next, subjects were asked to evaluate the young man, presented as a political candidate, on a number of characteristics (e.g., honesty, competence, appeal as a candidate). Would the subliminal presentation of the four stimuli lead to different judgments concerning the supposed candidate? First, the investigators checked whether the participants could perceive the subliminal stimulus and threw out the data for the few for whom this was the case. In other words, the results pertained only to those subjects for whom the subliminal stimuli of interest were indeed perceived outside of awareness. Would the four subliminal stimuli affect ratings of the “candidate”? Would the effect be the same? As predicted, subliminal presentation of the RATS stimulus led to a more negative evaluation of the hypothetical candidate than did any of the other stimuli. In other words, there could be unconscious processing of information that affected subsequent judgments. In sum, the two experiments together supported the psychoanalytic view of motivated unconscious processing of information. Striking contemporary evidence of unconscious influences on everyday behavior comes from work by the social psychologist John Bargh and his colleagues (Bargh, 1997). For example, in one experiment research participants worked on a task with another individual. Unbeknownst to the participant, the other individual was part of the study—an experimental confederate. This confederate exhibited very poor abilities on the task. In this setting, then, the participant faced two conflicting goals. On the one hand, there is the goal of achieving: One is supposed to perform as well as possible. On the other hand, there is a personal or affiliation goal: Performing well might make the other person, who is doing poorly, feel bad, so one might achieve the goal of affiliating with the individual by lowering one’s own performance. Bargh and colleagues (Bargh & Barndollar, 1996) manipulated the goals in a manner that did not call participants’ conscious attention to them. Prior to the study, participants were asked to complete a word puzzle. In different experimental conditions, the words in the puzzle were related either to achievement or to affiliation. The idea is that the words would activate one versus the other goal, even if participants were unaware that this activation of goal contents was occurring. As predicted, compared to affiliation goals, activating achievement goals in the word puzzle caused participants to solve more problems when working on the task with the other individual. Importantly, participants in the study did not report being aware of the influence of the word puzzle task. Thus, their actions were caused by a goal of which they were not consciously aware. The Psychoanalytic Unconscious and the Cognitive Unconscious The previously discussed study and many others like it bring up an important point. On the one hand, the study demonstrates nonconscious influences on behavior, as Freud would have predicted. On the other hand, the content of the unconscious material in the study had little, if anything, to do with the material studied by Freud. Bargh and colleagues did not manipulate thoughts of sex or aggression. They did not study people’s emotional reactions to material of deep psychological significance. Instead, they manipulated everyday social goals on a mundane laboratory task. Their findings, then, indicate the existence of unconscious influences, but these are unconscious influences that may have little to do with the psychological experiences discussed by Freud. This distinction—between the traumatic sexual and aggressive unconscious content of interest to Freud, and the relatively mundane unconscious content studied by many contemporary researchers in personality and social psychology—suggests that one should distinguish between the psychoanalytic unconscious and what has been called the cognitive unconscious (Kihlstrom, 2008; Pervin, 2003). As we have seen, the psychoanalytic view of the unconscious emphasizes the irrational, illogical nature of unconscious functioning. In addition, analysts presume that the contents of the unconscious mainly involve sexual and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and motives. Finally, analysts emphasize that what is in the unconscious is there for motivated reasons, and these contents exert a motivational influence on daily behavior. In contrast to this perspective, according to the cognitive view of the unconscious there is no fundamental difference in quality between unconscious and conscious processes. According to this view, unconscious processes can be as intelligent, logical, and rational as conscious processes. Second, the cognitive view of the unconscious emphasizes the variety of contents that may be unconscious, with no special significance associated with sexual and aggressive contents.

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