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The Psychoanalytic Perspective Module 44. Personality. The Psychoanalytic Perspective Exploring the Unconscious The Neo-Freudian and Psychodynamic Theories Assessing Unconscious Processes Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Perspective. Personality.

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The Psychoanalytic Perspective

  • Exploring the Unconscious
  • The Neo-Freudian and Psychodynamic Theories
  • Assessing Unconscious Processes
  • Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Perspective

An individual’s characteristic pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting.

Each dwarf has a distinct personality.

psychodynamic perspective
Psychodynamic Perspective

Freud encountered patients suffering from nervous disorders whose complaints could not be explained in terms of purely physical causes.

Culver Pictures

Sigmund Freud


  • Freud proposed that excessive anxiety might be due to:
      • Lack of sexual gratification
      • Masturbation (all of his patients who suffered from nervous exhaustion had masturbated!)
      • Traumatic sexual experiences from early childhood

“Seduction hypothesis” – based on supposed sexual abuse in childhood from patients’ dream reports, slips of the tongue, and other indirect evidence.

  • Some patients had no recollections of such events, but Freud still believed this
  • Freud abandoned the seduction hypothesis, claiming that his patients had “misled” him
  • He then claimed that his patients had sexual fantasies as young children and had guilt over those fantasies.
exploring the unconscious
Exploring the Unconscious

A reservoir (unconscious mind) of mostly unacceptable thoughts, wishes, feelings and memories. Freud asked patients to say whatever came to their mind (free association) to tap the unconscious.

dream analysis
Dream Analysis

Another method to analyze the unconscious mind is through interpreting the manifest and latent contents of dreams.

The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli (1791)


The process of free association (chain of thoughts) led to painful, embarrassing unconscious memories. Once these memories were retrieved and released (treatment: psychoanalysis) the patient felt better.

assessing unconscious processes
Assessing Unconscious Processes

Evaluating personality from an unconscious mind perspective would require a psychological instrument (projective tests) that would reveal the hidden unconscious mind.

thematic apperception test tat
Thematic Apperception Test(TAT)

Developed by Henry Murray, TAT is a projective test in which people express their inner feelings and interests through the stories they make up about ambiguous scenes.

Lew Merrim/ Photo Researcher, Inc.

rorschach inkblot test
Rorschach Inkblot Test

10 inkblots - designed by Hermann Rorschach. It seeks to identify people’s inner feelings by analyzing their interpretations of the blots.

Lew Merrim/ Photo Researcher, Inc.

id ego and superego
Id, Ego and Superego

Id unconsciously strives to satisfy basic sexual and aggressive drives operating on the pleasure principle, demanding immediate gratification.

Superego provides standards for judgment (the conscience) and for future aspirations.

Largely conscious, ego functions as the “executive” and mediates the demands of id and superego.

model of mind
Model of Mind

The mind is like an iceberg. Mostly hidden and below the surface lies the unconscious mind. The preconscious, stores temporary memories.

personality structure
Personality Structure

Personality develops as a result of our efforts to resolve conflicts between our biological impulses (id) and social restraints (superego).

Defense Mechanisms
    • the ego’s protective methods of reducing anxiety by unconsciously distorting reality
defense mechanisms
Defense Mechanisms

Ego’s protective methods of reducing anxiety by unconsciously distorting reality.

1. Repressionbanishes anxiety-arousing thoughts, feelings, and memories from consciousness.

2. Regression leads an individual faced with anxiety to retreat to a more infantile psychosexual stage.

defense mechanisms20
Defense Mechanisms
  • Reaction Formation causes the ego to unconsciously switch unacceptable impulses into their opposites.
  • “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.”
          • -- (W. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III Scene ii)

4. Projection leads people to disguise their own threatening impulses by attributing them to others.

defense mechanisms21
Defense Mechanisms

5. Rationalization offers self-justifying explanations in place of the real, more threatening, unconscious reasons for one’s actions.

6. Displacement shifts sexual or aggressive impulses toward a more acceptable or less threatening object or persons… redirecting anger toward a safer outlet.

concept check
Concept Check:

Name that defense mechanism!

Your ex-spouse, who cheated on you, writes a best-selling non-fiction book arguing that human beings are not naturally monogamous and have an instinctive need for multiple partners.

concept check23
Concept Check:

Name that defense mechanism!

You are in love with your best friend’s new flame. The friendship is an old one and very valuable to you. You tell everybody that your friend’s new love interest is a terrible human being and you don’t understand the attraction at all.

concept check24
Concept Check:

Name that defense mechanism!

Your boss yells at you. You come home and yell at your spouse. Your spouse yells at your child. Your child goes out to the yard and yells at the dog.

Freud also developed a framework to explain the development of personality
  • Psychosexual Stages
    • the childhood stages of development during which the id’s pleasure-seeking energies (libido) focus on distinct erogenous zones
  • Fixation
    • a lingering focus of pleasure-seeking energies at an earlier psychosexual stage, where conflicts were unresolved
stages of personality development
Stages of Personality Development
  • Oral stage - first year of life in which the mouth is the erogenous zone and weaning is the primary conflict. Id dominated.


Anal stage - second stage - about 2 years of age, the anus is the erogenous zone and toilet training is the source of conflict. Ego develops.
    • Anal expulsive personality - a person fixated in the anal stage who is messy, destructive, and hostile.
    • Anal retentive personality - a person fixated in the anal stage who is neat, fussy, stingy, and stubborn.
freud s theory stages of personality development
Freud’s Theory: Stages of Personality Development
  • Phallic stage - third stage occurring from about 3 to 6 years of age, in which the child discovers sexual feelings. Superego develops.
oedipus complex
Oedipus Complex

A boy’s sexual desires toward his mother and feelings of jealousy and hatred for the rival father. Also Electra complex for the girl’s desire for the father.


Through identification their superego gains strength incorporating parents’ values.

From the K. Vandervelde private collection

freud s theory stages of personality development31
Freud’s Theory: Stages of Personality Development
  • Latency - fourth stage occurring during the school years, in which the sexual feelings of the child are repressed while the child develops in other ways.
  • Genital – sexual feelings reawaken with appropriate targets.


When a student asked him what was the significance of his cigar, Freud replied “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
projective tests criticisms
Projective Tests: Criticisms

Critics argue that projective test lack both reliability (consistency of results) and validity (predicting what it is supposed to).

Even trained raters evaluating the same patient come up with different interpretations (reliability).

2. And projective tests may misdiagnose a normal individual as pathological (validity).

evaluating the psychoanalytic perspective
Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Perspective
  • Personality develops throughout life and is not fixed in childhood.
  • Freud underemphasized peer influence on the individual which may be as powerful as parental influence.
  • Gender identity may develop before 5-6 years of age.

Modern Research

evaluating the psychoanalytic perspective37
Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Perspective
  • There may be other reasons for dreams to arise than wish fulfillment.
  • Verbal slips can be explained on basis of cognitive processing of verbal choices.
  • Suppressed sexuality leads to psychological disorders. Sexual inhibition has decreased, but psychological disorders have not.

Modern Research

evaluating the psychoanalytic perspective38
Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Perspective

Freud's psychoanalytic theory rests on repression of painful experiences into the unconscious mind.

Majority of children, death camp survivors, battle-scared veterans are unable to repress painful experiences into their unconscious mind.

evaluating the psychoanalytic perspective39
Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Perspective

Freud was right about the unconscious mind (but not the way he explained it). Modern research shows the existence of non-conscious information processing.

Schemas that automatically control perceptions and interpretations.

Parallel processing during vision and thinking.

Implicit memories.

Emotions activate instantly without consciousness.

evaluating the psychoanalytic perspective40
Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Perspective

Freud’s theory has been criticized on scientific merits. Psychoanalysis is basically untestable. Most of its concepts arise out of clinical practice which are after-the-fact explanations.