Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Freud & personality notes 1

Notes taken from p.491-497 of Complete Psychology (2004) Edited by Graham Davey published by Hodder & Stoughton

Is personality a conscious or an unconscious phenomenon?

At times our responses surprise and even shock us. This has a ring of truth for me, thinking of a sudden and short lived fear of flying I developed in the late 1990s.

Psychodynamic approach – elements of the personality reside in the unconscious. Especially those parts which give rise to problem behaviour. Traumatic events can be forgotten and can still influence us. (Is it actually possible to prove that something truly forgotten is exerting an influence over our lives now? Might a patient manufacture a false memory to oblige their therapist, in which case nobody would be any the wiser?) So early or late weaning can cause ‘oral’ maladaptive behaviour – aka an oral fixation – such as smoking or excessive drinking. Also, over-dependence on others is allegedly another sign of this.

Psychodynamic theories of personality have emerged as the result of clinical practice.

Freud – called the father of psychoanalysis.

First person to suggest that unconscious activity not only influenced how our personalities manifest, but also their formation.

Unconscious mental processes start in infancy (primary processes) and are characterized by drives and impulses – so I’m guessing something like the infant’s rooting reflex. So they seem quite basic and primitive.

Secondary processes continue into adulthood – when we realize our impulses have to be attenuated to accommodate reality – so if I have that third Krispy Kreme my bum will be too lardy to fit into my jeans. This is ego function I’m guessing.

Freud thought of the mind as being like an iceberg with just the tip in conscious awareness. Seems reasonable – even hard scientists recognize this.

We also have a preconscious, which holds information like our telephone number. We can use attention to call up its contents.

Then the unconscious, two thirds of the iceberg, the Donald Rumsfeld mind – contains instincts and drives, childhood memories and stuff deliberately banned from consciousness (banned how? Superego?). Evidence for this is apparently ‘Freudian slips’ and dreams. Where does lucid dreaming fit into this scenario, though? It feels quite conscious, but is it really?

Line drawing of an iceberg on p. 494. Ego is shown as the conscious portion, above the water. Superego & id appear to constitute the unconscious below the waterline, with the id being the deep unconscious.

Personality is developed in early childhood via the negotiation of a series of psychosexual stages. In these, the focus of sensual pleasure shifts around the body.
Oral – first year after birth – mouth is the center of pleasure
Anal – during 2nd year – ego development. Conflict between child’s enjoying freedom of bowel movement and parental demands for potty training.
Phallic – 3-6 yo – superego development. focus of pleasure on genital region. Oedipal/electra conflict occurs.
Latency – from end of phallic stage to the onset of puberty – ego represses the sexual instinct internally, reinforced externally by adults’ embargo on matters sexual (the latter not always being a feature of life in the 21st century).
Genital - from puberty onwards, supposedly mature sexuality – under the influence of hormones, sexual impulses return and are once again focused on the genitals.

So actually our unique personalities are apparently caused by more or less catastrophic failures to navigate these stages properly. Hmmmm.


Freud’s work provided the springboard for modern developmental psychology
Freud offered the first comprehensive personality theory
And his work stimulated the development of personality assessment techniques
He drew attention to the possible influences of the unconscious on the development & manifestation of personality
Myers (2000) offers some empirical support for repression as a coping strategy (find this article and read next)

Work is out of date. His observations were the result of sociocultural artefact
Conclusions are based on a very unrepresentative sample
Psychodynamic theories are not open to testing by the scientific method (can this criticism be leveled at neuropsychological theories based on case studies? If not, why not?). It’s hard to conclusively refute or validate Freud’s assertions.Personality can change throughout the entire lifespan (the book asserts that ‘many psychologists’ claim this, but fails to state exactly who, when & where).


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