PSYC 110: Introduction to Psychology
- Foundations: Freud
This lecture introduces students to the theories of Sigmund Freud, including a brief biographical description and his contributions to the field of psychology. The limitations of his theories of psychoanalysis are covered in detail, as well as the ways in which his conception of the unconscious mind still operate in mainstream psychology today.
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Introduction to Psychology
PSYC 110 - Lecture 3 - Foundations: Freud
Chapter 1. Sigmund Freud in a Historical Context [00:00:00]
Professor Paul Bloom: Okay. The last class we talked about the brain. Now we’re going to talk a little bit about some foundations. So today and Monday we’re going to talk about two very big ideas and these ideas are associated with Sigmund Freud and B. F. Skinner and are psychoanalysis and behaviorism. And I want to talk about psychoanalysis today and behaviorism next week.
Now, one of these things — One of the things that makes these theories so interesting is their scope. Most of the work we’re going to talk about in this class — Most of the ideas are narrow. So, we’re going to talk about somebody’s idea about racial prejudice but that’s not a theory of language acquisition. We’ll talk about theories of schizophrenia but they’re not explanations of sexual attractiveness. Most theories are specialized theories but these two views are grand theories. They’re theories of everything, encompassing just about everything that matters, day-to-day life, child development, mental illness, religion, war, love. Freud and Skinner had explanations of all of these.
Now, this is not a history course. I have zero interest in describing historical figures in psychology just for the sake of telling you about the history of the field. What I want to tell you about though is — I want to talk about these ideas because so much rests on them and, even more importantly, a lot of these ideas have critical influence on how we think about the present. And that’s there. [pointing at the slide]
Now, for better or worse, we live in a world profoundly affected by Sigmund Freud. If I had to ask you to choose a — no, name a famous psychologist, the answer of most of you would be Freud. He’s the most famous psychologist ever and he’s had a profound influence on the twentieth and twenty-first century. Some biographical information: He was born in the 1850s. He spent most of his life in Vienna, Austria, but he died in London and he escaped to London soon after retreating there at the beginning of World War II as the Nazis began to occupy where he lived.
He’s one of the most famous scholars ever but he’s not known for any single discovery. Instead, he’s known for the development of an encompassing theory of mind, one that he developed over the span of many decades. He was in his time extremely well known, a celebrity recognized on the street, and throughout his life. He was a man of extraordinary energy and productivity, in part because he was a very serious cocaine addict, but also just in general. He was just a high-energy sort of person. He was up for the Nobel Prize in medicine and in literature; didn’t get either one of them; didn’t get the prize in medicine because Albert Einstein — Everybody loves Albert Einstein. Well, Albert Einstein really wrote a letter because they asked for opinions of other Nobel Prizes. He wrote a letter saying, “Don’t give the prize to Freud. He doesn’t deserve a Nobel Prize. He’s just a psychologist.” Well, yeah. Okay.
While he’s almost universally acclaimed as a profoundly important intellectual figure, he’s also the object of considerable dislike. This is in part because of his character. He was not a very nice man in many ways. He was deeply ambitious to the cause of promoting psychoanalysis, to the cause of presenting his view and defending it, and he was often dishonest, extremely brutal to his friends, and terrible to his enemies. He was an interesting character.
My favorite Freud story was as he was leaving Europe during the rise of the Nazis, as he was ready to go to England from, I think, either Germany or Austria, he had to sign a letter from the Gestapo. Gestapo agents intercepted him and demanded he sign a letter saying that at no point had he been threatened or harassed by the Gestapo. So he signs the letter and then he writes underneath it, “The Gestapo has not harmed me in any way. In fact, I highly recommend the Gestapo to everybody.” It’s — He had a certain aggression to him. He was also — He’s also disliked, often hated, because of his views. He was seen as a sexual renegade out to destroy the conception of people as good and rational and pure beings. And when the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s he was identified as a Jew who was devoted to destroying the most sacred notions of Christianity and to many, to some extent, many people see him this way. And to some extent, this accusation has some truth to it.
Freud made claims about people that many of us, maybe most of us, would rather not know. Well, okay. What did he say? Well, if you ask somebody who doesn’t like Freud what he said, they’ll describe some of the stupider things he said and, in fact, Freud said a lot of things, some of which were not very rational. For instance, he’s well known for his account of phallic symbols, arguing certain architectural monuments are subconsciously developed as penile representations. And related to this, he developed the notorious theory of penis envy. And penis envy is an account of a developmental state that every one of you who is female has gone through, according to Freud. And the idea is that you discovered at some point in your development that you lacked a penis. This is not — This is a catastrophe. And so, each of you inferred at that point that you had been castrated. You had once had a penis but somebody had taken it from you. You then turn to your father and love your father because your father has a penis, so he’s a sort of penis substitute. You reject your mother, who’s equally unworthy due to her penis lack, and that shapes your psychosexual development.
Chapter 2. Unconscious Motivation: The Id, Ego and Superego [00:06:51]
Now, if that’s the sort of thing you know about Freud, you are not going to have a very high opinion of him or of his work, but at the core of Freud’s declamation, the more interesting ideas, is a set of claims of a man’s intellectual importance. And the two main ones are this. The two main ones involve the existence of an unconscious, unconscious motivation, and the notion of unconscious dynamics or unconscious conflict which lead to mental illnesses, dreams, slips of the tongue and so on.
The first idea – the idea of unconscious motivation – involves rejecting the claim that you know what you’re doing. So, suppose you fall in love with somebody and you decide you want to marry them and then somebody was asked to ask you why and you’d say something like, “Well, I’m ready to get married this stage of my life; I really love the person; the person is smart and attractive; I want to have kids” whatever. And maybe this is true. But a Freudian might say that even if this is your honest answer – you’re not lying to anybody else –still, there are desires and motivations that govern your behavior that you may not be aware of. So, in fact, you might want to marry John because he reminds you of your father or because you want to get back at somebody for betraying you.
If somebody was to tell you this, you’d say, “That’s total nonsense,” but that wouldn’t deter a Freudian. The Freudian would say that these processes are unconscious so of course you just don’t know what’s happening. So, the radical idea here is you might not know what — why you do what you do and this is something we accept for things like visual perception. We accept that you look around the world and you get sensations and you figure out there is a car, there is a tree, there is a person. And you’re just unconscious of how this happens but it’s unpleasant and kind of frightening that this could happen, that this could apply to things like why you’re now studying at Yale, why you feel the way you do towards your friends, towards your family.
Now, the marriage case is extreme but Freud gives a lot of simpler examples where this sort of unconscious motivation might play a role. So, have you ever liked somebody or disliked them and not known why? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re doing something or you’re arguing for something or making a decision for reasons that you can’t fully articulate? Have you ever forgotten somebody’s name at exactly the wrong time? Have you ever called out the wrong name in the throes of passion? This is all the Freudian unconscious. The idea is that we do these things — these things are explained in terms of cognitive systems that we’re not aware of.
Now, all of this would be fine if your unconscious was a reasonable, rational computer, if your unconscious was really smart and looking out for your best interest. But, according to Freud, that’s not the way it works. According to Freud, there are three distinct processes going on in your head and these are in violent internal conflict. And the way you act and the way you think are products, not of a singular rational being, but of a set of conflicting creatures. And these three parts are the id, the ego, and the superego and they emerge developmentally.
The id, according to Freud, is present at birth. It’s the animal part of the self. It wants to eat, drink, pee, poop, get warm, and have sexual satisfaction. It is outrageously stupid. It works on what Freud called, “The Pleasure Principle.” It wants pleasure and it wants it now. And that’s, according to Freud, how a human begins – pure id. Freud had this wonderful phrase, “polymorphous perversity,” this pure desire for pleasure.
Now, unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. What you want isn’t always what you get and this leads to a set of reactions to cope with the fact that pleasure isn’t always there when you want it either by planning how to satisfy your desires or planning how to suppress them. And this system is known as the ego, or the self. And it works on the “Reality Principle.” And it works on the principle of trying to figure out how to make your way through the world, how to satisfy your pleasures or, in some cases, how to give up on them. And the ego – the emergence of the ego for Freud — symbolizes the origin of consciousness.
Finally, if this was all there it might be a simpler world, but Freud had a third component, that of the superego. And the superego is the internalized rules of parents in society. So, what happens in the course of development is, you’re just trying to make your way through the world and satisfy your desires, but sometimes you’re punished for them. Some desires are inappropriate, some actions are wrong, and you’re punished for it. The idea is that you come out; you get in your head a superego, a conscience. In these movies, there’d be a little angel above your head that tells you when things are wrong. And basically your self, the ego, is in between the id and the superego.
One thing to realize, I told you the id is outrageously stupid. It just says, “Oh, hungry, food, sex, oh, let’s get warm, oh.” The superego is also stupid. The superego, point to point, is not some brilliant moral philosopher telling you about right and wrong. The superego would say, “You should be ashamed of yourself. That’s disgusting. Stop doing that. Oh.” And in between these two screaming creatures, one of you; one of them telling you to seek out your desires, the other one telling you, “you should be ashamed of yourself,” is you, is the ego.
Now, according to Freud, most of this is unconscious. So, we see bubbling up to the top, we feel, we experience ourselves. And the driving of the id, the forces of the id and the forces of the superego, are unconscious in that we cannot access them. We don’t know what — It’s like the workings of our kidneys or our stomachs. You can’t introspect and find them. Rather, they do their work without conscious knowledge.
Chapter 3. Personality Development and Psychosexual Development [00:13:46]
Now, Freud developed this. This is the Freudian theory in broad outline. He extended it and developed it into a theory of psychosexual development. And so, Freud’s theory is, as I said before, a theory of everyday life, of decisions, of errors, of falling in love, but it’s also a theory of child development. So, Freud believed there were five stages of personality development, and each is associated with a particular erogenous zone. And Freud believed, as well, that if you have a problem at a certain stage, if something goes wrong, you’ll be stuck there. So, according to Freud, there are people in this room who are what they are because they got stuck in the oral stage or the anal stage. And that’s not good.
So, the oral stage is when you start off. The mouth is associated with pleasure. Everything is sucking and chewing and so on. And the problem for Freud is premature weaning of a child. Depriving him of the breast, could lead to serious problems in his personality development. It could make him, as the phrase goes, into an oral person. And his orality could be described literally. Freud uses it as an explanation for why somebody might eat too much or chew gum or smoke. They’re trying to achieve satisfaction through their mouth of a sort they didn’t get in this very early stage of development. But it can also be more abstract. If your roommate is dependent and needy, you could then go to your roommate and say, “You are an oral person. The first year of your life did not go well.”
A phrase even more popular is the anal stage and that happens after the oral stage. And problems can emerge if toilet training is not handled correctly. If you have problems during those years of life, you could become an anal personality, according to Freud, and your roommate could say, “Your problem is you’re too anal.” And, according to Freud, literally, it meant you are unwilling to part with your own feces. It’s written down here. I know it’s true. And the way it manifests itself, as you know from just how people talk, is you’re compulsive, you’re clean, you’re stingy. This is the anal personality.
Then it gets a little bit more complicated. The next stage is the phallic stage. Actually, this is not much more complicated. The focus of pleasure shifts to the genitals and fixation can lead to excessive masculinity in females or in males or if you’re female a need for attention or domination. Now, at this point something really interesting happens called the “Oedipus Complex.” And this is based on the story, the mythical story of a king who killed his father and married his mother. And, according to Freud, this happens to all of us in this way. Well, all of us. By “all of us,” Freud meant “men.”
So, here’s the idea. You’re three or four years old. You’re in the phallic stage. So, what are you interested in? Well, you’re interested in your penis and then you seek an external object. Freud’s sort of vague about this, but you seek some sort of satisfaction. But who is out there who’d be sweet and kind and loving and wonderful? Well, Mom. So the child infers, “Mom is nice, I love Mom.” So far so — And so this is not crazy; a little boy falling in love with his mother. Problem: Dad’s in the way.
Now, this is going to get progressively weirder but I will have to say, as the father of two sons, both sons went through a phase where they explicitly said they wanted to marry Mommy. And me – if something bad happened to me that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. So, there’s this. But now it gets a little bit aggressive. So, the idea is the child determines that he’s going to kill his father. Every three- and four-year-old boy thinks this. But then because children, according to Freud, don’t have a good sense of the boundary between their mind and the world, which is a problem – the problem is they don’t – they think their father can tell that they’re plotting to kill him and they figure their father is now angry at them. And then they ask themselves, “What’s the worst thing Dad could do to me?” And the answer is castration. So, they come to the conclusion that their father is going to castrate them because of their illicit love for their Mom. And then they say, “Dad wins” and then they don’t think about sex for several years and that’s the latency stage.
The latency stage is they’ve gone through this huge thing with Mom and Dad, “fell in love with Mom, wanted to kill my father, Dad was going to castrate me, fell out of love with Mom, out of the sex business.” And then, sex is repressed until you get to the genital stage. And the genital stage is the stage we are all in – the healthy adult stage. Now that you’re adults and you’ve gone through all the developmental stages, where do you stand? You’re not out of the woods yet because unconscious mechanisms are still — Even if you haven’t got fixated on anything, there’s still this dynamic going on all the time with your id, your ego and your superego. And the idea is your superego — Remember, your superego is stupid. So, your superego isn’t only telling you not to do bad things, it’s telling you not to think bad things. So, what’s happening is your id is sending up all of this weird, sick stuff, all of these crazy sexual and violent desires, “Oh, I’ll kill him. I’ll have sex with that. I’ll have extra helpings on my dessert.” And your superego is saying, “No, no, no.” And this stuff is repressed. It doesn’t even make it to consciousness.
Chapter 4. Defense Mechanisms, the Aims of Psychoanalysis, Dreams [00:20:32]
The problem is Freud had a very sort of hydraulic theory of what goes on and some of this stuff slips out and it shows up in dreams and it shows up in slips of the tongue. And in exceptional cases, it shows up in certain clinical symptoms. So what happens is, Freud described a lot of normal life in terms of different ways we use to keep that horrible stuff from the id making its way to consciousness. And he called these “defense mechanisms.” You’re defending yourself against the horrible parts of yourself and some of these make a little bit of sense.
One way to describe this in a non-technical, non-Freudian way is, there are certain things about ourselves we’d rather not know. There are certain desires we’d rather not know and we have ways to hide them. So, for instance, there’s sublimation. Sublimation is you might have a lot of energy, maybe sexual energy or aggressive energy, but instead of turning it to a sexual or aggressive target what you do is you focus it in some other way. So, you can imagine a great artist like Picasso turning the sexual energy into his artwork.
There is displacement. Displacement is you have certain shameful thoughts or desires and you refocus them more appropriately. A boy who’s bullied by his father may hate his father and want to hurt him but since this would — this is very shameful and difficult. The boy might instead kick the dog and think he hates the dog because that’s a more acceptable target.
There is projection. Projection is, I have certain impulses I am uncomfortable with, so rather than own them myself, I project them to somebody else. A classic example for Freud is homosexual desires. The idea is that I feel this tremendous lust towards you, for instance, and — any of you, all of you, you three, and I’m ashamed of this lust so what I say is, “Hey. Are you guys looking at me in a sexual manner? Are you lusting after me? How disgusting,” because what I do is I take my own desires and I project it to others. And Freud suggested, perhaps not implausibly, that men who believe other men — who are obsessed with the sexuality of other men, are themselves projecting away their own sexual desires.
There is rationalization, which is that when you do something or think something bad you rationalize it and you give it a more socially acceptable explanation. A parent who enjoys smacking his child will typically not say, “I enjoy smacking my child.” Rather he’ll say, “It’s for the child’s own good. I’m being a good parent by doing this.”
And finally, there is regression, which is returning to an earlier stage of development. And you actually see this in children. In times of stress and trauma, they’ll become younger, they will act younger. They might cry. They might suck their thumb, seek out a blanket or so on. Now, these are all mechanisms that for Freud are not the slightest bit pathological. They are part of normal life. Normally, we do these things to keep an equilibrium among the different systems of the unconscious, but sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes things go awry and what happens is a phrase that’s not currently used in psychology but was popular during Freud’s time: hysteria.
Hysteria includes phenomena like hysterical blindness and hysterical deafness, which is when you cannot see and cannot hear even though there’s nothing physiologically wrong with you – paralysis, trembling, panic attacks, gaps of memory including amnesia and so on. And the idea is that these are actually symptoms. These are symptoms of mechanisms going on to keep things unconscious. It’s a common enough idea in movies. Often in movies what happens is that somebody goes to an analyst. They have some horrible problem. They can’t remember something or they have some sort of blackouts and so on. And the analyst tells them something and at one point they get this insight and they realize what — why they’ve blinded themselves, why they can’t remember, and for Freud this is what happens. Freud originally attempted to get these memories out through hypnosis but then moved to the mechanism of free association and, according to Freud, the idea is patients offer resistance to this and then the idea of a psychoanalyst is to get over the resistance and help patients get insight.
The key notion of psychoanalysis is your problems are — actually reflect deeper phenomena. You’re hiding something from yourself, and once you know what’s going on to deeper phenomena your problems will go away. I’m going to give you an example of a therapy session. Now, this is not a Freudian analysis. We’ll discuss later on in the course what a Freudian analysis is, but this is not a pure Freudian analysis. A Freudian analysis, of course, is lying on a couch; does not see their therapist; their therapist is very nondirective. But I’m going to present this as an example here because it illustrates so many of the Freudian themes, particularly themes about dreams, the importance of dreams, about repression and about hidden meaning.
So, this is from a television episode and the character’s — Many — Some of you may have seen this. Many of you will not have. The character is suffering from panic attacks. [Professor Paul Bloom plays a short episode from the Sopranos]
Freud’s contributions extend beyond the study of individual psychology and individual pathology. Freud had a lot to say about dreams as you could see in this illustration. He believed that dreams had a manifest content, meaning; “manifest” meaning what you experience in your dream. But dreams always had a latent content as well, meaning the hidden implication of the dream. He viewed all dreams as wish fulfillment. Every dream you have is a certain wish you have even though it might be a forbidden wish that you wouldn’t wish to have, you wouldn’t want to have. And dreams had — and this is an idea that long predated Freud. Dreams had symbolism. Things in dreams were often not what they seemed to be but rather symbols for other things. Freud believed that literature and fairy tales and stories to children and the like carried certain universal themes, certain aspects of unconscious struggles, and certain preoccupations of our unconscious mind. And Freud had a lot to say about religion. For instance, he viewed a large part of our — of the idea of finding a singular, all-powerful god as seeking out a father figure that some of us never had during development.
What I want to spend the rest of the class on is the scientific assessment of Freud. So, what I did so far is I’ve told you what Freud had to say in broad outline. I then want to take the time to consider whether or not we should believe this and how well it fits with our modern science. But before doing so, I’ll take questions for a few minutes.
Chapter 5. Question and Answer on Freud’s Theories [00:29:02]
Do people have any questions about Freud or Freud’s theories? Yes.
Professor Paul Bloom: So, that’s some question. The question is: The conflicts in psychosexual development that Freud describes is — always assumes that a child has a mother and a father, one of each, in a certain sort of familial structure. And the question then is, “What if a child was raised by a single parent, for example?” What if a child was never breast fed, but fed from the bottle from the start? And Freudians have had problems with this. Freud’s — Freud was very focused on the family life of the people he interacted with, which is rather upper class Europeans, and these sort of questions would have been difficult for Freud to answer. I imagine that what a Freudian would have to say is, you would expect systematic differences. So, you would expect a child who just grew up with a mother or just grew up to be a father — with a father to be in some sense psychologically damaged by that, failing to go through the normal psychosexual stages. Yes.
Professor Paul Bloom: The issue — The question is, “Do modern psychoanalysts still believe that women do not have superegos?” Freud was — As you’re pointing out, Freud was notorious for pointing, for suggesting that women were morally immature relative to men. I think Freud would say that women have superegos, they’re just not the sort of sturdy ones that men have. I think psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic scholars right now would be mixed. Some would maintain that there really are deep sex differences. Others would want to jettison that aspect of Freudian theory. Yes.
Student: Do you define sublimation as being displacement? Does that make it sort of a subgroup of displacement?
Professor Paul Bloom: Well, what sublimation is — A lot of these — It’s a good question. The question is sort of, what is sublimation? How does it relate to the other defense mechanisms? A lot of defense mechanisms involve taking a desire and turning it. Now, what displacement does is it takes it from you to her. I’m angry at you but maybe that’s forbidden for some reason, so I’ll be angry at her. What projection does is takes a desire from me and then puts it on somebody else heading outwards. And what sublimation does is it just gives up the details and keeps the energy. So, you stay up — Your roommate stays up all night working and you say to your roommate, for instance, “That’s just because you haven’t had sex in a long time and you want to have sex so you devote all your energy to your math exam.” And then you say, “That’s sublimation. I learned that in Intro Psych.” And your roommate would be very pleased. One more question. Yes.
Student: What kind of evidence is there for cross-cultural variation?
Professor Paul Bloom: The question is, which is related to the issue — extending the issue of the two-parent versus one-parent family is, “To what extent are these notions validated cross-culturally?” And that’s such a good question I’m going to defer it. I’m going to talk about it in a few minutes because that’s actually — That speaks to the issue of the scientific assessment of Freud so I’m going to try to get to your question in a little bit.
Chapter 6. Controversies and Criticisms on Freud’s Theories [00:32:56]
Freudian theory is now, at this point of time, extremely controversial and there is a lot of well-known criticisms and attacks on Freud. This is just actually an excellent book on The Memory Wars by Frederick Crews, which — and Frederick Crews is one of the strongest and most passionate critics of Freud. And the problems with Freud go like this. There are two ways you could reject a theory. There are two problems with the scientific theory. One way you could reject a theory is that it could be wrong. So, suppose I have a theory that the reason why some children have autism, a profound developmental disorder, is because their mothers don’t love them enough. This was a popular theory for many years. It’s a possible theory. It just turns out to be wrong but another way — And so one way to attack and address a scientific theory is to view it as just to see whether or not it works. But there’s a different problem a theory could have. A theory could be so vague and all encompassing that it can’t even be tested. And this is one of the main critiques of Freud. The idea could be summed up by a quotation from the physicist Wolfgang Pauli. And Pauli was asked his opinion about another physicist. And Pauli said this: “That guy’s work is crap. He’s not right. He’s not even wrong.” And the criticism about Freud is that he’s not even wrong.
The issue of vagueness is summarized in a more technical way by the philosopher Karl Popper who described — who introduced the term of falsifiability. The idea of falsifiability is that what distinguishes science from non science is that scientific predictions make strong claims about the world and these claims are of a sort that they could be proven wrong. If they couldn’t be proven wrong, they’re not interesting enough to be science. So, for example, within psychology the sort of claims we’ll be entertaining throughout the course include claims like, damage to the hippocampus causes failures of certain sorts of memory, or everywhere in the world men on average want to have more sexual partners than women, or exposure to violent television tends to make children themselves more violent. Now, are they true or are they false? Well, we’ll talk about that, but the point here is they can be false. They’re interesting enough that they can be tested and as such they go to — they might be wrong but they graduate to the level of a scientific theory.
This should be contrasted with nonscientific programs and the best example of a nonscientific program is astrology. So, the problem with astrological predictions is not that they’re wrong. It’s that they can’t be wrong. They’re not even wrong. I did my — I got my horoscope for today on the web. [reading from a slide] “A couple of negative aspects could make you a little finicky for the next few days.” Okay. I’m going to watch for that. “The presence of both Mars and Venus suggests you want to box everything into a neat, ordered, structured way but keeping a piece of jade or carnelian close will help you keep in touch with your fun side.” And starting this morning I got from my wife a little piece of jade and I have been sort of in touch with my fun side. The problem is, a few days aren’t going to go by and say, “God. That was wrong.” It can’t be wrong. It’s just so vague. I got a better horoscope from The Onion actually: “Riding in a golf cart with snow cone in hand, you’ll be tackled by two police officers this week after matching a composite caricature of a suspected murderer.” Now, that’s a good prediction because “wow.” If it turns out to be true, I’m going to say, “Those guys really know something.” It’s falsifiable.
Arguably, Freud fails the test because Freudian theory is often so vague and flexible that it can’t really be tested in any reliable way. A big problem with this is a lot of Freudian theory is claimed to be validated in the course of psychoanalysis. So, when you ask people, “Why do you believe in Freud?” they won’t say, “Oh, because of this experiment, that experiment, this data set and that data set.” What they’ll say is, “It’s — The Freudian theory proves itself in the course of psychoanalysis – the success of psychoanalysis.” But it’s unreliable. The problem is, say, Freud says to a patient, “You hate your mother.” The patient says, “Wow. That makes sense.” Freud says, “I’m right.” The patient — Freud says, “You hate your mother,” and the patient says, “No, I don’t. That’s titillating. That’s disgusting.” Freud says, “Your anger shows this idea is painful to you. You have repressed it from consciousness. I am right.”
And the problem is the same sort of dynamic plays itself out even in the scientific debate back and forth. So Freud — Freudian psychologists — I’m putting Freud here but what I mean is well-known defenders of Freud will make some claims like: adult personality traits are shaped by the course of psychosexual development; all dreams are disguised wish fulfillment; psychoanalysis is the best treatment for mental disorders. Scientists will respond, “I disagree. There’s little or no evidence supporting those claims.” And the Freudian response is, “Your rejection of my ideas shows that they are distressing to you. This is because I am right.” And this is often followed up, seriously enough. “You have deep psychological problems.”
And now, I don’t want to caricature Freudians. A lot of Freudians have tried and made a research program of extending their ideas scientifically, bringing them to robust scientific tests. But the problem is, when you make specific falsifiable predictions they don’t always do that well. So, for instance, there’s no evidence that oral and anal characteristics, the personality characteristics I talked about – about being needy versus being stingy – relate in any interesting way to weaning or toilet training.
And there’s been some efforts cross-culturally, to go back to the question this young man asked before – looking at cross-cultural differences in toilet training and weaning, which are really big differences, to see if they correspond in any interesting way to personality differences. And there’s been no good evidence supporting that. Similarly, Freud had some strong claims about sexuality, for why some people are straight and others are gay. These have met with very little empirical support. And the claim that psychoanalysis proves itself by being — by its tremendous success in curing mental illness is also almost certainly not true. For most — Maybe not all, but for most psychological disorders, there are quicker and more reliable treatments than psychoanalysis. And there’s considerable controversy as to whether the Tony Soprano method of insight, where you get this insight and there’s discovery, “Oh, now I know,” makes any real difference in alleviating symptoms such as anxiety disorders or depression.
This is why there’s sort of — often sort of a sticker shock when people go to a university psychology department where they say, “Look. Hey. Where is — So I’m in Psych. How could I take classes on Freud? Who’s your expert on Freud?” And the truth is Freudian psychoanalysis is almost never studied inside psychology departments. Not the cognitive or developmental side, not the clinical side. There are some exceptions but, for the most part, even the people who do study Freud within psychology departments do so critically. Very few of them would see themselves as a psychoanalytic practitioner or as a Freudian psychologist.
Freud lives on both in a clinical setting and in the university but Freud at Yale, for instance, is much more likely to be found in the history department or the literature department than in the psychology department. And this is typical enough but, despite all of the, sort of, sour things I just said about Freud, the big idea, the importance of the dynamic unconscious, remains intact. We will go over and over and over again different case studies where some really interesting aspects of mental life prove to be unconscious.
Chapter 7. Examples of the Unconscious in Modern Psychology [00:42:10]
Now, there’s one question. I’m actually going to skip over this for reasons of time and just go to some examples of the unconscious in modern psychology. So, here’s a simple example of the unconscious in modern psychology: Language understanding. So, when you hear a sentence like, “John thinks that Bill likes him,” in a fraction of a second you realize that this means that John thinks that Bill likes John. If you heard the sentence — Oops — “John thinks that Bill likes himself,” in a fraction of a second you would think that it means “John thinks that Bill likes Bill.” And as we will get to when we get to the lecture on language, this is not conscious. You don’t know how you do this. You don’t even know that you are doing this but you do it quickly and instinctively.
So much of our day-to-day life can be done unconsciously. There are different activities you can do – driving, chewing gum, shoelace tying – where if you’re good enough at them, if you’re expert enough at them, you don’t know you’re doing them. I was at a party a few years ago for a friend of mine and we ran out of food so he said, “I’ll just go pick up some food.” An hour later he was gone — still gone and it was around the corner. And we called him up on his cell phone and he said, “Oh. I got on the highway and I drove to work.” Yeah. He works an hour away but he got on the highway “drive drive drive.” And these — some version of these things happen all of the time.
Maybe more surprising, Freud’s insight that our likes and dislikes are due to factors that we’re not necessarily conscious of has a lot of empirical support — a lot of empirical support from research into social psychology, for example. So, here’s one finding from social psychology. If somebody goes through a terrible initiation to get into a club, they’ll like the club more. You might think they’d like it less because people do terrible things to them. But actually, hazing is illegal but a remarkably successful tool. The more you pay for something the more you like it and the more pain you go through to get something the more you like it. From the standpoint of politics for instance, if you want loyal people in a political campaign, do not pay them. If you pay them, they’ll like you less. If they volunteer, they’ll like you more. And we’ll talk about why. There’s different theories about why, but my point right now is simply that people don’t necessarily know this but still they’re subject to this.
Another example is some weird studies done in a discipline of social psychology known as terror management which involves subliminal death primes. The idea of subliminal death primes is this. You sign up for your human subjects requirement and then you — they put you in front of a computer screen and then they tell you, “Oh, just sit in front of the computer screen and then we’ll ask you some questions.” And then the questions come out and they’re questions like, “How much do you love your country?” “What do you think of Asians?” “What do you think of Jews?” “What do you think of blacks?” “What do you think of vegetarians?” “What do you think of people’s political views different from yours?”
Here’s the gimmick. What you don’t know is on that computer screen words are being flashed like that but they’re being flashed so fast it looks like that — You don’t see anything — words like “corpse,” “dead,” “dying.” The flashing of these subliminal words, “subliminal” meaning – a fancy term meaning below the level of consciousness, you don’t know you’re seeing them – has dramatic effects on how you answer those questions. People exposed to death primes become more nationalistic, more patriotic, less forgiving of other people, less liking of other races and people from other countries. Again the claim — the explanation for why this is so is something which we’ll get to in another class. The point now is simply to illustrate that these sort of things can have — that things you aren’t aware of can have an effect on how you think.
The final example I’ll give of this is a short demonstration. To do this, I’m going to cut the class in half at this point so you’ll be on this side of the class, the right side, my right, and this will be on the left side, and I simply want everybody to think about somebody you love. So, think about somebody you love, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your mom, your dad. Think about somebody you love. Just think. Okay. Now, on this screen is going to be instructions but I want to give the instructions to this half of the class [pointing to his right]. I’m going to ask everybody in this half of the class [pointing to his left] please either turn your head or shut your eyes. Okay? Teaching fellows too. Okay. And everybody on this half obey [pointing to his right]. Okay. Has everybody read that [pointing to the slide]? Okay. Now, turn your head, this group [pointing to his right]. Now this group [pointing to his left]: Look at this [pointing to instructions on the slide] and take a moment. You don’t have to do it on paper but take a moment to do it in your head. You — Each group had instructions. Some people might have seen both instructions. Follow the instructions you got for you.
Now, this was research done by Norbert Schwarz and here’s the question I want you to ask yourself, “How much do you like this person?” And here’s the effect: Half of you were asked to list three features of the person. Half of you were asked to list ten. The finding, which is not a subtle finding, is that liking goes up in the three group and liking goes down in the ten group. And here is why. I have to think about three positive features of somebody so I think about my girlfriend. I have a girlfriend. I think about my girlfriend, “but oh, she’s smart, she’s beautiful and she’s kind. Good. How much do — What do I think of her? “Pretty, good, smart, beautiful, kind, smart, beautiful, oh, yeah.” But the problem — ;Now, Schwarz is clever though. He says, “List — ” The other group gets ten positive features, “smart, beautiful, kind… really nice… good cook… punctual, smart… No, I mentioned that.” The problem is nobody has ten positive features! And the effect of being asked to do ten positive features is people find this hard. And then those people, when asked, “How much do you like this person?” say, “Couldn’t really make it that ten. I guess I don’t like them very much.”
Now, the point of this illustration, again, is that it shows that you don’t know this. Subjects who were asked to do ten positive features and then later ranked the person lower and then asked, “Why did you rank the person lower?” Don’t say, “ ‘Cause you told me to list ten.” Typically, we are oblivious to these factors that change our points – what we like and what we dislike – and this is, in fact, a substantial and an important part of the study of psychology, and particularly, for instance, the study of racial and sexual prejudice. Where — One of the big findings from social psychology, and we’ll devote almost an entire lecture to this, is that people have strong views about other races that they don’t know about and that they don’t know how to control their actions.
So, to some extent, this rounds out Freud because to some extent the particulars of Freud are — for the most part have been rejected. But the general idea of Freud’s actually been so successful both in the study of scientific psychology and in our interpretation of everyday life that, to some extent, Freud’s been a victim of his own success. We tend to underestimate the importance of Freudian thought in everyday life because he’s transformed our world view to such an extent that it’s difficult for us to remember if there’s any other way to think about it. So, to some extent, he’s been the victim of his own success.
Chapter 8. Further Question and Answer on Freud [00:51:55]
We have time for some further questions about Freud and about scientific implications of Freud. I took a class once on how to teach when I was a graduate student. And I just remember two things from this class. One thing is never grade in red pen. Those — People don’t like that. The second thing is never ask any questions, because presumably it is very frightening to ask, “Any questions?” and people find it’s intimidating. I’m supposed to ask, “What are your questions?” So, what are your questions? Yes, in back. Sorry.
Student: Did Freud believe in [inaudible]
Professor Paul Bloom: Did Freud believe in [inaudible]
Professor Paul Bloom: Medication. Freud had an — It’s a good question. The question was, “Does — did Freud believe in medication?” Medication, of course, being a major theme of how we deal with certain disorders now, particularly depression and anxiety disorders. On the one hand, Freud made his start as a neuroscientist. Freud studied the mind and the brain and was intensely interested in the neural basis of thought and behavior. But the answer to your question in the end is, “no.” Although Freud was very sensitive to the brain basis of behavior, Freud was totally convinced that the method through which to cure disorders like depression and anxiety would not be medication but rather through the sort of talk therapy and insight. Moreover, modern therapists, including some people who aren’t psychoanalytically defined, will say, “Look. These drugs are all well and good but what they do is they mask the symptoms.” So, if you have panic attacks, say, it’s true that drugs might make the panic attacks go away, but the panic attacks are actually not your real problem. And by making them go away you don’t get to the root of your problem. So, the answer is both Freud and modern day psychoanalysts would think that medications are substantially overused in the treatment of mental disorders. Yes.
Student: Are there any [inaudible]
Professor Paul Bloom: The question is, “What about research on dreams?” “Dreams” is such a fun topic that I’m going to devote half a class to sleeping and dreams. So, for instance, I will answer the question “What is the most common dream?” I will also answer the question “Who thinks about sex more in dreams, men or women, and what proportion of — ” Oh. There’s so many great questions I will answer. Dreams from a Freudian standpoint. There’s been some evidence that dreams do, and some often do, have some relationship to what you’re thinking about and worrying about through the day. But the strong Freudian view about symbolism and wish fulfillment has not been supported by the study of dreams. What are your other questions? Yes, whoever Erik is pointing to.
Professor Paul Bloom: Purple shirt. Yes.
Student: [inaudible] — Electra complex?
Professor Paul Bloom: The Electra complex? The Electra complex is the penis envy story. Freud developed — This is a crude summary, but Freud developed the Oedipal complex, “Mom, I love Mommy, Dad.” And then it’s as if somebody reminded him, “Sigmund, there are also women.” “Oh, yeah.” And that story I told you with the penises and the penis envy and the replacement is sort of a very shortened version of the Electra complex. I think it’s fair to say that the Electra complex was a sort of add-on to the main interest of Freud’s Oedipal complex. One more, please. Yes.
Professor Paul Bloom: According to Freud, the — there’s not a fixation in the stage, in the same sense as an oral or anal stage, but yes. The claim that Freud would make is that the woman’s discovery that she lacks the penis plays a fundamental role later on determining her allegiances in life and in fact her own sexual preferences and interests. So, it’s not the sort of thing that affects her just for a short period.
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