PSY 101 Personality II
Psychoanalytic (Freudian) Theory (continued)
Defense Mechanisms = psychological responses by which our mind changes, redirects, or eliminates unbearable or high levels of anxiety arising from (1) conflicts between the demands of the id (pleasure) versus the superego (perfection) or (2) between the id (pleasure) and reality (as understood by the ego) (3) or unbearable traumatic memories. Many different mechanisms have been described. Some of these include the following.
- Repression: the mind literally blots out all memory or awareness of a traumatic memory or experience
- Denial: the individual rejects the thought or the feeling automatically, e.g., a furious person saying, "I am not angry"
- Intellectualization: to avoid the painful feelings of emotions or certain desires, the individual speaks or thinks about them in unemotional ways and emphasizes the thoughts or ideas rather than the feelings. For example, after surviving a terrible car crash, someone might talk about the details of the car's speed, the road conditions, etc., without ever acknowledging a fear of injury or dying.
- Projection: an individual who unconsciously has an unacceptable desire or feeling will deal with it by saying that it is someone else who has those feelings. For example, research suggests that many highly homophobic males will strongly denounce gays and their "agenda" or "lifestyle" even though they seem themselves to respond unconsciously to images of partially or completely unclothed other males. Or, those who are most vociferous in preaching against hedonism or sexual promiscuity and for "family values" may themselves be drawn into extramarital affairs or otherwise be unfaithful to their partners.
- Reaction Formation: an individual who has a strong set of unacceptable feelings such as anger will behave in the opposite way, e.g., the person who is "extra" nice or especially pleasant may be covering over very different kinds of feelings.
Evaluation of Freudian Theory
- Sublimation: an individual who may have strong sexual or aggressive feelings will transform those feelings by means of creative activity such as painting, music composition, novel writing, or volunteering to aid other people.
- Unconscious forces do influence behavior though in a way differently than Freud thought
- Internal conflict can cause psychological distress
- Early childhood experiences can affect adult personality
- Defense mechanisms are ways we often cope with the world
- Theory is so vague that it is almost impossible to test scientifically (that is, it can't be disproved)
- Few systematic studies support the central propositions of Freud & his followers
- Highly male-centered and often ignores or downplays the experiences of women
Overall, even where Freud may be wrong, his theories have had a profound effect upon how the West (Europe, North America) think about human beings, e.g.,
(1) the notion that people act for unconscious motives
(2) sexuality is central to understanding human motivation across the lifespan
(3) people are often divided or conflicted in what they want or do
Other Selected Approaches to Personality Theory
Walter Mischel: Person-Situation Consistency
An advocate of social learning theory, Walter Mischel has argued that person do not behave consistently across different situations. Rather, our behavior is situationally specific. For example, individuals may be rigorously honest at work, but still cheat on their taxes. Or, the kindly loving parent at home may be a strict disciplinarian at work.
- Mischel's work brings the notion of "personality" itself into question.
Humanistic Psychology & The Self's Potential for Growth
- Argued that our personalities are founded upon a gradated set of needs (see diagram below)
- Physiological Needs Safety-Security Belonging-Love Esteem Cognitive Needs Aesthetic Needs (beauty) Self-Actualization
- We must satisfy needs at lower levels before moving to higher levels
- Consider how difficult it is for a child to study if s/he is chronically hungry or scared or the object of bias and hatred
- At the top of the hierarchy is the need for self-actualization, i.e., to fulfill one's potential. These include qualities such as acceptance of self & others, spontaneity, autonomous and reliant on one's own judgment, deep interpersonal relationships, compassionate, living one's life as fully as possible.
The "Western" Self vs. The "Eastern" Self
Hazel Markus & Shinobu Kitayama (see photos) propose that American and Asian conceptions of the self differ.
- Western Self: Emphasis upon independence, self-achievement
- Eastern Self: Emphasis upon interdependence with family and others and fitting into society. Value given to achievement of the group, not the individual.
An Evolutionary Theory: Terror Management Theory
Question: Does terror management theory help us understand more about the reaction of our own country and other nations to the events of 9/11/2001?
- Evolution has given us (1) a strong motive of self-preservation & (2) cognitive abilities including an awareness of self & the future (e.g., we are going to die)
- As a result human beings have the strong potential to experience anxiety, alarm & terror in view of their mortality
- We modulate the effects of this anxiety by means of cultural mechanisms such as stories, myths, traditions, and institutions such as religion, churches, families, and tribal/community coalitions. We find meaning & faith in the future through these mechanisms
- The sense of self-esteem serves to manage the personal sense of terror (death anxiety)
- Consequence Strong defense of current society's worldview, e.g.,
- we tend to punish "traitors" and dissidents
- we condemn moral transgressors
- we tend to reward people who uphold community stanrdards
- we maintain high respect for cultural icons like flags and religious symbols
This page was originally posted on 10/31/03 and last updated on October 31, 2016