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(2010-04-28 09:59:37)


January 24, 2007 << back

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.


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.


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.


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. Do people have any questions about Freud or Freud's theories? Yes.




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