Contemporary Views on the Unconscious

The idea of a motivated unconscious is at the core of classical psychoanalytic theory . Most contemporary psychologists also believe in the unconscious, although it is a different version of the unconscious than that found in classical psychoanalytic theory . Consider the views of psychologist John Bar gh, a social psychologist whose research on unconscious processes has had a lar ge impact on psychology: "People are often unaware of the reasons and causes of their own behavior . In fact, recent experimental evidence points to a deep and fundamental dissociation between conscious awareness and the mental processes responsible for one' s behaviof' (2005, p. 38). This can be illustrated with one of Bar gh's own experiments in which college student subjects took part in what they thought was an experiment on language, where they were presented with many different words. Half of the participants were presented with words synonymous with rudeness; for the other half they were presented with words synonymous with politeness. After finishing the language experiment they went to anothe experiment in another room where they encountered a staged situation where it was possible to act in either a rude or polite way . While the participants showed no awareness of the possible influence of the language experiment, they nevertheless behave in the staged situation in a manner that was consistent with the kinds of words they were exposed to in the "previous" experiment (Bar gh, 2005). Most psychologists believe that the unconscious can influence our behavio , but not all agree with Freud that the unconscious can have its own autonomous motivation.

We can term these two dif fering views on the unconscious the cognitive unconscious view and the motivated unconscious view. Those with the cognitive unconscious view readily acknowledge that information can get into our memories without our ever being aware of the information (Kihlstrom, 1999). For example, in the phenomenon of subliminal per ception, some information—such as the phrase "Buy a Coke"—is flashed on a screen so quickly that you don t recognize the actual words. That is, you would say that you had seen a flash but were not able to distinguish wha was written. Indeed, you could not even guess that the word Coke was presented better than chance compared to guessing that some other nonpresented word, say House, was presented. However, if you were asked to judge whether a string of letters is a word or not a word, and the dependent variable were reaction time (how quickly you can make this judgment), then you would judge Coke as a word faster than words unrelated to Coke or soft drinks in general. Thus, subliminal information primes associated material in memory . Priming makes that associated material more accessible to conscious awareness than is material that is not primed. Results such as these using subliminal primes clearly demonstrate that information can get into the mind and have some influence, without going through conscious experience

If someone were given the subliminal message "Buy a Coke," would they be more likely to spontaneously go out and do so? After all, this is consistent with the psychoanalytic idea of the motivated unconscious—that something in the unconscious can motivate behavior . Can advertisers use subliminal messages to unconsciously motivate consumers? Similar questions arise concerning the influence of subliminal rock musi messages that supposedly advocate suicide or violence. The vast majority of research on subliminal perception, however , suggests that unconscious information does not influ ence people's motivations. That is, the average teen exposed to subliminal messages of violence in a song is unlikely to go out and commit a violent act. Similarly , the average person subliminally exposed to the phrase "Buy a Coke" is unlikely to do so.

In the cognitive view of the unconscious, the content of the unconscious mind is assumed to operate just like thoughts in consciousness. Thoughts are unconscious because they are not in conscious awareness, not because they have been repressed or because they represent unacceptable ur ges or wishes. For example, we might say that buttoning a shirt is unconscious because we can do it without focusing any conscious attention on the act. Typing can also be unconscious for the person who is good at it. Other kinds of mental content, such as beliefs and values, might also be unconscious. Such elements are not in our unconscious because they are threatening; nor are they there to exert influ ence on our behavior . And, although unconscious material can influence subsequen thoughts or behavior, as in the priming examples, these influences are not consistent wit the motivated unconscious of classical psychoanalytic theory (Kihlstrom, 2003; Nash, 1999). As such, the cognitive unconscious as viewed by contemporary psychologists is quite different from that put forward by Freud a hundred years ago. According to Freud, the unconscious was a torrid and fuming caldron of anger and eroticism. It operated

In the 2000 U.S. presidential election campaign, a Republican team released a commercial describing some of the questionable fund-raising efforts of Al Gore, the Democratic opponent. During the commercial, the word RATS was subliminally presented, along with information about Gore. When the Gore campaign team discovered this, they responded with outrage and a public denouncement of this subliminal attempt to influence voter opinion on the part of the Bush campaign. The Bush campaign quickly pulled the commercial, with Bush himself denying he had had any role in ordering subliminal propaganda. The fact that both campaign teams believed that such subliminal messages would have a wide impact on voter motivation shows that many people believe in unconscious motivation. Researchers, however, have found little evidence for the power of subliminal messages in advertising.

In the 2000 U.S. presidential election campaign, a Republican team released a commercial describing some of the questionable fund-raising efforts of Al Gore, the Democratic opponent. During the commercial, the word RATS was subliminally presented, along with information about Gore. When the Gore campaign team discovered this, they responded with outrage and a public denouncement of this subliminal attempt to influence voter opinion on the part of the Bush campaign. The Bush campaign quickly pulled the commercial, with Bush himself denying he had had any role in ordering subliminal propaganda. The fact that both campaign teams believed that such subliminal messages would have a wide impact on voter motivation shows that many people believe in unconscious motivation. Researchers, however, have found little evidence for the power of subliminal messages in advertising.

according to its own primitive and irrational rules, and it had broad, sweeping influenc over our conscious behavior , thoughts, and feelings. In contemporary psychology , the unconscious is peaceful, gentle, and much more rational than Freud' s version. Moreover, although the unconscious is still viewed as having an influence on behavio , thoughts, and feelings, that influence is seen as more bounded, rule-governed, and specific, as unconscious priming, than was taught by Freud (Greenwald, 1992).

Ego Psychology

Another major modification to psychoanalysis concerns a shift in focus from id t ego. Freud's version of psychoanalysis focused on the id, especially the twin instincts of sex and aggression, and how the ego and superego respond to the demands of the id. We might characterize Freudian psychoanalysis as id psychology. Later psychoanalysts felt that the ego deserved more attention, that it performed many constructive functions. Indeed, Freud's own daughter—Anna Freud—focused on the strengths of the ego as it defended the person against anxiety. One prominent student of Freud— Erik Erikson—emphasized the ego as a powerful, independent part of personality . Moreover, Erikson noted that the ego was involved in mastering the environment, achieving one's goals, and, hence, establishing one' s identity. It is no wonder , then, that the approach to psychoanalysis started by Anna Freud and continued by Erikson is called ego psychology.

Establishing a secure identity is seen as the primary function of the ego. Identity can be thought of as an inner sense of who we are, of what makes us unique, and a sense of continuity over time and a feeling of wholeness. You have probably heard the term identity crisis. This term comes from Erikson' s work, and it refers to the desperation and confusion a person feels when he or she has not developed a strong sense of identity . Maybe you have even felt such feelings when you were uncertain about yourself, uncertain about who you were or how you wanted others to view you, what you valued and wanted out of life, and where you were going in terms of the direction of your life. A period of identity crisis is a common experience during adolescence, but for some people it occurs later in life or lasts for a longer period. The so-called midlife crisis, discussed more in Chapter 1 1, often begins with an identity crisis (Sheldon & Kasser, 2001).

One of Erikson's lasting contributions was developing the notion of identity as an important developmental achievement in everyone's personality. Identity has been thought of as a story that a person develops about himself or herself (McAdams, 1999). The story answers the following questions: Who am I? What is my place in the adult world? What are the unifying themes of my life? What is the purpose of my existence? McAdams (e.g., 1999) sees identity as a narrative story that a person constructs. Although a person may rearrange and reconstruct the plot of his or her life story, it nevertheless takes on importance as the person' s unique story. According to McAdams, once the story has evolved to have coherent themes, the person may make very few changes to his or her story . However, certain events can cause lar ge changes to identity, and are incorporated into the narrative, such as graduation, marriage, birth of a child, turning 40, or retirement. Unexpected events can become a part of the story too, such as the death of a marriage partner , loss of a job, or unexpected wealth. In an illuminating quote, Erikson (1978) describes how all of us construct a life story , and that part of becoming an adult is taking ownership of this story:

To be an adult means, among other things, to see one' s own life in continuous perspective, both in r etrospect andpr ospect. By accepting some definition a to who he is, usually on the basis of a function in an economy , a place in the sequence of generations, and a status in the structur e of society, the adult is able to selectively r econstruct his past in such a way that, step for step, it seems to have planned him, or better , he seems to have planned it. In this sense, psychologically we do choose our par ents, our family history, and the history of our kings, her oes, and gods. By making them our own, we maneuver ourselves into the inner position of pr oprietors, of cr eators. (Erikson, 1978, pp. 1 11-112)

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