Evaluation of Freuds Contributions

Among contemporary personality psychologists, Freud' s theory of personality remains controversial. Some personality psychologists (e.g., Eysenck, 1985; Kihlstrom, 2003) suggest that psychoanalysis be abandoned. Others contend that psychoanalysis is alive and well (W esten, 1992, 1998; Weinberger, 2003). Opinions among personality psychologists differ dramatically on the accuracy, worth, and importance of psychoanalytic theory , and discussions about the merits of psychoanalysis often provoke passionate debate among those on both sides of the issue (Barron, Eagle, & Wolitsky, 1992).

Proponents of psychoanalysis ar gue that it is the first and perhaps only com prehensive theory of human nature. Freud' s voluminous writings of fer a sweeping view of human nature and how the mind works. Even those who disagree with psychoanalysis would have to concede that the theory is impressive in its scope and influence

Proponents of psychoanalysis point to the major impact that Freud' s theory has had on Western thought. Many psychoanalytic terms—id, ego, superego, oedipal conflict—have entered our everyday language. In addition to their influence in ps chology, Freud's writings have played a significant role in sociolog , literature, fin arts, history, anthropology, and medicine, to name only a few disciplines. Within psychology, Freud's works are among the most frequently cited sources in the literature. Many subsequent developments in the discipline of psychology have borrowed or built on the foundation laid by Freud. Freud shaped modern personality psychology and set the course of advancement for perhaps half a century , and Freud's ideas on psycho-sexual development played a significant role in initiating the field of development psychology. His views on anxiety, defense, and the unconscious show up in modifie forms across many areas of modern clinical psychology . The psychotherapy techniques he pioneered are frequently practiced, even if sometimes in modified form Although many modern therapists have done away with the couch, they still inquire about their patients' dreams, ask their patients to free associate, identify and interpret forms of resistance, and work through transference. Moreover , if we think Freud overemphasized sex and aggression, we need merely to look at the popular movies, books, and TV shows.

Critics of psychoanalysis also have strong ar guments (e.g., Kihlstrom, 2003). They maintain that Freud' s theory is primarily of historical value, that it does not inform much of the contemporary research in personality psychology . If you were to look in the pages of mainstream personality journals that publish research, you would find very little that had direct relevance to classical psychoanalysis. Critics insist that without holding psychoanalysis up to scrutiny from outsiders, its merits cannot be fairly evaluated on scientific grounds. Freud himself did not believe in the value o experimentation or hypothesis testing in establishing the validity of psychoanalysis (Rosenzweig, 1994). The scientific method is self-correcting, in that experiments ar conducted to try to disprove theories. If psychoanalysis is not examined scientificall , is not subjected to tests of disproof, then it is simply not supported by scientific fact Consequently, in the view of some psychologists, psychoanalysis is more a matter of belief than scientific fact

Another criticism of psychoanalysis pertains to the nature of the evidence on which it was built. Freud relied primarily on the case study method, and the cases he studied were his patients. Who were his patients? They were primarily wealthy, highly educated, and highly verbal women who had lots of free time to spend in frequent sessions with Freud and lots of disposable income to pay his bills. His observations were made during the therapy sessions only . These are limited observations, obtained on a narrow segment of humanity . However, from these observations, Freud constructed a universal theory of human nature. In his writings, he provided as evidence, not original observations but his interpretations of those observations. Unlike scientists, who make their raw data available so that the results of their experiments can

In the Kill Bill movies (Volume I and Volume II) actress Uma Thurman plays a character with extremely violent and aggressive urges. The popularity of such movies suggests an almost universal fascination with themes of aggression, revenge, and death.

be checked and verified by others, Freud wrote about his interpretations of th patients' behavior, rather than reporting or describing their behavior per se. If the actual raw observations were made available, it would be interesting to see if readers would come to the same conclusions that Freud did. Psychoanalysts today could tape therapy sessions for use as evidence. This is rarely done, however , as analysts argue that patients who know they are being taped do not respond naturally .

There are other specific disagreements with Freudian theor . For example, many believe that Freud's emphasis on sexual drives in his theory of childhood development is inappropriate and perhaps reflects more of a preoccupation of Freud, and the time in which he lived, than an actual topic of childhood development. Others disagree with the notion that personality development pretty much ends at around the age of 5, as Freud held. Those psychologists point to the sometimes profound changes in personality that can occur in adolescence and even throughout adulthood. In Chapter 10, we will take up alternative conceptions of personality development that build on, but significantly extend, Freud s ideas. We will examine other issues in contemporary psychoanalytic thought as well, including a modern view of the unconscious and the importance of relationships in determining personality development (Kihlstrom, Barnhardt, & Tataryn, 1992).

Some personality psychologists take issue with Freud's generally negative view of human nature. At heart, Freud's theory suggests that human nature is violent, self-centered, and impulsive. Freud suggested, in ef fect, that, without the inhibiting influ ence of society , mediated by the superego, humans would self-destruct. Other personality psychologists suggest a more neutral or even positive core to human nature, which we will cover in Chapter 1 1. Finally, Freud's view of women, when he wrote about them at all, implied that they were inferior to men (Kofman, 1985). He suggested that women developed weaker superegos than men (making them more primitive, with weaker moral character), that women' s problems were more dif ficul to cure than men' s, and even that women universally had an unconscious wish to become like men (the penis envy component of the Electra complex). Feminist writers have criticized Freud for confusing women' s true capacities and potential with the role they were assigned in an oppressive, male-dominated society , an idea we discuss further in Chapter 10. For a strong feminist critique of Freud, see Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory (Chodorow, 1989).


Freud proposed a theory of human nature that has become highly influential. The theory is unique in its emphasis on how the psyche is compartmentalized into conscious and unconscious portions. Freud' s theory holds that there are three main forces in the psyche—the id, ego, and superego—which constantly interact in taming the two motives of sex and aggression. These motives may generate ur ges, thoughts, and memories that arouse so much anxiety that they are banished to the unconscious. Keeping these unacceptable thoughts, desires, and memories out of conscious awareness requires defense mechanisms, such as repression. Several of these defense mechanisms are topics of contemporary research by academic personality psychologists. Freud also theorized about a series of developmental stages that all persons went through, with each stage involving a conflict over expressions of sexualit . How the person resolves these conflicts and learns to satisfy his or her desires within the con straints of a civilized society is the development of personality . That is, adults are different from each other because, as children, they learned dif ferent strategies for dealing with specific kinds of conflict

Freud also developed a theory and technique of psychotherapy , also called psychoanalysis. The goals of this form of therapy are to make the patient' s unconscious conscious and to help the patient understand the traumatic basis of his or her problems. There has been a lively debate in the field about the value of psychoanalysis. Howeve , as psychoanalytic ideas under go more scientific examination, and as researchers under take tests on psychoanalytic hypotheses using controlled laboratory experiments, they will undoubtedly learn more about the value and validity of Freud' s theory.

The theory of personality proposed by Freud is one of the most comprehensive views on the working of human nature ever proposed; however , most modern personality psychologists do not totally and uncritically accept the entire theory as it was proposed, word for word, by Freud. Instead, most psychologists accept portions of the theory or agree with modifications to Freud s theory. For example, many psychologists agree that there is an unconscious mind that exists outside awareness, yet many disagree that it is motivated in the way Freud proposed. In Chapter 10, we will discuss how this influences the debate over repressed memories


Psychic Energy 288

Secondary Process Thinking 296

Anal Stage 307

Instincts 289

Superego 297

Phallic Stage 307

Libido 289

Anxiety 297

Oedipal Conflic 308

Thanatos 289

Defense Mechanisms 298

Castration Anxiety 308

Conscious 289

Objective Anxiety 298

Identificatio 308

Preconscious 290

Neurotic Anxiety 298

Penis Envy 308

Unconscious 290

Moral Anxiety 298

Electra Complex 308

Collective Unconscious 291

Repression 299

Latency Stage 308

Personal Unconscious 291

Denial 300

Genital Stage 309

Archetypes 291

Fundamental Attribution

Psychoanalysis 309

Motivated Unconscious 292

Error 300

Free Association 310

Blindsight 294

Displacement 300

Dream Analysis 311


Rationalization 301

Manifest Content 311

Awareness 295

Reaction Formation 301

Latent Content 311

Id 295

Projection 304

Symbols 311

Pleasure Principle 296

False Consensus Effect 305

Projective Hypothesis 312

Primary Process Thinking 296

Sublimation 305

Interpretations 313

Wish Fulfillmen 296

Psychosexual Stage Theory 306

Insight 313

Ego 296

Fixation 306

Resistance 313

Reality Principle 296

Oral Stage 307

Transference 314

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  • Julia Brauer
    What was freuds contribution to the study of personality?
    1 year ago
    Who does not believe freuds personality theory?
    1 year ago
  • Irene Nikula
    What is one benefit of freud's work to modern day psychology personality?
    9 months ago
  • richard
    How has Freuds personality theory contributed?
    4 days ago

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