Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory

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Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory

I. Overview of Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory

Freud’s psychoanalysis is the best known of all personality theories because it (1) postulated the primacy of sex and aggression—two universally popular themes; (2) attracted a group of followers who were dedicated to spreading psychoanalytic doctrine; and (3) advanced the notion of unconscious motives, which permit varying explanations for the same observations.

II. Biography of Sigmund Freud

Although he was born in the Czech Republic in 1856 and died in London in 1939, Sigmund Freud spent nearly 80 years of his life in Vienna. A physician who never intended to practice general medicine, Freud was intensely curious about human nature, and in his practice of psychiatry he was perhaps more interested in learning about the unconscious motives of his patients than in curing neuroses. Early in his professional career, Freud believed that hysteria was a result of being seduced during childhood by a sexually mature person, often a parent or other relative. However, in 1897, he abandoned his seduction theory and replaced it with his notion of the Oedipus complex. Some recent scholars have contended that Freud’s decision to abandon the seduction theory in favor of the Oedipus complex was a major error and influenced a generation of psychotherapists to interpret patients’ reports of early sexual abuse as merely childhood fantasies.

III. Levels of Mental Life

Freud saw mental functioning as operating on three levels: the unconscious, the preconscious, and the conscious.

A. Unconscious

The unconscious consists of drives and instincts that are beyond awareness but that motivate many of our behaviors. Unconscious drives can become conscious only in disguised or distorted form, such as dream images, slips of the tongue, or neurotic symptoms. Unconscious processes originate from two sources: (1) repression, or the blocking out of anxiety-filled experiences and (2) phylogenetic endowment, or inherited experiences that lie beyond an individual’s personal experience.

B. Preconscious

The preconscious contains images that are not in awareness but that can become conscious either quite easily or with some level of difficulty.

C. Conscious

Consciousness is the only level of mental life directly available to us...

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...pecially in women. Other research found that people who are orally fixated tend to see their parents more negatively than do people who are less orally fixated.

X. Critique of Freud

Freud regarded himself as a scientist, but many present-day critics consider his methods to be outdated, unscientific, and permeated with sexual bias. On the six criteria of a useful theory, we rated psychoanalysis high on its ability to generate research, very low on its falsifiability, and average on organizing knowledge, guiding action, and being parsimonious. Because it lacks operational definitions, we rated psychoanalysis low on internal consistency.

XI. Concept of Humanity

Freud’s view of humanity was deterministic and pessimistic. He also emphasized causality over teleology, unconscious determinants over conscious processes, and biology over culture, but he took a middle position on the dimension of uniqueness versus similarities among people.


PsychCrawler (American Psychological Association)Online.

Psychological Online Documents (Psychologisches Institut der Univ. Bonn)Online.

PSYCline Links to Psychological Journals (Armin Günther)Online.
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