Essay // Psychoanalysis: History, Foundations, Legacy, Impact & Evolution

Hampstead dpurb-com Psychoanalysis

Photographie: Danny D’Purb © 2008

History and Background

In contemporary psychology, the psychoanalytic movement’s place is both unique and paradoxical. Focussing on the study of the mind as a “software” running on the brain as the “hardware”, psychoanalysis remains the only discipline that truly focuses on the mechanism and processes behind our thoughts. Unlike empirical behavioural science and other “cogno-sciences” that can be fairly barbaric and obstinate in the forced application of the rigid mathematical and systematic procedures embedded in the classic scientific method when dealing with an entity as complex and organic as the human mind; psychoanalysis has remained focussed in understanding human psychology by capturing it in all its details, depths, dimensions and linguistic aspects.

The scientific method although a proven mathematical approach to inquiries in the hard sciences [e.g. physics, medicine, chemistry and material science], shows its limitations when used as a tool for psychological inquiry in the measurement of variables that are incredibly hard to measure such as emotions, values, motives, desires, libidinous intensity or dreams. It is also fair noting that humans are different from simple organisms, molecules or robots, hence psychoanalysis remains the only discipline focused on the mind [the software] assuming that most human beings have a physiologically healthy brain [the hardware].

However, modern sciences have discovered how abnormalities in the brain’s physiology due to birth defects or injury may result in behavioural problems linked to a deficient mind due to the defective brain [hardware] at its disposal. Hence, nowadays most good intellectuals in the field of psychoanalysis would likely be a better psychologist with an in-depth knowledge of the physiology of the brain, i.e. the major areas affecting core functions such as speech [Wernicke and Broca’s], vision [the occipital lobe], and motor abilities [parietal lobe], etc.

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This is because some psychological problems may on rare occasion be caused by brain injuries or physiological abnormality due to virus, trauma, stroke or injury. In those cases where such a scenario materialises, the psychotherapist may refer the patient to a neurosurgeon who may be more appropriate to inspect the extent of the problems on the defective brain [hardware] which may lead to a clearer perspective of the limitations being imposed on the mind of the affected individual and how it impacts processes such as the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious [based on Sigmund Freud’s 1st ground breaking theory of mental life, the Topographic Model, which was also adopted by Jacques Lacan who argued convincingly that post-Freudian psychoanalysts had swayed too far from the fundamental concepts and turned psychoanalysis into a confusing genre].

However, as we are in the developmental stages of conception of the organic theory, a theory that takes the focus on the individual organism’s creative ability to another level, we are going to remain focussed on the mind. The organic theory was inspired by the brain’s magnificent ability to learn any age, and thus give the individual human organism the ability and freedom to define, create, redefine, recreate and shape itself based on its inherited and acquired abilities, desires and personal constructionist developments throughout its life – yes, the individual does have choices and these impact the person’s internal working model of mental life and the person as a whole along with his or her environment.

While psychoanalysis remains one of the most widely known schools of psychology it is perhaps not universally understood. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud is perhaps one of the most famous psychologist of the last century even if his chosen discipline, psychoanalysis, has little in common with the other schools of thought and psychology.

Psychoanalysis views the mind as an active, dynamic and self-generating entity, and this is in the German tradition of mental life [it was also a founding assumption for Jean Piaget as he developed his Theory of Cognitive Development in Children]. It is also important to note that Freud was trained in hard sciences, yet his system shows little appreciation for systematic and reductionist empiricism. As a physician, Freud used his observational skills to build his system within a medical framework, basing his theory on individual case studies. He did not depart from his understanding of 19th-century science in the effort to organise his observations, neither did he attempt to test his hypotheses rigorously through independent verification. As he testified, he was psychoanalysis and did not tolerate dissension from his orthodox views. Nevertheless, Freud had a tremendous impact on 20th century psychology, perhaps more importantly, the influence of psychoanalysis on Western thought, as reflected in literature, philosophy and art, significantly exceeds the impact any other system of psychology.

 

The Active Mind

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Photographie: Danny D’Purb © 2012

Going back to the philosophical foundations of modern psychology in Germany during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, we found that the tradition of Leibniz and Kant clearly emphasised mental activity. This is in contrast to British empiricism, which assumed the mind to be a passive entity [such as a sponge that simply soaks in what is thrown at it]. The German tradition held the most logical and creative assumption that the mind itself generates and structures human experience in characteristic ways [being « active »]. Whether through Leibniz’s monadology or Kant’s categories, the psychology of the individual could be understood only by examining the dynamic, inherent activity of the mind.

Throughout the years, as psychology evolved into an independent discipline in the latter part of the 19th century under Wundt’s tutelage, the British model of mental passivity served as a guiding philosophy. Clearly, Wundt’s empiricistic formulation was at odds with German philosophical precedents, recognised by both Stumpf and Brentano. Act psychology and the psychology of non-sensory consciousness represented by the Würzburg School were closer to the German philosophical assumptions of mental activity than to Wundt’s structural psychology. The Gestalt movement encompassed these alternatives to Wundt’s psychology in Germany. Eventually, as the rational outcome guided intellectuals, Wundt’s system was replaced by Gestalt psychology, turning into the dominant psychology in Germany prior to World War II – one based on a model of the mind that admitted inherent organisational activity.

The assumptions underlying mental activity in Gestalt psychology were highly qualified, where construct for mind involves the organisation of perception, based on the principle of isomorphism, which resulted in a predisposition toward patterns of personal-environmental interactions. The focus on organisation meant that the way of mental processes, not their content, was inherently structured. In other words, individuals were not born with specific ideas, energies, or other content in the mind; rather, the organisational structure was inherited to acquire mental contents in characteristic ways. Accordingly, the Gestalt movement, while rightly rejecting the rigidity of Wundt’s empiricistic assumptions and concepts, did not reject empiricism completely [as a technique to study some basic and easily defined variables (such as traits) and their relation(s) to others]. Instead, the Gestaltists advocated a compromise between the empiricist basis of British philosophy and the German model of activity. Consequently, this opened psychological investigation to the study of complex problem-solving and perceptual processes.

Consistent with the Gestalt foundations, psychoanalysis was firmly grounded in an active model of mental processes, however it shared little of the Gestalt commitment to empiricism. Freud’s views on personality were consistent not only with the activities of mental processing suggested by Leibniz and Kant, but also with the 19th century belief in conscious and unconscious levels of mental activity. In acknowledging the teachings of such philosophers as Von Hartman and Schopenhauer [Read the Essay on our Review of « Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung »(The World as Will and Idea), Freud developed motivational principles that depended on energy forces beyond the level of self-awareness.

Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860)

Moreover, for Freud, the development of personality was determined by individual, unconscious adaptation to these forces. The details of personality development as formulated by Freud are outlined below; however, is also important to recognise the fundamental basis of Freud’s thinking. Psychoanalysis is based on the implication of mental activity further than any other system of psychology. As a major representative of a reliance on mental activity to account for personality, psychoanalysis is set apart from other movements in contemporary psychology. In addition, psychoanalysis unlike the other branches of psychology, did not emerge from empirical academic research; rather it was the product of the applied consequences of clinical practice [i.e. it was a force that was born on the field to treat mental problems as they surfaced throughout human history].

 

The Treatment of Mental Illness

Besides being the founder of the psychoanalytic movement in modern psychology, Freud is also remembered for his efforts in pioneering the upgrade in the treatment of mental and behavioural abnormalities, and was instrumental in psychiatry’s recognition as a branch of medicine that specifically deals with psychopathology. Before Freud’s works in attempting to devise effective methods of treating the mentally ill, individuals who deviated from socially acceptable norms were usually treated as if they were criminals or demonically possessed. Although shocking controversies in the contemporary treatment of mental deviancy appear occasionally, not too long ago such abuses were often the rule rather than the exception.

The treatment of mental illnesses was never a pleasant chapter in Western civilisation and it has been pointed out many times that abnormal behaviour is often mixed up with criminal behaviour as with heresy and treason. Even during the period of enlightenment during the European Renaissance, the cruelties and tortures of the inquisition were readily adapted to treat what we nowadays qualify as mental illness. Witchcraft continued to offer a reasonable explanation to such eccentric behaviour until recent times. Prisons were established to house criminals, paupers, and the insane without any differentiation. Mental illness was viewed as governed by evil or obscure forces, and the mentally ill were looked upon as crazed by such weird influences such as moon rays. Lunatics or “moonstruck” persons, were appropriately kept in lunatic asylums. As recently as the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the institution of for the insane in Utica, New York, which was progressive by the standards of the time, was called the Utica Lunatic Asylum. The name reflected the prevailing attitude toward mental illness.

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« Dr. Philippe Pinel at the Salpêtrière », 1795 by Tony Robert-Fleury. Pinel ordering the removal of chains from patients at the Paris Asylum for insane women

Reforms in the treatment of the institutionalised insane were slowly introduced during the 19th century. In 1794, Philippe Pinel (1745 – 1826) was appointed the chief of hospitals for the insane in Paris, and managed to improve both the attitude toward and the treatment of the institutionalised insane. In the United States, Dorothea Dix (1802 – 1887) accomplished the most noticeable reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill. Beginning in 1841, Dix led a campaign to improve the condition of indigent, mentally ill persons kept in jails and in poorhouses. However, these reforms succeeded in improving only the physical surroundings and maintenance conditions of the mentally ill; legitimate treatment was minimal. [Even today, in 2018, the US seems to have more people with eccentric behaviours and with questionable mental stability, for example, Donald Trump, who has been singled out as being mentally ill by more than one. See: (1) The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, (2) Trump Is ‘Mentally Ill’ Says Former Vermont Governor and Doctor Howard Dean, (3) American psycho? Donald Trump’s mental health is still a question, (4) Psychiatrist: Trump Mental Health Urgently Deteriorating and (5) Stanford’s Zimbardo asks: Is President Trump mentally ill?]

Confidence in US

Around the world, favorability of the U.S. and confidence in its president decline / Source: Pew Research Center

The US has more women in prison than China, India & Russia combined

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, nearly a third of all female prisoners worldwide are incarcerated in the United States of America. There are 201,200 women in US prisons, representing 8.8 percent of the total American prison population. / Source: Forbes

Most people in prison

Highest to Lowest – Prison Population Total / Source: World Prison Brief

Efforts to develop comprehensive treatments were plagued by various quacks, such as the pseudoscience developed by Mesmer that dealt with the “animal spirit” underlying mental illnesses [although it may be true today if expressed as a metaphorical description to some of the behavioural manifestations of some mental disorders in some individuals].

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« White Dogs and Tootsie Pops » by Marie Hughes

Similarly, the phrenology of Gall and Spurzheim advocated a physical explanation based on skull contours and localisation of brain functions – which was of course also wrong.

Gradually however, attempts were made to develop legitimate and effective techniques to treat emotional and behavioural abnormalities. One of the more productive investigations involved hypnotism and was pioneered by a French physician, Jean Martin Charcot (1825 – 1893). Charcot gained widespread fame in Europe, and the young Freud amazed by his abilities, studied under him, as did many other talented physicians and physiologists. He treated hysterical patients with symptoms ranging from hyper-emotionality to physical conversions of underlying emotional problems that the patient could not confront when conscious.

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Une leçon clinique à la Salpêtrière (1887) » with Jean Martin Charcot in Front (A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière) par André Brouillet à l’Université Paris Descartes

Another French physician in Nancy, namely Hippolyte Bernheim (1837 – 1919), developed a sophisticated analysis of hypnosis as a form of treatment, using underlying suggestibility to alter the intentions of the patient. Finally, Pierre Janet (1859 – 1947), a student of Charcot, used hypnotism to resolve the forces of emotional conflict, which he believed were basic to hysterical symptoms. However, it was Sigmund Freud who went beyond the techniques of hypnotism to develop a comprehensive theory of psychopathology from which systematic treatments evolved.

 

A Biography of Sigmund Freud

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Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) / Image: Freud Museum London

Since psychoanalysis as we know it today is hugely influenced by the foundations laid by Sigmund Freud, it is worthwhile to have an understanding about the major points in his life. Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) was born on the 6th of May 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia, at that time a norther province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today a part of the Czech Republic.

Freud was the eldest of 8 children, and his father was a relatively poor and not very successful wool merchant. When his business failed, Freud’s father moved with his wife and children [as many jews are accustomed to migrating to better places in the quest for a better life and income] first to Leipzig and then to Vienna when Freud was 4 years old. The young Freud remained in Vienna for most of the rest of his life, and his precocious genius was recognised by his family, and he was allowed many concessions and favours not permitted to his siblings. For example, young Freud was provided with better lighting to read in the evening, and when he was studying, noise in the house was kept to a minimum so he would not be disturbed.

Freud’s interest were varied and intense, and he showed an early inclination and aptitude for various intellectual pursuits. Unfortunately, Freud was a victim of the 19th century Jew-dislike which was obvious and severe in central and Eastern Europe after the numerous accounts of Jews being banished from places all over Europe due to their occult and violent religious practices on Christian infants [e.g. human sacrifices] along with their known habits in monopolising the majority of the press businesses to then distort news and heritage to their agendas and economic advantage.

However, although Freud was an atheist and more scientifically minded, his Jewish birth precluded certain career opportunities, most notably an academic career in university research. Indeed, medicine and law were the only professions open to Vienna Jews.

Freud’s early reading of Charles Darwin intrigued and impressed him to the point that a career in science was most appealing. The closest path that he could follow for training as a researcher was an education in medicine. Hence, Freud entered the university of Vienna in 1873 at the age of 17. However, because of his interests in a variety of fields and specific research projects, it took him 8 years to complete the medical coursework that normally required 6 years.

Eel

In 1881, he received his doctorate in medicine. While at university, Freud was part of an investigation of the precise structure of the testes of eels, which involved his dissecting over 400 eels. Later, he moved on to physiology and neuroanatomy and conducted experiments examining the spinal cord of fish. While at Vienna, Freud also took courses with Franz Brentano, which formed his only formal introduction to 19th century psychology.

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After waiting for Freud for about 4 years, his fiancée, Martha Bernays, a jewish girl from a business family and the grand-daughter of a famous Rabbi in Hamburg, married him. While she did not show great interest in Freud’s intellectual pursuits, her younger sister Minna became a very close intellectual partner of Freud. Carl Jung one of Freud’s intellectual ally who would become one of his firmest critic would even later say that he learned from Minna that Freud was in love with her and their relationship was very “intimate” – although we have no factual confirmation of such. She was so close to the young couple, that she moved in with them in the 1890s to set up was has been “jokingly” called a “ménage a trois”. As for Martha, she was also a charmer, intelligent, well-educated and fond of reading who as a married woman ran her household efficiently and was almost obsessive about punctuality and dirt. Firm but loving with her children, French analyst René Laforgue said that she spread an atmosphere of peaceful joie de vivre through the household. Shortly after Freud’s wedding, he recognised that a scientific career would not provide adequate income, since anti-Jewish sentiments were strong around Europe and this worked against Jewish advancement in academia even if Freud himself was not a practising Jew or had any religious sentiments. So Freud reluctantly decided to begin a private practice. Although the young couple were very poor in the early years of their marriage, Freud was able to support his wife and his growing family, which eventually included 6 children. The early years in private practice were very difficult, requiring long hours for a meagre financial reward that basically did not challenge him. Freud was also an atheist and did not want psychoanalysis to be seen as a purely Jewish endeavour, and his close network although were mainly Jewish later slowly grew to incorporate European intellectuals where some of the most significant would disagree with some of his assumptions and leave his circle after keeping only a few of his fundamental concepts about the theory of the mind.

During his hospital training, Freud had worked with patients with anatomical and organic problems of the nervous system. Shortly after starting private practice, he became friendly with Josef Breuer (1842 – 1925), a general practitioner who had acquired some local fame for his respiration studies. This friendship provided needed stimulation for Freud, and they began to collaborate on several patients with nervous disorders, most notably the famous case of Anna O., an intelligent young woman with severe, diffuse hysterical symptoms. In using hypnosis to treat Anna O., Breuer noticed that some specific experiences emerged under hypnosis that the patient could not recall while conscious. Her symptoms seemed to be relieved after talking about these experiences under hypnosis. Breuer treated Anna O. daily for over a year, and became convinced that the “talking cure”, or “catharsis”, involving discussion of unpleasant and repulsive memories revealed under hypnosis, was an effective method in alleviating her symptoms. Unfortunately, Breuer’s wife became jealous of the relationship; that would later be called “positive transference of emotional feelings to the therapist” [this would later be explained as patients falling in love with the new object at which they had redirected feelings and desires retained in childhood] at characteristic stages of therapy, this looked suspicious to her. As a result, Breuer terminated his treatment of Anna O. Freud was also very professional with his clients and never had any mistresses or took advantage of his female patients.

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Jean-Martin Charcot (1825 – 1893) / Charcot first began studying hysteria after creating a special ward for non-insane females with « hystero-epilepsy ». He discovered two distinct forms of hysteria among these women: minor hysteria and major hysteria. His interest in hysteria and hypnotism « developed at a time when the general public was fascinated in ‘animal magnetism’ and ‘mesmerization' », which was later revealed to be a method of inducing hypnosis.
Charcot argued vehemently against the widespread medical and popular prejudice that hysteria was rarely found in men, presenting several cases of traumatic male hysteria. He taught that due to this prejudice these « cases often went unrecognised, even by distinguished doctors » and could occur in such models of masculinity as railway engineers or soldiers. Charcot’s analysis, in particular his view of hysteria as an organic condition which could be caused by trauma, paved the way for understanding neurological symptoms arising from industrial-accident or war-related traumas.

In 1885, Freud received a modest grant that allowed him to go to Paris to study with Jean-Martin Charcot for 4 and half months. During that time he not only observed Charcot’s method of hypnosis [which he never managed to master as Charcot did] but also attended his lectures, learning about the master’s views on the importance of unresolved sexual problems in the underlying causality of hysteria. When Freud returned to Vienna, he gave a report of his work with Charcot to the medical society, but its cold reception left him with resentment that affected his future interactions with the entrenched medical establishment and its rigid and reductionist methods at understanding and solving the problems of the mind.

Freud continued his work with Breuer on hypnosis and catharsis, but gradually abandoned the former in favour of the latter, being not very gifted with hypnotic techniques, but also for 3 major reasons regarding its effectiveness as a treatment with general applicability. First, not everyone can be hypnotised; hence its usefulness is limited to a select group. Second, some patients refuse to believe what they revealed under hypnosis, prompting Freud to conclude that the patient must be aware during the step-by-step process of discovering memories hidden from their accessible consciousness. Third, when one set of symptoms were alleviated under hypnotic suggestibility, new symptoms often emerged. Freud and Breuer were moving in separate directions, and Freud’s increasing emphasis on the primacy of sexuality as the key to psychoneurosis contributed to their break. Nevertheless, in 1895 they published Studies on Hysteria, often cited as the first work of the psychoanalytic movement, although it sold only 626 copies during the following 13 years – perhaps due to the lack of sophistication and interest in the workings of the mind at that particular point in history, or the level of the academic discussions that may not have been adequate for the intellect of the average mind at the time.

Freud’s preferred method of treatment, catharsis, involves engaging with patients and encouraging them to speak of anything that comes [occupies] their mind, regardless of how discomforting or embarrassing it might be. This “free association” took place in a relaxed atmosphere, usually on the classic psychologist couch in a reclined position to promote comfort. The main reason behind the logic of catharsis and free association is that – like hypnosis – it would allow hidden thoughts and memories to manifest in consciousness. However, in contrast, to the method of hypnosis, the patient would be aware of these emerging recollections. Another ongoing process during free association is “transference”, which involves which involves emotionally laden experiences that allow the patient to relieve earlier, repressed episodes. Since the psychoanalysis is often part of the transference process [as mentioned earlier where the repressed emotions are often redirected onto] and is often the object of emotions, Freud recognised transference as a powerful tool to assist the patient in resolving sources of anxiety.

In 1897, Freud began a self-analysis of his dreams, which evolved into another technique important to the psychoanalytic movement. In the analysis of dreams, Freud distinguish between the manifest content [the actual depiction of the dreams] and the latent content, which represented the symbolic world of the patient. In 1900, he published his major work, The Interpretation of Dreams. Although it sold only 600 copies in eight years, it later went through eight editions in his lifetime. In 1901, he published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, the book in which his theory began to take shape. Freud argued that the psychology of all people, not only those with neurotic symptoms, could be understood in terms of the unconscious forces in need of resolution.

When his reputation as a pioneer in psychiatry started to grow due to his prolific writings, Freud attracted admiring followers, among them was the notable Carl Jung. In 1909, G. Stanley Hall, president of Clark University, invited him to the United States to give a lecture series as part of that institution’s 20th anniversary. The lectures were published in the American Journal of Psychology and later in book form, serving as an appropriate introduction to psychoanalytic thought for American audiences.

As psychoanalysis was perceived as radical by the medical establishment, early believers form their own associations and found the journals to disseminate their competing views. However, Freud’s demand for strict loyalty to his interpretation of psychoanalysis led to some discord within the movement [perhaps for the betterment of the field itself as many branches kept the fundamental concept of unconscious (Id), pre-conscious (SuperEgo), and conscious (Ego) but fused other theoretical and scientific perspectives to explain and treat a range of mental illnesses]. Carl Jung broke away in 1914, so that by the following year, three arrival groups existed within the psychoanalysic movement. Nevertheless, Freud’s views continued to evolve. Impressed by the devastation and tragedy of World War I, Freud came to view aggression, along with sexuality, as a primal instinctual motivation. During the 1920s Freud expanded psychoanalysis from a method of treatment for mentally ill or emotionally disturbed persons to a systematic framework for all human motivation and personality.

In 1923, Freud developed cancer of the jaw and experience almost constant pain for the remaining 16 years of his life. He underwent 33 operations and had to wear a prosthetic device. Throughout this ordeal however, he continued to write and see patients, although he shunned public appearances. With the rise of Hitler and the anti-Jewish sentiments that arose with his campaigns with the National Socialists, Freud’s works were unfortunately singled out as they were not seen as a scientific endeavour but rather as a Jewish science, and his books were burned throughout Germany. However, Freud resisted fleeing from Vienna. When Germany and were politically united in 1938, the Gestapo began harassing Freud and his family. Pres Roosevelt indirectly relayed to the German government that Freud is intellectual must be protected. Nevertheless, in March 1938 some thugs invaded Freud’s home. Finally, for the efforts of friends, Freud was granted special permission, but only after promising to send for his unsold books in Swiss storage so that they could be destroyed. After he signed a statement saying that he had received good treatment from the police, the German government allowed him to leave for England, where he died shortly after, on September 23, 1939.

 

An overview of the Psychoanalytic System based on Freud’s Research

Before our in depth examination of psychoanalytic theory, it is important to recognise that the theory has an unusually broad focus. Psychoanalysis contains a theory of personality, but it also offers theoretical tools for understanding culture, society, art and literature. It is also a clinical theory that aspires to explain the nature and origins of mental disorders, and that is associated with an approach to their treatment. To give some more sense to Freud’s breadth, consider that he wrote on topics as diverse as the meaning of dreams and jokes, the origins of religion, Shakespeare’s plays, the psychology of groups, homosexuality, the causes of phobias and obsessions, and much more besides. Even as a theory of personality, psychoanalysis is primarily an account of the processes and mechanisms of the mind, rather than an account of individual differences.

In addition to its breadth of focus, the psychoanalytic theory has many distinct components that have also been modified and explored by a range of skilled psychoanalysts, making it hard to integrate into a single unitary model of the mind since they are inter-connected in complex ways.

Freud’s views evolved continually throughout his long career in the collective result of his extensive writings as an elaborate system of personality development. Personality was described in terms of an energy system that seeks an equilibrium of forces. This homeostatic model of human personality was determined by the constant attempt to identify appropriate ways to discharge instinctual energies, which originate in the depths of the unconscious. The structure of personality, according to the psychoanalytic model consists of a dynamic interchange of activities energised by forces that are present in the person at birth. This homeostatic model was consistent with the prevailing views of 19th-century science, which saw the mechanical relations of physical events studied by physics as the term of scientific inquiry. Freud’s model for psychoanalysis translated physical stimuli to psychic energies or forces and retained an essentially mechanical description of how such forces interact.

As the writings on the dpurb.com website are the foundations for the Organic Theory of the mind, we are going to be focused not on the later structural model which repositioned the Unconscious, Conscious and Pre-Conscious across the Id, Ego and SuperEgo, but with the first topographic model (1900 – 1905) adopted by both Carl Jung and Jacques Lacan. This model, has been more influential and is more flexible in accommodating competing view points about the structure of mental life across individuals.

The topographic model refers to the levels or layers of mental life. Freud proposed that mental content – ideas, wishes, emotions, impulses, memories, and so on – can be located at one of the three levels: Conscious (later known as the Ego), Preconscious (SuperEgo), and Unconscious (Id). It is important however, to understand that Freud use these terms to describe degrees of awareness and unawareness, but also to refer to distinct mental systems with their own distinct laws of operation. Unconscious cognition is categorically different from Conscious cognition, in addition to operating on mental content that exists beneath awareness. To convey this point, the three levels of the topographic model was referred to as the ‘systems’ Cs., Pcs., and Ucs.

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The Conscious (which would later be known as Ego with a partial unconscious side, and also “Le Moi” in Lacanian Theory)

Consciousness is merely the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ of mental activity. The contents of the Conscious are simply the small fraction of things that the person is currently paying attention to: objects perceived, events recalled, the stream of thought that we engage in as a running commentary on everyday life. [This is the main focus of most other branches of Psychology such as Biological Psychology and Cognitive Psychology]

 

The Preconscious (which would later be known as the Super-Ego)

Of course, not all of all mental life happens under the spotlight of awareness and attention. There are many things to which we could readily be attention to but do not, such as ideas or plans we have set aside all memories of what we were doing last week or yesterday. Without any great effort these things or events, which in the present out of consciousness, can be made conscious. Those form the domain of the Preconscious.

The boundary between the Conscious (Ego) and the Preconscious (Super-Ego) is a permeable one. Thoughts, memories and perceptions can cross without great difficulty according to the momentary needs and intentions of the individual. They also share a common mode of cognition, which in psychoanalysis is known as the ‘secondary process’. Secondary process cognition is the sort of everyday, more or less rational thinking than generally obeys the laws of logic.

 

The Unconscious (which would later be known as the Id)

The Unconscious (Id) is perhaps one of the most celebrated theoretical concepts in Freud’s legacy. However, he did not invent or discover the unconscious as is sometimes claimed – versions of the concert had been floating around intellectual circles for some time – but he gave it a much deeper theoretical analysis than anyone before him. Freud distinguished between mental contents and processes that are descriptively unconscious and those that are dynamically unconscious. The descriptively unconscious simply exists outside consciousness as a matter of fact, and therefore include Preconscious material that can become conscious if it is attended to. Freud’s crucial contribution was to argue that some thoughts, memories, wishes and mental processes are not only descriptively unconscious, but also cannot be made conscious because of a countervailing force keeps them out of awareness. In short, mental life that is dynamically unconscious is a subset of what is descriptively unconscious, one whose entry to consciousness is actively thwarted. The Freudian unconscious corresponds to the dynamic unconscious in this sense.

Freud held that the Unconscious contains a large but unacknowledged proportion of mental life that operates according to its own psychological laws. The barrier between the Unconscious (Id) and the Preconscious (SuperEgo) is much more fortified and difficult to penetrate than the border between the Preconscious (Super-Ego) and Conscious (Ego). In addition, it is policed by a mental function that Freud likened to a “censor”. The censor’s role is to determine whether the contents of the Unconscious would be threatening or objectionable to the person if they became conscious. If the censor judges them to be dangerous in this type, the person will experience anxiety without knowing what caused it. In this case, these thoughts come wishes and so on, will normally be repelled back into the Unconscious, in a process referred to as “Repression” [it is fundamental and very important to understand that Repression is something else than a judgement which rejects and chooses, repression is unconscious]. Unconscious material, by Freud’s account, has an intrinsic force propelling it to become conscious. Consequently, repression required an active opposing force to resist it, just as effort is required to prevent a surf board made of white foam to rise to the surface when it is submerged in the ocean.

Under the constant pressure of Unconscious material bubbling towards the Preconscious, the censor cannot possibly bar entry to everything. Instead, it allows some Unconscious material to cross over the barrier after it has been transformed or disguised in some way so as to be less objectionable. This crossing might take the form of a relatively harmless impulsive behaviour, or in the form of private fantasy, the telling of a joke, or in a slip of the tongue, where the person says something ‘unintentionally’ that reveals to the trained eye and mind the repressed concerns and wishes [such as that of a psychoanalyst – as Jacques Lacan proposed: repression can take the form of a metaphor and the brilliant psychoanalyst must be able to decipher a chain of clues with a great deal of verbal dexterity where crossword puzzles may help in training]. Psychoanalytic training teaches how phenomenal such as these can be interpreted, the process that involves uncovering the unconscious material that is concealed within their “disguises” [i.e. forms].

To Freud, dreams represent a particularly good example of the disguised expression of the Unconscious wishes. They offered, he wrote, “the royal road to the Unconscious”. One reason for this is that during sleep, the sensor relaxes and allows more repressed Unconscious material to cross the barrier. This material, transformed into a less threatening form by a process referred to as the “dream-work”, then takes the shape of a train of images in the peculiar form of consciousness that we call dreaming. It is believed, that each dream has a “latent content” of Unconscious wishes that is transformed into the “manifest content” of the experienced dream. This transformation has to allow the Unconscious wishes to be fulfilled while concealing the elements of threat they contain. If the latent content is not concealed sufficiently through the “dream-work” process, the sleeper will register the threat and be awoken [sometimes in shock and sweat]. To avoid this the dream-work may alter the identities of the people represented in a wish. For example if a person has an Unconscious wish to harm a loved one, the dream work might produce a dream in which the individual instead harms someone else or in which the loved one is harmed by another person. Neutralised in this way, the Unconscious wish finds conscious expression.

Dreams also showcase the distinct form of thinking that operates in the Unconscious. “Primary processthinking, unlike the secondary process than governs the Conscious (Ego) and Preconscious (Super-Ego), shows no respect for the laws of logic and rationality. In primary process thinking, something can stand for something else, including its opposite, and can even represent two distinct things at once. Contradictory thoughts can coexist and there is not orderly sense of the passage of time or of causation. Basically, primary process thinking captures the magical, chaotic quality of many dreams, the mysterious images that seems somehow significant, the fractured storylines, the impossible and disconnected events. To Freud, dreams are not simply night-time curiosities, but reveal how the greater part of our mental life proceeds beneath the shallows of conscience.

 

Foundations of the later “Structural” model: concepts to consider and synthesise with the Topographic Model

We are now going to have a look at the later version of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory where the Unconscious [this time referred to as the Id] is still the fundamental concept, however decades later in 1923, another 3-way dissection of the mind was proposed. This time Freud called it the Psychic Apparatus and the 3-way dissection of the mind was defined in terms of distinct mental functions instead of levels of awareness and their associated processes. In original German, the terms das Es (Id), Ich (Ego) and Über-ich (Super-Ego) were used. As we take a look at these structures, it is important to remember that they were not proposed as real underlying entities, but rather as a sort of conceptual shorthand for talking about different kinds of mental processes. Our aim here is to synthesise the logical concepts of the Structural Model with the Topographic Model of the Unconscious (Id), the Conscious (Ego) and the Preconscious (Super-Ego), however although it is convenient to talk about the Id, Ego and Super-Ego “doing” such-and-such or being “in charge of” so-and so, it is important to remember that they were not intended to refer to distinct sub-personalities within the individual.

Structural Model_Id_Ego_SuperEgo_IcebergModel_dpurb_1200

The Id [completely/dynamically unconscious] represents the part of the personality that is closely linked to the instinctual drives that are the fundamental sources of motivation in Freudian theory. According to Freud, these drives are chiefly sexual and aggressive in nature. On one hand we have the “life instincts” concerned with preserving life and binding together new “vital unities”, the foremost expression of this concern being loving sexual union. Opposed to these life instincts, on the other side, we have the set of “death instincts”, whose corresponding concern is with breaking down life and destroying connections, its goal is a state of entropy or nirvana, where there is a complete absence of any form of tension [motivation]. The most obvious form of these instincts were aggressiveness expressed inward towards the self or outward towards others. Freud proposed that the instinctual drives were powered by a reservoir of instinctual “psychic energy” grounded in basic biological processes. The sexual form of this energy was referred to as libido.

Although Freud proposed that the Id is a biological underpinning, its contents are psychological phenomena such as wishes, ideas, intentions, and impulses. These phenomena are therefore sometimes described as “instinct- derivatives”. Some of these phenomena are innate, whereas others have been consigned to the Id by the process of repression. All of the Id’s contents, however are unconscious.

Freud proposed that the Id operated according to what he called the “pleasure principle”. Simply stated, this principle states that the Id’s urges strives to obtain pleasure and avoid “unpleasure” without delay. Pleasure, in Freud’s understanding, represented a discharge of instinctual energy which is accompanied by a release of tension. In short, the Id strives to satisfy its drives enabling immediate, pleasurable release of instinctual energy. It is the most primitive and least accessible structure of personality. As originally described by Freud, the Id is psychic energy of an irrational nature and sexual character, which instinctually determines unconscious processes. The Id is not in contact with the environment, but rather relates to the other structures of personality that in turn must mediate between the Id’s instincts and the external world. Immune from reality and social convention, the Id is guided by the pleasure principle, seeking to gratify instinctual libidinal needs either directly, through a sexual experience, or indirectly, by dreaming or fantasizing. The latter, indirect gratification was called the primary process. The exact object of direct gratification in the pleasure principle is determined by the psychosexual stage of the individual’s development [as explained in 3rd part of the essay on The 3 Major Theories of Development].

The Ego, is another mental function and complicates this picture of immediate gratification. This “psychic agency” arises over the course of development as the child learns that it is often necessary and desirable to delay gratification. The bottle or breast does not always appear the instant that hunger is first experienced, and sometimes it is better to resist the urge to urinate at the bladder’s first bidding if one is to avoid the unpleasure of wet pants, embarrassment, and a parent’s howls of dismay. The Ego, often called the “executive” of personality because of its role in channeling Id energies into socially acceptable outlets [ego is believed to start developing between the ages of 1 and 2 as the child confronts the environment]. The Ego crystallises out this emerging capacity for delay, and in time becomes a restraint on the Id’s impatient striving for discharge. However, it cannot be an inflexible restraint. Its task is not to delay the fulfilment of wishes and impulses endlessly, but to determine when and how it would be most sensible or prudent to do so given the demands of the external environment at a particular time. It operates, that is, on the “Reality principle”, which simply requires that the Ego regulate the person’s behaviour in accordance with external conditions [at a given time or place according to certain rules or laws or conventions, and of course this changes as society redefines “reality” in terms of what it acceptable and not].

Freud emphasized that the Ego is not the dominant force in the personality [unlike Ego psychologists in the US has stated], although he believed it should strive to be. A famous statement of Freud regarding the goal of Psychoanalytic treatment is “Where Id was, there Ego shall be”. By his account, the Ego not only emerges out of the Id in the course of development – beforehand, the infant is pure Id – but it also derives all of its energy from the Id. Freud had a gift for metaphor, and he likened the Ego’s relation to the Id as a rider’s relation to a wilful horse. The horse supplies all of the pair’s force, but the rider may be able to channel it in a particular direction.

Fortunately, this “rider” has a repertoire of skills at its disposal. Freud proposed that the Ego could employ a variety of “defence mechanism” in the service of the reality principle. These mechanisms come in a diverse range, and all represent operations that the Ego performs to deal with the threats to the rational expression of the person’s desires, whether from the Id or the external environment. These Ego defence mechanisms are common processes in everyday mental life, and many of them are carried out by the Ego unconsciously, showing that there is an unconscious part in the Ego.

The Ego being governed by the reality principle, is aware of environmental demands and adjusts behaviour so that the instinctual pressures of the id are satisfied in acceptable ways, and the attainment of specific objects to reduce libidinal energy in socially appropriate ways was called the “secondary process” [the “primary process” being the Unconscious (Id)].

Some of the most well known defence mechanisms are denial, isolation of affect, projection, reaction formation, repression and sublimation.

Finally, the differentiation of the structures of personality, called the Super-Ego, is believed to start appearing by the age of 5. In contrast to the Id and Ego, which are internal developments of personality, the Super-Ego is an external imposition. That is the Super-Ego is the incorporation of moral standards perceived by the Ego from some agent of authority in the environment, usually an assimilation of the parents’ views as the child develops – both positive and negative aspects of these standards. The Super-Ego’s emergence complicates the task of the Ego in regulating the expression of the Id’s impulses in response to demands and opportunities of the external environment. The Super-Ego represents an early form of conscience, an internalised set of moral values, standards, and ideals. These moral precepts are not the sort of flexible, evolving, reasoned, and discussable rules of conduct that we tend to imagine when we think of adult morality, however, instead they tend to be relatively harsh, absolute and punishing; adult morality as refracted through the immature and fearful mind of a child. The Super-Ego therefore represents the shrill voice of societal rules and restrictions, a voice that condemns and forbids many of the sexual and destructive wishes, impulses and thoughts that emerge from the Id.

The positive moral code is the Ego ideal, i.e. a representation of behaviour for the individual to emulate. The conscience embodies the negative aspect of the Super-Ego, and determines which activities are to be taboo. Conduct that violates the dictates of the conscience produces “guilt” in healthy individuals. Hence, the Super-Ego and the Id are in direct conflict, leaving the Ego to mediate. The Ego now becomes the servant of three masters: the Id, the Super-Ego and the External Environment [Societal Rules]. It is now not enough to reconcile what is desired with what is possible under the circumstances. The Ego now also needs to take into consideration what is socially prohibited and impermissible. Instinctual drives must still be satisfied; which is a constant, however the Ego now attempts to satisfy them in a way that is flexibly “realistic” – that is, in the person’s best interests under current conditions – but also “socially” permitted. These prohibitions are often very unreasonable and inflexible, rejecting any expression of the drive with an unconditional “NO”, either because the moral structures of a particular “culture” are intrinsically rigid, atavistic or unsophisticated, or because the child’s internalisation of these structures is simply black-and-white, without any grey area to compromise for an adequate expression of the drive. Thus, the Super-Ego imposes a pattern of conduct that results in some degree of self-control through an internalised system of rewards and punishments.

Given the demands that it faces, the Ego can either find a way to express the Id’s desires successfully, or its attempts to arbitrate can fail. In this case, psychological trouble is likely to follow. If the Id wins the struggle, and the desire finds expression in a more-or-less unaltered and primitive form, the person may experience guilt or shame: the Super-Ego’s sign that it has been violated, and may also have to pay the price of a short-sighted, impulsive action. If on the other hand, the Super-Ego wins the struggle and dominates a person excessively, that individual may become overly rigid, rule-bound, uncreative, unquestioning, anxious and joyless. The forbidden desires may well go “underground” and manifest themselves in symptoms such as anxieties, compulsions or in occasional “out-of-character” impulsive behaviour or emotion.

The major motivational constructs of Freud’s theory of personality was derived from instincts, defined as biological forces that release mental energy. Hence, from the account of the Unconscious (Id), the Conscious [and partly unconscious, Ego) and the Preconscious (Super-Ego), it implies that conflict within the mind’s opposing forces is inevitable, because the demands of society – or “civilisation” – are generally opposed to our natural instincts and drives. Indeed, intrapsychic conflict is one of the fundamental and defining concepts of psychoanalysis. Conflict within the mind is at the root of personality structure, mental disorder, and most psychological phenomena [e.g. artistic expressions of various forms]. The goal of personality is to reduce the energy drive through some activity acceptable to the constraints of the Super-Ego [Preconscious].

Freud classed inborn instincts to life (eros) and death (thanatos) drives. Life instincts involve self-preservation and include hunger, sex and thirst. The libido is that specific form of energy through which life instincts arise in the Id. The death instinct (Thanatos) may be directed either inwards, as in suicide or masochism, or outwards, as in hate and aggression. The notion that personality equilibrium must be maintained by discharging energy in acceptable ways, leads to anxiety which plays a central role. Essentially the view is that anxiety is a diffuse fear in anticipation of unmet desires and future evils. Given the primitive character of Unconscious (Id) instincts, it is unlikely that primary goals are ever an acceptable means of drive reduction; rather they are apt to give rise to continual anxiety in personality. Freud described three general forms of anxiety.

(i) Reality (or Objective) Anxiety
(ii) Neurotic Anxiety
(iii) Moral Anxiety

Reality or objective anxiety, is a fear of the real environmental danger [e.g. heights, depth, fire, etc] with an obvious cause; such fear is appropriate as it has survival value for the organism. Neurotic anxiety comes about from the fear of potential punishment inherent in the goal of instinctual gratification. It is a fear of punishment for expressing impulsive desires. Finally, moral anxiety is the fear of the conscience through guilt or shame in healthy individuals. In order to cope with anxiety, the Ego develops defence mechanisms, which are elaborate, largely unconscious processes that allow a person to avoid unpleasantness and anxiety-provoking events. For example, an individual may avoid facing anxiety by self-denial, conversion, or projection, or may repress thoughts that are a source of anxiety the unconscious. Many defence mechanisms are described in the psychoanalytic literature, which generally agrees that although defence mechanisms are typical ways of handling anxiety and maintaining a sense of psychological stability, they must be recognised and controlled by the individual himself/herself for psychological health.

 

Denial Refusing to acknowledge that some unpleasant or threatening event has occurred; common in grief reactions
Isolation of Affect Mentally severing an idea from its threatening emotional associations so that it can be held we are experiencing it unpleasantness; common in obsessional people
Projection Disavowing one’s impulses thoughts and attributing them to another person; common in paranoia
Reaction formation Unconsciously developing wishes or thoughts that are opposite to those that one finds undesirable in oneself; common in people with a rigid moral codes
Repression Repelling threatening thoughts from consciousness, motivated forgetting; common in post-traumatic reactions
Sublimation Unconsciously deflecting sexual aggressive impulses towards different, socially acceptable expressions; central to artistic creation and sports.

 

Freud placed great emphasis on the development of the child because he was convinced that neurotic disturbances manifested by his adult patients had origins in childhood experiences. And as the last model proposed by Freud, the Genetic Model, explains, the psychosexual stages are characterised by different sources of primary gratification determined by the pleasure principle. Freud basically wrote that the child is essentially autoerotic. The genetic model has been previously described in the 3rd section of the essay, The 3 Major Theories of Childhood Development. [Please refer for more details]

However, the genetic model in psychoanalysis has been extensively revised and most of the concepts are not considered as reliable nowadays due to other theories that have shown how personality continues to evolve and only stabilises around the age of 30. However, the genetic model laid the groundwork for other theorist such as John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth who based their guiding principles to uncover the theory of attachment on pre-oedipal developments first mentioned by Sigmund Freud. These attachment types have been discussed in the Essay, The 3 Major Theories of Childhood Development, and although it may not be completely true for all people, the logic behind the psychosexual stages should always be considered to some extend when analysing clients along with attachment types – not to forget to assess the self-reflective abilities of the person, since this has been proven to have more impact on adult personality, emotional intelligence and attachment types.

 

The Relationship between the Topographic Model and the Structural Model

It is important to assimilate the knowledge from the structural model and synthesise them with the topographic model. It can be seen that although the later model is conceptually distinct from the first model, they do map onto one another to some degree. The content of the Id, of course, lies firmly within the Unconscious, and is forbidden from entry to the consciousness unless disguised in the form of dreams, slips of the tongue, symptoms, and so on. However the Ego is not completely conscious unlike many ego psychologist may claim along with cognitive psychologist, as it has a strong Unconscious component, given that a great deal of psychological defence mechanisms are conducted instantly out of awareness, and hence is sometimes inaccessible to introspection by the patient – hence requiring a skilled psychoanalyst to guide therapy and treatment. The Super-Ego also has an Unconscious fraction, reflecting as it does and often “primitive” and irrationally punishing morality at least as much as it reflects our reasoned beliefs and principles. Although many concepts have been revised and alternative treatments relating to mental illness have also been devised by other schools of thought in psychology, the sheer complexity and uniqueness of the psychoanalytic system has formed a remarkable achievement. Indeed, Freud even had to invent new terminology to express his thoughts, and these terms have become an accepted part of our vocabulary.

 

Psychoanalytic Evidence: From the perspective of Empirical Methodology (Mainstream Science)

Freud ardently believed along with all good psychoanalysts that psychoanalysis is a science, not an empirical science, but a science of the mind that slices not with blades or questionnaires, but with concepts through the linguistic and philosophical realm of a patients subjective reality. It is also fair to consider that Freud himself was an accomplished biological scientist before he developed psychoanalytic theories. Biological ideas are interwoven in his work, as is his concepts of drive, instinct, and psychic energy. Nevertheless, the methods that he used to obtain evidence for the psychoanalytic theory were very different from the reductionist and empirical methods used by the laboratory scientists or the statistical psychologists with their quantified questionnaires exploring basic “traits”. As an anatomist and physiologist, Freud made systematic observations of living and dead organisms, and conducted controlled experiments. Hence, he must have come to the same conclusion as ourselves, which is, mental life cannot be fully explained by the mechanical explanations, although a lot can be learnt from understanding the physiology of the brain, but the “software” itself, that generates the mind, is an entity that empirical science comes short in terms of its methodologies. Hence, as a psychoanalyst, Freud introspected and speculated about his own mental life, and listened closely to what his patients told him during sessions of psychoanalytic therapy. If is quite clear, that dissecting an eel is completely different from dissecting a personality with all its complexities, and that observing the stream of one’s consciousness or another’s speech is very different from conducting a controlled experiment with observable variables. So, psychoanalytic evidence is clearly unlike the evidence on which most “hard physical sciences” are based.

However, it is important to understand that the critique of psychoanalysis from the methodology of empirical science may not be rational. Because psychoanalysis was never intended to be a mechanical science, although it learns from neuroscience of certain aspects of the physiology of the brain. These questions about Empirically Supported Treatment (EST) came to the forefront of psychotherapy literature in 1993, when Division 12 of the American Psychological Association worked to publish a list of criteria for what constitutes EST (Chambless, et al., 1996; Task Force on Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures, 1995; Taskforce on Psychological Intervention Guidelines, 1995). A list of treatments were published that we empirically supported and very few psychodynamic treatments were included, nor were interpersonal or humanistic therapy included. Not surprisingly, these guidelines and list became anything but unifying for psychotherapists and psychotherapy researchers.

Westen, Novotny and Thompson-Brenner (2004) made some important critiques of the literature on ESTs. They noted that ESTs are often designed for a single, Axis I disorder, and patients are screened to maximise their homogeneity and to minimise their diagnostic comorbidity. Treatments are manualised and brief, and outcomes are assessed often by reductions in the primary symptom reduction for that particular disorder. Westen et al. suggested that EST researchers always tend to assume the following:

  • Psychopathology is highly malleable
  • Most patients can be treated for a single problem or disorder
  • Psychiatric disorders can be treated without much attention to underlying personality factors
  • Experimental methodology used to develop ESTs has ecological validity in clinical practice

Westen et al. (2004) basically contended that these assumptions are not valid, not to say wrong. There is considerable diagnostic comorbidity, making most patients ineligible to participate in EST research trials. There also is considerable stability of psychopathology of psychiatric symptoms, even after “successful” completion of EST. And clinicians of all theoretical orientations see patients well beyong the time allotted in treatment manuals (see Morrison, Bradley, & Westen, 2003; Thompson-Brenner, Glass, & Westen, 2003; Westen & Morrison, 2001 for an excellent review of these issues).

Norcross (2002a) offered an additional perspective on why the EST literature has been so controversial. First, he explained that EST research rarely addresses the fact “that the therapist is a person, however much he may strive to make himself an instrument of the patient’s treatment” (Orlinsky & Howard, 1977, p.567 as cited by Norcross 2002a). This idea has been demonstrate very well in empirical literature. For example, Wampold (2001) concluded in a meta-analysis of psychotherapy studies that the qualities of the therapist play a much stronger role in the outcome of treatment that does the treatment itself. Second, Norcross stated that therapy research has savagely neglected the important question of studying the therapy relationship. Instead, the focus has been more on the application and mastery of a technique (not a relationship). Third, who the patient is affects treatment outcome. As attention has been directed towards the study and implementation of psychotherapy techniques to different categories of disorders, small attention has been given to the patient characteristics that affect outcome, such as comorbid conditions, capacity for insight, and a history of interpersonal relatedness.

Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies certainly are related to these issues. Analytic and Dynamic models of therapy are very focused on the behaviour and qualities of the therapist, with special attention to issues of the therapeutic alliance, neutrality, transference, and countertransference.

Freud's Couch at Freud Museum London

The couch that started everything: Freud’s psychoanalytic couch at the Freud Museum in London

It is important to also consider that one’s training in how to conduct psychoanalytic or psychodynamic psychotherapy is focused on how therapists present themselves and how patients respond to this. Such a focus automatically puts the therapeutic alliance at the centre of attention, something that has taken on more interest over the years (Fairbairn, 1952; Greenberg, 1986, 2001a; Pine, 1998; Stolorow, Atwood & Brandchaft, 1994; Wallerstein, 2002). Psychoanalysts have also recognised that the personality and qualities of the patient affect how therapy should be conducted (e.g., Gabbard, 2000, 2004); that is, one approach to working with patients does not fit all patients. Furthermore, many psychotherapists have been reluctant to allow their therapy relationships to be subject to empirical investigation (Bornstein, 2005), as a form of respect for the privacy of their clients, making it very hard to provide more objective data that the support the validity of psychoanalysis. In contrast, other schools of thoughts derived from the behavioural school and the medical fields have very willingly offered their data for empirical investigations.

Often accompanying this philosophical criticism regarding scientific testability is a factual criticism that psychoanalysts have seldom tried to test their theories scientifically. This criticism may have some truth to it, however many psychoanalysts have responded to the call for more scientific inquiry by asserting that it is unnecessary and that clinical evidence of the treatments curing mental illness of various types is quite sufficient.

FIGURE B - SUCESS RATES WITH ADULTS & CHILDREN

Success Rates of Psychotherapy with adults and children, and Therapy from other schools of thought [traditions] based on Effect Sizes from Meta-analyses / Source: dpurb.com

Other psychoanalysts have argued that scientific support for their theories is irrelevant. Psychoanalysis, they suggest, is not an empirical science, but a science of subjective experience and linguistic dissection, so it is inappropriate to judge it by the mainstream reductionist empirical scientific standards of modern day academia.

Many see psychoanalysis as a “hermeneutic” discipline, an approach to interpretation which is rather like a school of literary criticism or biblical scholarship. To them, psychoanalytic theory is a way to decipher mental life, an interpretative technique for uncovering meaning. Its goal, they say, is to understand psychological phenomena in terms of their underlying reasons rather than explaining them as objective science in terms of causes. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the goal of psychoanalytic understanding is not to ascertain literal or scientific truth – for example, what “truly happened in a person’s past to make them the way they are today” – but instead to formulate “narrative truth”, a story that gives coherent meaning to the person’s experiences [from their perspective in terms of what matters to them] (Spence, 1980).

LePromeneurSolitaire-dpurb-com-1200

Photographie: Danny D’Purb © 2018

It would also be fair to acknowledge that there is something quite “special” about psychoanalytic evidence, for all its empirical flaws. A completed psychoanalytic treatment may sometimes [depending on the type of patient] occupy four or five sessions each week over a period of several years, amounting to perhaps 1000 hours in which the analyst listens closely to the patient’s innermost thoughts. These thoughts, often too intimate and raw to be shared even with loved ones, range widely over the patient’s personal history and lived experiences. They are recounted in a wide variety of mood-states and frames of mind. These millions of spoken words and feelings may not represent the kind of systematically and objectively collected data on which the scientific theory of personality [that the hardcore empiricist loves] can easily be built. However, it is hard to declare that the analyst does not understand the patient’s personality better than someone who might interpret the patient’s responses, dashed off in a matter of minutes, to a trait questionnaire.

Indeed, there is something valuable about psychanalytic evidence, but it is very hard to build an empirical theory out of it since we are not dealing with matters of hard sciences [e.g. biology, physics, chemistry, or astronomy], but the mind of human beings that embodies their whole existence and worlds.

 

Empirical Evidence for the Existence of Unconscious Processes

More and more psychoanalytic thinkers and sympathisers are starting to find creative ways to test psychoanalytic hypotheses in rigorous empiricistic ways to conform with academic science, despite all the difficulties that this involves. This research is now very extensive, and therefore difficult to summarise. However, two very broad conclusions can be drawn from it. First, specific Freudian claims typically fail to receive experimental support but do work in treating mentally ill patients in clinical practice. For example, repression, castration anxiety and penis envy [although Adler suggested that this should be expressed symbolically as women’s frustration at not being able to match male dominance in society] cannot be experimentally demonstrated. Dreaming does not seem to preserve sleep by disguising latent wishes, and there is very little evidence to back up the theory of Psychosexual stages, although it influenced the Theories of Attachment devised by John Bowlby. However, more general Freudian concepts have often received a good deal of scientific support.

There is today, plenty of evidence to suggest the existence of unconscious mental processes, for the existence of conflict between these processes and conscious cognition, and for the existence of processes resembling some of the defence mechanisms. 2 illustrative studies can support his work. First, Fazio, Jackson, Dunton and Williams (1995) found that people who sincerely profess to having absolutely no racial prejudice can be shown to associate negative attributes with Black faces more than White faces in a laboratory task. This finding which has been replicated countless times by social cognition researchers, shows that the conscious attitudes of individuals may conflict with their “implicit” attitudes [unconscious]. Second, Adams, Wright and Lohr (1996) hooked male subjects up to a daunting instrument called the penis plethysmograph, which measures sexual arousal by gauging penile circumference. It was found that men who reported strong anti-gay (homophobic) attitudes demonstrated an increased arousal when shown videos of homosexual acts, whereas non-homophobic men did not. This finding seems to reveal some form of defence mechanism consistent with the psychoanalytic view that homophobia is a reaction formation against homoerotic desires. However, none of these illustrative studies can be considered as completely conclusive, and all have been controversial and subjected to various interpretations. For example, anxiety, shock, or anger rather than sexual arousal may have caused the increased penile blood flow of Adams et al.’s homophobic subjects.

These experiments prove that with enough creative ingenuity, some psychanalytic propositions can be scientifically tested. Doing so should contribute to the important task of sifting what is worth retaining in psychoanalytic theory for strict empiricists of the hard sciences.

 

Unconscious Processes: Integrating Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychodynamic Theory

In various ways, the evidence for the existence of mental processes that are outside of direct conscious awareness are apparent in every scenarios of life. Here are some examples:

  1. We sometimes cannot remember the name of a particular person of importance, only to be able to recall it hours or days later at a time and place when knowing the name is not required
  2. Despite one’s intention to offer some control over the process, dreaming appears to occur at its own timing and pace.
  3. On September 11, 2001, and the days following, many Americans watched hours of news report focussed on the same attacks on the United States. Although deeply upset by the contents, many individuals could not stop themselves from watching these videos, saying that it was as if something in them drew them to reports in spite of conscious awareness of disbelief and outrage
  4. Many patients who seek psychotherapy are unable to stop unwanted behaviours or interpersonal problems, despite conscious awareness of their harmfulness to them and their life. These problems range from relatively simple [e.g. drinking too much alcohol] to relatively complex [e.g. placing oneself in situations in which one is often taken advantage of or obsessing about one’s body image if certain kinds of fattening foods are consumed].

Other examples are evident too, simple exercises that can be easily performed. For example, consider when 3 lines are drawn in the shape of a triangle with the ends of each line however, not touching one another, leaving a small gap between all their extremities. We can come to realise that, depending on the space between the lines, the image is instantly perceived as a triangle by the individual, a triangle with missing edges; 3 lines that are coming together like a triangle, or just 3 lines at different angles.

When taking into consideration perceptual phenomena such as this [i.e. an example of the Gestalt principle of closure], it is evident that the mind does the following very quickly, without conscious awareness of how the process occurs, yet meaning and understanding are formed.

  • Takes in sensory information
  • Determines what the information is
  • Assembles the information in such a way that a percept or concept is formed
  • The percept or concept is “perceived” and “understood”

The evidence for the existence of unconscious processes is widely known in cognitive psychology. In a seminal paper in the American Psychologist, Shevrin and Dickman (1980) demonstrated how conclusions from the studies of selective attention, cortical evoked potentials, and subliminal perception provide support for the concept of an unconscious mind and posit that “no psychological model that seeks to explain how human beings know, learn, or behave can ignore the concept of unconscious psychological processes” (p. 432). They also noted that the initial stage for processing all stimuli occurs outside of consciousness and that is affects what is known consciously. This early stage is different in how it operates from conscious cognition, and conscious cognition necessarily occurs after considerable preconscious processing. Years, later, their conclusions and ideas appear to be no less true.

 

Empirical and Cases Studies Demonstrating Unconscious Processes

In studies of subliminal perception, which began in 1950s, the processing of unperceivable stimuli and its effect on behaviour has provided interesting results about the unconscious mind. Shevrin and Fisher (1967) subliminally presented participants with a picture of a pen and knee just prior to falling asleep. When they awoke from rapid eye movement (REM; dream stage) sleep, participants’ associations to their dreams were of a pen or knee or included less rational kinds of associations (a finding that had been well demonstrated in past sleep studies). These included words that sound like pen or knee, such as pennant, hen, or neither. In contrast, those who awoke during non-REM sleep, which had been associated with few dreams or dreams that were more rational, had associations such as penny (pen + knee) or related words, such as nickel and dime.

Shevrin (2006) noted that this study demonstrated that 2 levels of unconscious processing – irrational and rational – were taking place. He deduced that once inhibitions [e.g. defences] weaken – in this case, being awakened from sleep – more rational processes overtaken by irrational ones. Surprisingly, the more irrational process observed in this study produced content similar to what was found in severe types of psychopathology: repetition and clanging. In a follow-up study with the same methodology, Shevrin (1973) presented participants with the same stimuli, this time while they were fully awake and more proximal  to entering the sleep state. Again, they found a similar pattern of results in which the type of associations produced varied depending on when participants were awakened.

Even more interesting results were described by Shevrin and colleagues (Shevrin, 1988; Shevrin, Bond, Brakel, Hertel & Williams, 1996; Shevrin et al., 1992), who set out to demonstrate that unconscious and conscious processes operate differently. In these studies, patients were selected who had either pathological phobic reactions or extended grief. They were then assessed via interview, and 4 psychoanalysts listened to the interviews carefully. By way of consensus, the psychoanalyst researchers derived a conceptualisation of the core conflicts for each patient; then went on to select the patients’ words that they believed captured the patients’ conscious experience of the symptoms and words that represented unconscious conflict. These words along with unrelated words were then presented both subliminally and supraliminally to the patients, who were then asked to classify them as belonging together. Using event-related potentials to detect patients’ ability to classify or respond to words in similar ways, the researchers found that words representing unconscious conflicts were correctly classified only when presented subliminally and that the reverse was true for supraliminally presented words; they were correctly classified only when presented supraliminally. Here, we find some sense to Lacan’s deductions regarding the unconscious being structured like language and the linguistic dexterity that psychoanalyst should be able to handle to decipher and understand the fullness of the patient’s mind [conscious and unconscious].

Shevrin (1996) concluded, “…When [these studies are] taken in combination, [they] show that unconscious psychological causes affect consciousness in a qualitatively different way… and that unconscious conflict has an existence independent of the of the psychoanalyst’s inferences from conscious manifestations, an independence supported by brain correlates” (p. 591, italics in original). Shevrin also published reviews of research showing an association between subliminal perception and dreaming (Shevrin, 1986) and subliminal perception and repression (Shevrin, 1990).

In a more recent meta-analysis from more than 100 studies of subliminal perception, Weinberger and Hardaway (1990) found that psychodynamic material presented subliminally had a noticeable and predictable effect on behaviour, suggesting very clearly that unconscious processes affect overt behaviour. For instance, studies by Silverman and colleagues (Silverman, 1983, 1986; Silverman, Bronstein & Mendelsohn, 1976; Silverman, Kwawer, Wolitzky & Coron, 1973; Silverman, Lachman & Milich, 1982; Silverman, Ross, Adler & Lustig, 1978) found that subliminally presented messages of Oedipal content (e.g., “Beating dad is okay”) to male participants yielded more competitiveness in a subsequent dart-throwing game than non-Oedipal messages. [Note: Freud proposed that at the Oedipal stage, a competition between father/son and daughter/mother takes place, before it is resolved in the child gradually adopting the same-sex parent’s values as his/her own in the development of an early form of Conscience (Super-Ego/Preconscious)]

Bradley and colleagues (Bradley, Mogg & Millar, 1996; Bradley, Mogg and Williams, 1994, 1995) performed a series of studies in which words related to depression (e.g. misery, grief, despair) are subliminally presented to individuals who fall into 3 groups: those meeting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for major depression, those with subclinical levels of depression and those operating as controls. They consistently found that on implicit memory tests, depressed and subclinically depressed individuals correctly identity words related to depression more often than those who are not depressed. Although their findings have not been consistently replicated for patients suffering with anxiety, studies with depressive patients suggest that a level of processing occurs below conscious awareness that increases individuals’ awareness of and identification of depressive material. Clinically, it would suggest that to effectively treat and manage depression, addressing issues related to unconscious sensitivity to depressive material is very important. Given the relatively high relapse rates for depression and other disorders that are treated with methods focussing more on conscious awareness – via cognitive and behavioural therapies (Westen & Morrison, 2001) – it seems that attention to unconscious processes has the potential to effectively address some depressive disorders.

Eagle (1987) provided support for the notion of unconscious processing in studies of perceptual illusions and dichotic listening, a type of selective attention task. For instance, in the Ames room experiment (Ittleson & Kilpatrick, 1951), the ceiling and floor were not parallel, and the 2 subjects stood either towards the front or back of the room. This led perceivers to believe that the people very different in size , despite the fact that they were not. In the dichotic listening task (Lewis, 1970), individuals heard 2 different messages in each ear but were trained to attend to just one of those messages. When asked to repeat what was heard in the trained ear, individuals had less of a reaction time in producing the words when the words in the other ear were semantically similar [the meaning was synonymous / it meant the same thing]. This means that, there was a facilitative effect on performance when a semantically similar word was processed (unconsciously) in the “unattended” ear.

Further studies of patients who have experienced brain injuries provide interesting clinical observations that support the presence of unconscious processes. Milner, Corkin and Teuber (1968) reported the famous case of a patient known as H.M., who had undergone surgery on his medial temporal lobes to control very severe seizures. We nowadays know that just below the this part of the cortex lies the hippocampus, which is considered as an important anatomical locus for learning new information and storing it in working and long-term memory. Because of the damage done to the medial temporal lobes by the procedure, H.M. failed to remember anything that was new to him past surgery. H.M. however could remember information if he rehearsed it, although it was quickly lost if he was interrupted.

One interesting consequence of this procedure was that H.M. appeared not to have lost all “affective” components of certain experiences. For instance, H.M. had the occasion to visit his mother, who was hospitalised. After leaving the hospital, he had no recollection of visiting her, although he had the idea that something may be wrong with her. H.M. experienced other events like this, demonstrating well that implicit learning was still occurring for “affectively charged” situations and that the unconscious effects of this learning could be identified in everyday life.

Later studies of unconscious affective processing have suggested that there are at least 2 neural pathways that process affective information (LeDoux, 1989, 1995, as cited in Westen, 1999). One of these pathways originates in the thalamus and transmit sensory information to other brain regions, whereby emotional meaning is attached to the information. The other pathway, also originating in the thalamus, sends the sensory information to the cortex, where higher levels of emotional processing and emotional meaning are executed.

Mark Solms has reported some exciting work on the effects of unconscious processes on commonly observed clinical syndromes (e.g., Solms, 2000a, 2000b, 2001, 2002, 2004). Solms has taken a very active role in recent times in integrating the findings of neuroscience and psychoanalysis, which has created a relatively new discipline of study known as neuro-psychoanalysis. An interesting set of case of studies has been provided (Solms, 2000a) on patients who have experienced a strike on the right temporal lobe in the region, where the middle cerebral artery lies. In these case studies, psychoanalytic theory and treatment is integrated into the neurological understanding of the deficits the patients are experiencing.

Right hemisphere syndrome is a neurological disorder consisting of 3 major symptoms: ansognosia, neglect and spatial perception and cognition deficits. Anosognosia is the indifference or outright denial of an illness, which in the present case was the loss of the use of the patient’s left arm and side. Neglect occurs when patients ignore their paralysed limb and side. Patients often feel disgust when they are compelled to attend to the left side of the body, sometimes experiencing a sense of revulsion.

The spatial and cognitive deficits observed consist of defective facial recognition, imperceptions of facial emotion, environmental disorientation, and various kinds of apraxia [the inability to complete an activity involving muscle movement]. There are various theories about the emotional deficit in patients with right hemisphere syndrome. One theory suggests that the stroke affects attentional arousal that is mediated through activity in the right perisylvian region of the temporal lobe, which consequently gives rise to anosognosia and neglect. Another theory has focused on the fact that the left hemisphere is more involved with positive emotional processing and the right with more negative emotional processing. Since, the right hemisphere is damaged in this case, anosognosia and neglect occur because there is little to no processing of negative effect in the right hemisphere. A final theory states that it is the right hemisphere that is dominant for the perceptual representation of bodily states, which include more somatic or visceral perceptions. When this part of the brain is damaged or compromised, the bran can only rely on past somatosensory representations of bodily states, which provide the patient that there is no deficit or problem.

Solms (2000a) described Mr.C., a 59-year-old engineer who experienced right hemisphere syndrome after complications from a mild stroke. Only part of the visual field of the patient was remaining and he would not attempt to compensate for it [i.e. neglect], and he also ignored sensory stimulation that occurred on the left side of his body [anosodiaphoria]. He ignored and minimised his paralysed left arm, referring to it as being “like a dead piece of meat, but not it’s just a little bit lame and lazy” (p.71). Other deficits existed due to right parietal damage.

Mr.C. was “aloof, imperious and egocentric” (Solms, 2000a, p.72). He seemed unconcerned about others and would sit blankly at times staring into space. However, on occasion he would burst into tears or look as if this were the case. These periods however, were brief yet stood in stark contrast to the emotional coldness that he often presented with. During one physical therapy session, Mr. C. was making very little progress in learning how to walk. The physiotherapist reported to the treating psychologist that Mr. C. seemed “indifferent to the errors he was making, and he simply ignored her when she pointed them out to him” (p.74). In a session next day, Mr. C. told the psychologist that the physiotherapist indicated that he had been making mistakes, sounding as if he was confession something. Then, he said that another therapist had asked him to do some activities with blocks but that he could not do it. At this point, the therapist replied to Mr. C.:

 

“…it was difficult for him to acknowledge the problems his stroke had left him with, but it seemed that he was now more able to see them. Mr.C., carried on… [saying] his physiotherapy was “okay” but that his arm had not progressed to the degree that he required. Then, at this point, he suddenly  withdrew from conversing… and began to exercise his left hand and arm with the right one. [The therapist] commented that is seemed as if he could not bear the wait, and wanted his arm to be completely better instantly… [He replied] “I just don’t want my left arm to get weak from non-use.” [The therapist then replied] perhaps it was too painful for him to acknowledge what he was on the verge of recognising a moment earlier – namely that his arm really was completely paralysed – and that the question of whether it would recover or not was largely beyond his control. This comment provoked an instantaneous crumpling of his face and a burst of painful emotion accompanied by pre-tearfulness. [Turning to the therapist] he said in desperation “but look at my arm [pointing to his left arm] – what am I going to do if it doesn’t recover? (pp. 74-75)

 

Solms (2000a) noted that this case demonstrates how unconscious material that was too painful to acknowledge was accessed through careful interpretations. Furthermore, the case example controverts the theory that these patients lack negative emotions or have no awareness of their bodies and their deficits. In Mr. C’s case, it is clear that implicit processes were at work and that the emotional response originated out of the complex, associative networks were formed by this patient’s unconscious processing of the painful loss of his bodily integrity.

Transference phenomena can also be better understood in the light of recent findings in cognitive psychology. To understand transference phenomena, Westen and Gabbard (2002b, pp. 103-104) highlighted important ideas in recent studies of cognitive processing.

  1. More representations consist of memory traces that are multimodal, which include semantic, sensory and emotional components.
  2. Representations of self and other exist as potentials for activation. Because there are potentials, they are subject to modification, which will interact with new knowledge, further developing the self and other representations.
  3. Memory networks consist of semantic, episodic and procedural knowledge, along with differing affects and motives.
  4. Unconscious procedures to manage emotions are defences and may be triggered outside of awareness. Co-occurring motives and affects may also be activated, such that the person may not be aware of either one or the defence being used.
  5. Conscious representation are some of many representations that get activated. Consciousness is a serial processing system, whereas multiple parallel processes get activated that are not available to consciousness.

As may be observed in these principles, Westen and Gabbard (2002b) suggested that transference phenomena represent a dynamic, ongoing process that occurs at the conscious and unconscious level. Because multiple cognitive events occur at one time, transference phenomena can be highly complex phenomena and can represent one of many possible reactions to the therapist, as well as other meaningful individuals in the patient’s life. In fact, multiple transferences can occur. For instance, a patient may feel particularly challenged by his work and may experience some feedback from his female supervisor about his recent difficulties with his job. Suppose the patient’s mother took great strides to help him whenever he felt frustrated in his school activities or work, such that he came to unconsciously expect her to provide assistance during challenging times. At work the patient may have experienced the supervisor’s comments as an invitation for help and assistance. Should no help be forthcoming, the patient would become irritated and disappointed with such a difficult supervisor. Likewise, suppose that this patient’s father was unavailable to help him. He may have to come to view male authorities as uncaring and disinterested in his plight. Thus, in his present treatment, the patient may find himself feeling scared and anxious towards his male therapist when talking about his recent disappointment with the supervisor. An exploration of his interaction with his supervisor may elicit anxiety in the patient towards his therapist whom he experiences as a disinterested and uncaring male. Likewise, he may feel very frustrated towards the therapist  who is not willing to tell him how to manage his interactions with his supervisor, reflecting a maternal transference to the therapist who unconsciously should be offering help and assistance quickly and without much effort on the patient’s part.

 

The Psychoanalytic Account of Motivation

The account of human motivation, resting on sexual and death instincts, has been a big talking point for critics of psychoanalysis from the very beginning. Jung’s departure from the psychoanalytic movement was largely caused over disagreements over the motivational concepts. Jung questioned the centrality of sexuality and argued the importance of spiritual motives. Alfred Adler on the other hand proposed a basic desire for social superiority and a “will to power”. Later writers within the psychoanalytic tradition also sought to expand the theory of motivation to include drives for mastery and competence, and for interpersonal relatedness.

In general, there has always been 2 major issues, the first is whether the sexual and death instinct are plausible sources of human motivation. Second, whether they are sufficient explanations of motivation, or whether additional motives that are not reducible to these drives are needed.

With respect to the first issue, it may be hard to deny [from a universal and organic standpoint] that sexual wishes and drives are powerful sources of motivation, especially if we include “sexual” desires as a part of loving relationships and for bodily pleasure. From a biological and evolutionary perspective it could not be otherwise, since reproductive success is the basic currency of individual genetic fitness, not to mention species survival [in all species including primates and mammals].

From this perspective, the psychoanalytic emphasis on sexual drives – an emphasis shared by no other personality theory – is a very strong point of the psychoanalytic theory, even if we are allowed to disagree and investigate some particular claims that may not apply to some individuals regarding the effects of the Psychosexual stages in childhood as proposed by Freud [which inspired John Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment], or discuss the other drives that are non-sexual [e.g. Romantic love and its expressions].

272 Nat Museum of Women in Art 215_1000_dpurb

From the same evolution standpoint, a death instinct directed inwards towards self-destruction is questionable. However, this negative judgement on the death instinct, which is shared by many contemporary psychoanalysts, does not mean that we need to dispense with the idea of aggressive drives. Aggressiveness could be theorised not as a form of self-destructiveness, but rather as a way to strive for social dominance [among a particular frame, circle or group], i.e. to fend off “attackers” in defence of one’s own “territorial grounds” or to assert one’s personal choice or interest.

The second issue is whether sexual and perhaps aggressive drives are broad enough to capture the full range of human motivations. The answer, is clearly not. Since, we also have drives for achievement, approval, non-sexual relatedness, creativity, self-esteem, and so on? The other question is biologically-based motives that “push” us towards certain kinds of behaviour enough? Do future-oriented motivational concepts, like goals and personal ideals not “pull” us towards desirable endpoints? When these questions are raised, basic Freudian account of motivation may seem limited in their scope, leaving out motives that are socially shaped or personally determined. However, the issue is not so easily resolved, since psychoanalysts may agree that motivations beyond the instinctual drives are required to describe how our behaviour is guided, however it may still be argued that all these motivations are simply multiple layers of the very same instinctual drives. For example, achievement striving could be described psychoanalytically as a socially shaped motive that is underpinned and powered by aggressive urges [that are applied in different forms to achieve our goals, i.e. not in a physically violent manner, but competitively in multiple sophisticated social ways]. On the same note, creativity might be understood as a sublimated expression of our sexual drives [e.g. artistic creations], based on some unconscious desire for unifying and making connections that Freud saw as the hallmark of life instincts.

Victor Hugo La Musique

Traduction(EN): « What we could not say and what we could not silence, music expresses. » -Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885)

However, even if the claim that human motivation is ultimately based on a few instinctual drives that govern all living organism, it would still be more enlightening and accurate to patients to describe their motivation in a more complex way, i.e. expressed to meet the sophisticated and multi-layered human societies we live in. So, in the end there is no objective or empirical way to establish the question of motivation with a clear “true or false” – we will have to use logical reasoning and theories about what drives “life” forward.

 

The 2 Major Disciples of Freudian Theory: Carl Jung and Jacques Lacan

The psychoanalytic movement was largely the invention of Sigmund Freud, and his influence far exceeds that of his early followers who subsequently tried to modify psychoanalysis. The major principles of psychoanalysis were redefined and reinterpreted until by 1930 the movement was fragmented into competing views. Nevertheless, those writers were departed from Freud’s speculation retain the basic model of psychoanalysis that conceived of personality in terms of an energy reduction system with three levels of awareness that is the conscious [that contains the Ego], preconscious [that holds the Super-Ego] and the unconscious [the wild Id]. The psychoanalytic movement has been very active since Freud’s death in 1939, and has led to many new theoretical developments influencing all schools of psychology rather than standing still as we have just seen regarding the reconciliation of some fundamental concepts with Cognitive psychology and Neurosciences.

 

Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)

Carl Jung

One of the most fascinating and complicated scholars of this century, Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) was born to a poor family in a northern Swiss village. He managed to gain entrance to the University of Basel and received a doctorate in medicine in 1900. Jung spent most of the rest of his life in Zürich, teaching, writing and working with patients. After reading The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, Jung began corresponding with Freud and finally met him in 1907. Eventually he accompanied Freud to America in 1909, where he also lectured and introduced his own work to American audiences. However, Jung began to apply psychoanalytic insights to ancient myths and legends in search for the key to the nature of human psyche. Such independent thinking did not meet with Freud’s approval, and there is also some speculation that the Jung made a critical analysis of Freud’s personal life that may have contributed to tensions between them. Freud secured the post of the first president of the International Psychoanalytic Association for Jung in 1911, but by this time their rift was beyond healing. Finally, in 1914, Jung withdrew from the Association and severed all interactions with Freud due to the over-emphasis of the defining stages of infant sexuality among other aspects of pure Freudian theory.  Jung continued his own interpretations of psychoanalysis and made several expeditions to study primitive societies in Western United States, Africa, Australia and Central America. His prolific writings on subjects ranging from anthropology to religion provided novel insights to age-old problems of human existence from the psychoanalytic perspective.

Jung’s “Analytical psychology” refined many Freudian concepts and emerged as the first major alternative to Freudian theory (1900); however, Jung retained Freud’s terminology [Unconscious, Conscious and Preconscious], and as a result the same terms often carry different meanings. Jung (1912) renamed the Id as the Personal Unconscious, the Ego as the Personal Conscious [although the term Ego also appears in some of Jung’s writings], and the Super-Ego as the Collective Conscious [although the term Persona also appears in some of his writings]. After that Jung (1912) analytical psychology also added the Collective Unconscious to Freud’s (1900) structure of personality which is part of the Id.

Jung, like Freud, believed that the central purpose of personality is to achieve a balance between conscious and unconscious forces within the personality. However, Jung described two sources of unconscious forces. What is the personal unconscious, consisting of repressed or forgotten experiences similar to Freud’s preconscious level. The contents of the Personal Unconscious [Id] are accessible to full consciousness. Jung’s Personal Unconscious held complexes, which were groups of feelings with a defined theme than give rise to distorted behavioural responses. According to Hall and Lindzey (1970), “… a [complex] is an organised group or constellation of feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and memories which exists in the Personal Unconscious” (p.82). Unlike archetypes [which reflect the cumulative experiences of the entire human race, Homo Sapiens], Complexes reflect each individual’s unique experience. For example, a boy who repressed negative emotions about his mother could become an adult with the complex, experiencing intense feelings and anxieties when images or stimuli associated with motherhood are encountered [because they are dominated by their mothers (e.g. some mothers might offer nourishment only after – not before – their babies stop crying, thus communicating the unconscious message that the mothers are all-powerful].

The second source of unconscious forces, you need to Jung’s theory, is the Collective Unconscious, more powerful source of energy that contains inherited contents shared with other members of a particular group, i.e. it consists of aspects of personality, common to all humans, that we have inherited from our ancestors. Jung here was talking about individual similarities and not differences in personality. As the personal unconscious has complexes, the collective unconscious has archetypes, defined as primordial images evolved from human beings primitive ancestry of specific experiences and attitudes passed on over centuries [after all humans did evolve from basic primates to the sophisticated beings were now are]. Hall and Lindzey (1970) define archetype as “…a universal thought form (idea) which contains a large element of emotion” (p.84). Although modern science has shown that direct environmental influences has more power in shaping the individual mind, some aspects may be retained from evolutionary psychology although it is important to consider the fact that human societies are constantly evolving in more ways than one. At the time that Jung devised his theory however, he listed such archetypes as birth, death, unity, power, God, the devil, magic, the old sage and the earth mother. As Weitz (1976) noted, according to Jung’s Analytical Psychology, archetypes equip humans to interact with particular aspects of their physical and social worlds in a particular manner, thus archetypes are adaptive from an evolutionary standpoint. For example, Jung (1912) contended that all humans possess a “mother figure” archetype that not only gives them readily accessible image of a generic mother at birth but also predisposes them to interact with their actual mothers in a particular manner [e.g. crying, sucking]. Solomon (2003) noted that in Jung’s Theory, collectively experienced archetypes provide basic themes around which personally experienced complexes are organised. For example, all individuals are born with a readiness to seek nourishment from their mothers (the mother archetype), some individuals may find that their mothers use this readiness against them (mother complex).

The notion of a collective unconscious in personality that provides the individual with patterns of behaviour fits well with Jung’s preoccupation with myths and symbols. Jung believed that the adequacies of a society’s symbols to express archetypal images are an index of the progress of civilisation. [A good example would be the Ancient Greeks who after sophisticating their society through the evolution of their values, philosophy & educational system, saw peasants turn into conquerors, sculptors, poets and artists who even went on to colonise countries that later changed the history of those who colonised them in timeless ways / See: L’épopée de la Grèce antique (2016)].

Jung focussed on the middle years of life, when the pressures of sexual drives supposedly give way to anxiety about the more profound philosophical and religious issues of the meaning of life and death. By reinstating the notion of the spiritual soul, Jung argued that the healthy personality has realised the fullness of human potential to achieve self-unity and complete integration. According to Jung, this realisation occurs only after the person has mastered obstacles during the development of personality from infancy to middle age. Failure to grow in this sense results in the disintegration of personality. Accordingly, the person must individualise experiences to achieve a “transcendent function” by which differentiated personality structures are unified to form fully aware self.

Both Jung (1921) and Freud (1905) wrote about libido, or psychic energy, that presumably fuels individuals’ behaviour, however Jung viewed libido in a less sexualised form. Jung redefined libidinal energy as the opposition of introversion – extraversion in personality, bypassing Freud’s extreme sexual emphasis. Extraversion forces are directed externally of the people and the environment, and then nurture self-confidence. Introversion leads the person to an inner direction of contemplation, introspection and stability. Jung (1921) believed that all individuals are capable of experiencing introversion as well as extraversion over time, however, individuals at any particular point in time may be characterised as experiencing either introversion or extraversion. The opposing energies must be balanced for the proper psychological functioning sensation, thinking, feeling and intuition. An imbalance between extraversion introversion is partly compensated for in dreams. Indeed, for Jung dreams have important adaptive value in helping the person maintain equilibrium. Jung has been praised for developing a dichotomy of flow of psychic energy [i.e. introversion vs extraversion] that has been recast as one of the major personality traits in various trait theories [for empiricists who believe the main focus should be the “conflict-free” conscious part of the ego, to which many basic concepts of Cognitive Psychology can be applied].

In addition to introversion versus extraversion as a pair of opposing directions of flow of psychic energy [i.e. inwards versus outwards], Jung (1921) postulated that thinking vs feeling and sensing vs intuition represent 2 pairs of opposing modes of adaptation and functioning.

As Jung grew older, his writings increasingly came to emphasise mysticism and religious experiences, domains usually ignored by mainstream empirical psychology. Out of all the early founders of psychoanalysis, Jung held views in sharpest contrast to those of empiricism. However, he offered a unique treatment of critical human issues that had not been systematically studied by psychologists and still remain in the realm of speculative philosophy. Perhaps Jung was more of a philosopher than a psychologist, and he provoked and confronted issues not readily accommodated in other systems of psychology.

 

Jacques Lacan (1901 – 1981)

Jacques Lacan

One of the most famous post-Freudian development, especially popular in Europe and South America, was initiated by the colourful French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Lacan developed psychoanalytic theory in radically new directions that relied heavily on linguistic theory and other intellectual trends in the late 20th-century France, such as the structuralist movement. It was proposed that the Unconscious is structured like a language, so that its operations can be likened to linguistic phenomena [e.g. repression was likened to a metaphor]. Hence, to uncover unconscious material the psychoanalyst must decipher a chain of clues with a great deal of verbal dexterity. Lacan also held that the ego, although conscious and able to orchestrate a wide range of operations, is not a complete organ of self-control as ego psychologists from the US maintained, but largely also an unstable and ultimately illusory sense of personal unity. To Lacan, our sense of wholeness is a fiction and our selves are profoundly “de-centred” around a tissue of identifications with people [and characters] we have known [directly or indirectly exposed to – this extends to the arts, fictional characters, mentors, etc].

According to Lacan’s (1973/1977) version of Psychoanalytic Theory, Ego Psychologists [e.g. Anna Freud, Heinz Hartmann, Erik Erikson] and Object Relations Theorists [e.g. Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott and Ronald Fairbairn] had strayed too far from Freud’s original (1900, 1923) original version of psychoanalytic theory. This is even in direct contrast to Jacques Lacan’s own mentor, Ego Psychologist Rudolph Loewenstein who was also a close associate and collaborator of Ego Psychologist Heinz Hartmann.

Lacan, however, seems to have set the record straight in accentuating the fundamental and widely accepted foundations of psychoanalysis by advocating a “return to Freud” [not Anna Freud’s (1923) version of Ego Psychology], but rather to Sigmund Freud’s Topographic Model of the 1900 that defined the mind into 3 levels of awareness, i.e. the Unconscious, the Preconscious and the Conscious.

Rocha (2012) noted that Lacan (1973/1977) was especially concerned with the Unconscious [l’inconscient] as the “ideal worker” within individuals’ personality structures. In a 1973 television interview, Lacan famously argued that the Unconscious does not “think, nor calculate, nor judge; the unconscious simply works!” Lacan contended that like the ideal worker in a capitalist society, the Unconscious generates a product in compliance with rigid, hierarchical rules and regulations – in particular, the product of unthinking and unquestioning fulfilment of individuals’ desire – which seems like something psychoanalysis should address and change for a humane, intelligent and creative civilisation.

As for dreams, Lacan argued convincingly that dreams are important products of the Unconscious that allow individuals to “feel” [at least during the sleeping state] that they have fulfilled their desire, however, dreams may also contain anxiety-provoking contents that individuals do not desire. As Meyer (2001) interestingly pointed out, in Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, the problem of the Unconscious (Id) in finding expression is the problem of discourse with the “Other”. Indeed, infants enter the world without knowing how to communicate their desire to caregivers via language, with its own rules and structure. It is also to be noted that in Lacanian Theory of Psychoanalysis, infants’ desire arises from the “loss and longing” that they experience when they are separated from their caregivers [especially their mothers] – precisely the person from whom the infants first learn early forms of communication [language]. Waintrater (2012) also pointed out that in Lacan’s Theory, individuals’ desire are not solely tied to infantile sexuality. If anything, Lacan’s concept of unconscious desire complements John Bowlby’s (1969) concept of infants’ need for attachment.

Malin (2011) pointed out that in Lacanian Theory, a major event in infants’ personality and social development is the mirror stage, when infants enter into language as a uniquely human form of interaction with all caregivers in the child’s environment [although infants are not likely to consciously experience language prior to age 2]. As Luepnitz (2009) noted, Lacan believed that infants often enter into language at a crucial point when they literally recognise themselves in a mirror, with caregivers [i.e. can include others such as teachers rather than direct parents] pointing to the reflection and approvingly saying to the infants, “Look, that’s you!” – even if infants are unlikely to remember the event in itself.

Rene Magritte - Not To Be Reproduced (1937)

« Not to be reproduced » by René Magritte, 1937

And as Hivernel (2013) noted, the 2 major outcomes of the mirror stage are the emergence of the Subject (i.e., individuals’ gradual awareness regarding their uniqueness) and the Other (i.e. individuals’ gradual awareness regarding the rest of humanity, to whom they are connected to varying degrees). A further major outcome of the mirror stage is the birth of the Ego, and infants may experience joy at this moment, which occurs (and, in fact, is necessary) before infants can truly understand the power of symbols in language. However, as already mentioned, one of the unfortunate outcomes of the mirror stage was that infants gradually begin to look outward, and not inward in search for identity; and such external orientation toward individuals’ own identity is doomed to fail. This seems to make perfect sense even from the objective and mechanistic outlook that the Organic Theory considers; i.e., any organism whose reality or sense of it is based on the geographical mental conditioning of a group of organisms [about 4 or 5] will have a limited perspective of reality and lack a wider outlook of the world as it truly is.

Gillett (2001) noted that, in Lacan’s view, language does not perfectly convey individuals’ desire to other persons, partly because individuals do not fully understand their own desire, and partly because language is an inherently social medium that can lead to misunderstanding as well as understanding between individuals and other persons. Language however is a very powerful social medium [as can be seen also from the essay, The Concept of Self]

Le Langage et la Réalité dpurb 1200

Traduction(EN): « There has always been something special about language because language creates reality. Language reveals the truth of the subject and adds to reality what was not there before. Hence, the difference between truth and reality is that truth adds to reality what was not there before. Empiricists who study traits should remember that constructs would not exist if they had not first been created through language. Hence language, creates reality! » -Danny J. D’Purb

Lacan proposed that the unconscious is structured like language. In the unconscious as well as in the acquisition of language, individuals may follow rules regarding the use of symbols without having deliberately learned [and without having overtly been taught] those rules [something “special” and even “mystical” about language]. In addition the unconscious [like language] is regarded as a “network of signifiers” with the term signifier (le significant) referring to any symbol that is used [on its own, or in combination with other symbols] to stand in for, or to represent, something else [the signified – le signifié].

The Symbolic [which is constructed largely via language] is one of the aspects of the Subject that is revealed via individuals’ dreams. Other structural components [or registers] of the Subject that are revealed via dreams are the Imaginary and the Real. Lacan argued that the psychanalyst’s interpretation of dreams can be viewed as analogous to a linguist’s translation of a language, unearthing the meaning that particular symbols hold for an individual [e.g. a client in psychotherapy].

Lacan noted that a specific difficulty that arises when psychoanalysts interpret the content of clients’ dreams is that, by the time the clients have awakened a large portion [if not most or all] of the dream has vanished, and this can be problematic if clients are reflecting on dreams that they experienced several year (decades?) ago. According to Lacanian Theory, Marder (2013) noted that dreams are oriented towards future interpretation, by dreamers themselves or by someone else (e.g. Psychoanalysts). Hence, truly important content are likely to survive clients’ transition from sleeping to waking states.

Lacan argued as Stockholder (1998) noted, that Freud’s (1923) Structural model, i.e. the later version of his Psychoanalytic Theory with its dictinctions among Id, Ego and Super-Ego, had distorded the true meaning of the first Topographic Model. And perhaps rightly observed, since the Ego was found to have an unconscious element in generating defence mechanisms outside the awareness of the patient when before it was just an element of the Conscious, i.e the Ego, le Moi, was a component of the Conscious, as a level of consciousness and not dissected into distinct mental functions. However, they can be synthesised and enhanced, as we are doing with Freud, Jung and Lacan along with other discoveries in the realms of Neuroscience and Cognitive-Psychology to explore the psychology of the singular organism and its powers of definition to a level that no other psychologist has attempted to before our endeavour.

Lacan’s theory indeed, does not place great emphasis on the personality structures of Id, Ego and Super-Ego, but rather relocates the Ego and Super-Ego across the Unconscious, Preconscious and Conscious, referring to the Ego as “Le Moi” in some of his writings. And unlike US Ego psychologists who considered the Ego as the dominant component that should be worked on, Lacan argued against such irrational therapy to declare that the true goal of psychotherapy should be therapists’ unearthing the clients’ unconscious desire via the “talking cure” of psychoanalysis – not strengthening the Ego [mindlessly, as this may leave individuals in a state of delusion without an ego adjusted to their abilities – and may even lead to individuals allowing their Ego to dominate the Super-Ego and favour irrational release of the Id’s psychic energy without any remorse or rational control].  This is in direct contrast to the Ego Psychologists’ perspective. To Lacan, psychoanalyts should adopt the role of the Other as a counterpart to the clients’ Subject, thus making it possible for clients to peer beneath their own conscious (typically not completely true) narratives, into their unconscious (and “true”) desire(s) [and perhaps guide or help the patient to realise their dreams within the realms of reality within civilised society] and this should consequently adjust their Ego accordingly [to their world(s)].

Lacan was also innovative and challenged the established procedures of Psychoanalytic practice [which promoted multiple sessions lasting an hour or more apiece, across several years] to advocate brief, impromptu [i.e. unscheduled] therapy that could be completed in a matter of minutes. This seems logical since the main factors that influence successful therapy are the relationship between the therapist and the client, but also the aptitudes of the client [which varies from one individual to another depending on their reflective abilities, intelligence and will power]. Since Lacan’s theory is mainly based on French society – one with a history of challenging the limits of the individual in the name of excellence – it seems fair to acknowledge his opinions [in a sense that not all patients require multiple sessions depending on their individual characteristics and response to the relationship with the psychoanalyst and their understanding of their own mental condition and desires] as rational, economical, time-saving and flexible to accommodate individual differences.

However, partly as a reaction to Jacques Lacan’s criticism of Ego Psychoogy [as practiced in the United States], and partly as his advocacy of brief, impromptu therapy, the US-oriented International Psychoanalytic Association barred Lacan from training future psychoanalysts. Despite [or perhaps because of?] the IPA’s decision to bar Lacan from training future psychoanalysts, the proportion of Psychoanalysts adopting a Lacanian perspective has only grown since Lacan’s death in 1981with half or more of the world’s psychoanalysts adopting some Lacanian concepts. Jardim, Costa Pereira and de Souza Palma (2011) applied Lacanian Theory to understanding the personality disorder of Schizophrenia [formerly known as “madness”], interpreting a case study [along with fictional examples from literary works] in terms of failure to achieve an integrated Ego from infancy onwards. Furthermore, McSherry (2013) argued that Lacan’s Theory of Psychoanalysis could benefit mental health nursing practice since various forms of personality disorders [including but not limited to Schizophrenia] can be understood readily in terms of Lacan’s theory.

Malone (2012) noted that Lacan was ambivalent towards the growing tendency for empirical clinical psychologists to align their discipline with the hard sciences [e.g. Biology, Medecine, Physics, Chemistry, etc] and not with the humanities [e.g. Literature, Poetry, Theatre, Drama, Art, etc], and viewed psychoanalysis as ideally informed by both the humanities and by the sciences.

Lacan has been hailed as the “French Freud” who has established a tradition of French psychoanalysis that rivals American and British psychoanalysis in terms of international influence. Although Lacan’s theory has been cast as a uniquely French theory [culturally and linguistically speaking], it has nonetheless struck a chord with many [and, perhaps, most] of the world’s influential modern day psychoanalysts, shattering perceptions across languages and cultures worldwide. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a decade later, much psychoanalytic research in the US itself will seem to confirm Lacan’s perspectives as discussed above.

LesFrancaisNapproventPasLaPolitiquedesUSA

A majority of 80% of French citizens are wary of the US and do not approve its politics / Source: Le Figaro

 

Conclusion: Legacy, Impact & Evolution

Psychoanalysis is a unique movement in psychology that grew out of the same German model of mental activity that produced act psychology and the Gestalt movement. However, psychoanalysis received its immediate expression through the needs of the mentally ill. It was born as a clinical discipline, not an academic development based on empirical methodology to fit a particular field’s reductionist requirements for acknowledgement. For this reason, psychoanalysis, especially as proposed by writers after Freud, gives the impression of an ad hoc movement that develops as particular problems arise – it could be seen as adaptive and constantly evolving. Psychoanalysis did not adhere to the commitment to methodology expressed in those mechanical systems generated by academic research. Hence, there was and still is little interaction between psychoanalysis and those systems grounded on empiricism and reductionist methodologies that are stubborn in trying to capture an entity as the mind when most of the constructs cannot be seen or touched, or accurately measured. Stated quite simply, psychoanalysis and the other schools of psychological models do not speak the same language.

Although different and hardly understood, let alone accepted by common mainstream empirical and academic psychology, psychoanalysis did assume a dominant role in psychiatry. This is completely understandable in light of the origins of psychoanalysis as a response to clinical problems as they manifested themselves. Indeed, psychoanalytic writings enjoyed an almost exclusive position in psychiatry and clinical psychology until the 1960s, when behaviour modification and Pavlovian derivatives based on Behaviourism [such as Cognitive Psychology] began to compete as an alternate model of therapy [Read: the Essay on the Origins of the Cognitive Behavioural Model: Biological Constraints in Learning, which also suggests an unconscious drift in other animals].

Pavlov Dog Labs

Psychoanalysis continues to exert a marked influence on art, literature, and philosophy. This influence reflects major contributions of Freud: his comprehensive analysis of the unconscious. On the same line, literary and artistic expressions are interpreted in light of the unconscious activities of the artist as well as the unconscious impressions of the perceiver. Psychologists today may choose unconscious motivations or simply to refer to subliminal or subthreshold activities. However, any truly comprehensive theory of psychological activity can no longer be limited to conscious aspects of behaviour. Although some psychologists may disagree with some Freudian concepts and interpretations, Freud did identity some dynamic processes that influence the activity of the individual: processes that psychology cannot ignore anymore.

As mentioned earlier, psychoanalysis has a unique position in the history of psychology. Freud did not develop a theory that generated testable hypotheses or other empirical implications. Yet, on another level, Freud accomplished what few other theorists have: He revolutionised attitudes and created a new set for thinking about personality. The findings of other more empiricist theories of personality disturbance have often confirmed many of Freud’s observations. If his views do not meet the criteria of empiricistic study, they nevertheless mark a man of genius and insight, whose influence pervades people’s thinking about themselves in ways that few others have achieved.

The psychoanalytic theory is an enormously complex and ambitious one, and it aims to make sense of a much broader array of psychological and social phenomena than other theories, and does so with a collection of explanatory concepts. Hence, the sheer range and scope of psychoanalytic theory, and its aspiration to be a total account of mental life, should be recognised and applauded. In comparison, all other schools of psychology to study personality look decidedly timid and limited in focus. Even if other approaches tend to have more empirical foundations and hence more credential in academic psychology, they tend to leave out much of what we might want to include in a comprehensive theory of human behaviour. To many intellectuals and lay people alike, any account of personality that does not acknowledge that humans are like psychoanalytic theory portrays us, i.e., driven by deeply rooted motives, inhabiting bodies that bring us pleasure and shame, shaped by our early development, troubled by personal conflicts, and often a mystery to ourselves – is fundamentally limited.

While the empirical limitations are a fact, some of these problems are due in part to the intrinsic difficulty of what psychoanalytic theory tries to explain. Others could be partially overcome if researchers made a more concerted effort to determine which psychodynamic ideas stand up to closer, “scientific enquiry”. However, psychoanalysis cannot be judged only by empirical perspectives, and it would be a mistake to abandon it impatiently, given how much a suitably revised and empirically updated theory of psychodynamics in the future might deepen the studies of personality.

Even for all its failings to the empirical scientist, on some aspects, psychoanalysis is at least partly responsible for several important and scientifically respectable ideas that has always had a kernel of truth and was later developed by other researchers. While Freud’s idea of the dynamic unconscious remains controversial, it can no longer be disputed today that unconscious cognition is now a fact and an uncontroversial idea in cognitive and social psychology, where huge volumes of research now explore non-conscious or “implicit” attitudes.

*****

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Mis-à-jour le 27 Novembre 2018 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

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Essay // Psychology: The Concept of Self

SelfRope

The concept of the self will be explored in this essay – where it comes from, what it looks like and how it influences thought and behaviour. Since self and identity are cognitive constructs that influence social interaction and perception, and are themselves partially influenced by society, the material of this essay connects to virtually all aspects of psychological science. The self is an enormously popular focus of research (e.g. Leary and Tangney, 2003; Sedikides and Brewer, 2001; Swann and Bosson, 2010). A 1997 review by Ashmore and Jussim reported 31,000 social psychological publications on the self over a two-decade period to the mid-1990s, and there is now even an International Society for Self and Identity and a scholarly journal imaginatively entitled Self and Identity.

Nikon Portrait DSC_0169 Res600

The concept of the “self” is a relatively new idea in psychological science. While Roy Baumeister’s (1987) painted a picture of a medievally organised society where most human organism’s reality were fixed and predefined by rigid social relations and legitimised with religious affiliations [family membership, social rank, birth order & place of birth, etc], the modern perspectives adopted by scholars and innovative psychologists has been contradicting such outdated concepts. The idea of a complex & sophisticated individual self, lurking underneath would have been difficult, if not impossible, to entertain under such atavistic assumptions of social structures affecting an individual human organism.

However, all this changed in the 16th century, where momentum gathered ever since from forces such as:

Secularisation – where the idea that fulfilment occurs in afterlife was replaced by the idea that one should actively pursue personal fulfilment in this life

Industrialisation – where the human being was increasingly being seen as individual units of production who moved from place to place with their own “portable” personal identity which was not locked into static social structures such as extended family

Enlightenment – where people felt they were solely responsible for choosing, organising and creating better identities for themselves by overthrowing orthodox value systems and oppressive regimes [e.g. the French revolution and the American revolution of the late 18th century]

and

Psychoanalysis – Freud’s theory of the human mind unleashed the creative individual with the notion that the self was unfathomable because it lived in the depth of the unconscious [e.g. Theory of social representations – theory invoking psychoanalysis as an example of how a novel idea or analysis can entirely change how people think about their world (e.g. Moscovici, 1961; see Lorenzi-Cioldi and Clémence, 2001).

summer

Together, these and other socio-political and cultural influences lead to society thinking about the self and identity as complex subjects, where theories of self and identity propagated and flourished in this fertile soil.

As far as self and identity are concerned, we have noticed one pervasive finding in cultural differences. The so called “Western” world involving continents such as Western Europe, North America and Australasia, tend to be individualistic, whereas most other cultures, such as in Asia, South America and Africa are collectivist (Triandis, 1989; also see Chiu and Hong, 2007, Heine, 2010, 2012; Oyserman, Coon and Kemmelmeier, 2002). Anthropologist Geertz puts it beautifully:

“The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated, motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic centre of awareness, emotion, judgement, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against a social and natural background is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures.”

Geertz (1975, p.48)

the-individual

Markus and Kityama (1991) describe how those from individualistic cultures tend to have an independent self, whereas people from collectivist cultures have an interdependent self. Although in both cases, people seek a clear sense of who they are, the [Western] independent self is grounded in a view of the self that is autonomous, separate from other people and revealed through one’s inner thoughts and feelings. The [Eastern] interdependent self on the other hand, unlike in the West, tends to be grounded in one’s connection to and relationships with other people [expressed through one’s roles and relationships]. As Gao explained: ‘Self… is defined by a person’s surrounding relations, which often are derived from kinship networks and supported by cultural values based on subjective definitions of filial piety, loyalty, dignity, and integrity’ (Gao, 1996, p. 83).

From a conceptual review of the cultural context of self-conception, Vignoles, Chryssochoou and Breakwell (2000) conclude that the need to have a distinctive and integrated sense of self is “likely” universal. However from individualist and collectivist cultures, the term “self-distinctiveness” holds a set of very different assumptions. In the individualist West, separateness adds meaning and definition to the isolated and bounded self. In the collectivist & Eastern others, the “self” is relational and gains meaning from its relations with others.

universal

A logic proposed by analysing historical conceptions of self with an account of the origins of individualist and collectivist cultures along with the associated independent and interdependent self-conceptions may be related to economic policies. The labour market is an example where mobility helped the industry by viewing humans as “units” of production who are expected to shift their geographical locations from places of low labour demand to those of higher demand, along with their ability to organise their lives, relationships, self-concepts around mobility and transient relationships.

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam

Construction workers eat their lunches atop a steel beam 800 feet above ground, at the building site of the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center.

Independence, separateness and uniqueness have become more important than connectedness and long-term maintenance of enduring relationships [values that seem to have become pillars of modern Western Labour Culture – self-conceptions reflect cultural norms that codify economic activity].

However, this logic applied to any modern human organism seems to clearly offer more routes to development [personal and professional], more options to continuously nurture the evolving concepts of self-conception through expansive social experience and cultural exploration, while being a set of philosophy that places more powers of self-defined identity in the hands of the individual [more modern and sophisticated].

TheMan

Now that some basic concepts and origins of the “self” along with its importance and significance to psychological science has been covered, we are going to explore two creative ways of learning about ourselves.

Firstly, the concept of self-knowledge which involves us storing information about ourselves in a complex and varied way in the form of a schema means that information about the self is assumed to be stored cognitively as separate context specific nodes such that different nodes activate different ones and thus, different aspects of self (Breckler, Pratkanis and McCann, 1991; Higgins, van Hook and Dorfman, 1988). The concept of self emerges from widely distributed brain activity across the medial prefrontal and medial precuneus cortex of the brain (e.g. Saxe, Moran, Scholz, and Gabrieli, 2006). According the Hazel Markus, self-concept is neither “a singular, static, lump-like entity” nor a simple averaged view of the self – it is a complex and multi-faceted, with a relatively large number of discrete self-schemas (Markus, 1977; Markus and Wurf, 1987).

masks

Most individuals tend to have clear conceptions of themselves on some dimensions but not others – generally more self-schematic on dimensions that hold more meaning to them, for e.g. if one thinks of oneself as sophisticated and being sophisticated is of importance to oneself, then we would be self-schematic on that dimension [part of our self-concept], if not then we would not [would not be part of our self-concept – unsophisticated]. It is widely believed that most people have a complex self-concept with a large number of discrete self-schemas. Patrice Linville (1985, 1987; see below) has suggested that this variety helps to buffer people from life’s negative impacts by ensuring enough self-schemas are available for the individual to maintain a sense of satisfaction. We can be strategic in the use of our self-schemas – Linville described such judgement colourfully by saying: “don’t put all your eggs in one cognitive basket.” Self-schemas influence information processing and behaviour similarly to how schemas about others do (Markus and Sentis, 1982): self-schematic information is more readily noticed, is overrepresented in cognition and is associated with longer processing time.

egg

Self-schemas do not only describe how we are, but they are also believed to differ as we have an array of possible selves (Markus and Nurius, 1986) – future-oriented schemas of what we would like to become, or what we fear we might become. For example, a scholar completing a postgraduate may think of a career as a lecturer, writer, entrepreneur, politician, actor, rock musician, etc. Higgins (1987) proposed the self-discrepancy theory, suggesting that we have 3 major types of self-schema:

  • The actual self – how we are
  • The ideal self – how we would like to be
  • The ‘ought’ self – how we think we should be

Discrepancies between the actual, ideal and/or ought, can motivate change to reduce the discrepancy – in this way we engage in self-regulation. Furthermore, the self-discrepancy and the general notion of self-regulation have been elaborated into the regulatory focus-theory (Higgins, 1997, 1998).This theory proposes that most individuals have two separate self-regulatory systems, termed Promotion and Prevention. The “Promotion” system is concerned with the attainment of one’s hopes and aspirations – one’s ideals. For example, those in a promotion focus adopt approach strategic means to attain their goals [e.g. promotion-focused students would seek ways to improve their grades, find new challenges and treat problems as interesting obstacles to overcome. The “Prevention” system is concerned with the fulfilment of one’s duties and obligations. Those in a prevention focus use avoidance strategy means to attain their goals. For example, prevention-focussed students would avoid new situations or new people and concentrate on avoiding failure rather than achieving highest possible grade.

aimhigh

Whether an individual is more approach or prevention focussed is believed to stem during childhood (Higgins and Silberman, 1998). Promotion-focus may arise if children are habitually hugged and kissed for behaving in a desired manner and love is withdrawn as a form of discipline. Prevention-focus may arise if children are encouraged to be alert to potential dangers and punished when they display undesirable behaviours. Against this background of individual differences however, regulatory focus has also been observed to be influenced by immediate context, for example by structuring the situation so that subjects focus on prevention or on promotion (Higgins, Roney, Crowe and Hymes, 1994). Research also revealed that those who are promotion-focussed are more likely to recall information relating to the pursuit of success by others (Higgins and Tykocinski, 1992). Lockwood and her associates found that those who are promotion-focussed look for inspiration to positive role models who emphasise strategies for achieving success (Lockwood, Jordan and Kunda, 2002). Such individuals also show elevated motivation and persistence on tasks framed in terms of gains and non-gains (Shah, Higgins and Friedman, 1998). On the other side of the spectrum, individuals who are prevention-focussed tend to recall information relating to the avoidance of failure by others, are most inspired by negative role models who highlight strategies for avoiding failure and exhibit motivation and persistence on tasks that framed in terms of losses and non-losses. After being studied in intergroup relations (Shah, Higgins and Friedman, 1998), the regulatory focus theory was found to strengthen positive emotion related bias and behavioural tendencies towards the ingroup when in the context of a measured or manipulated promotion focus. Prevention-focus strengthens more negative emotion-related bias [haters] and behavioural tendencies against the outgroup (Shah, Brazy and Higgins, 2004).

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The second way of learning about the concept of self is through the understanding of our “many selves” and multiple identities. In the book, The Concepf of Self, Kenneth Gergen (1971) depicts the self-concept as containing a repertoire of relatively discrete and often quite varied identities, each with a distinct body of knowledge. These identities have their origins in a vast array of different types of social relationships that form, or have formed, the anchoring points for our lives, ranging from close personal relationships with other professionals, mentors, trusted friends, etc and roles defined by skills, fields, divisions and categories, to relationships fully or partially defined by languages, geography, cultures [sub-cultures], groups values, philosophy, religion, gender and/or ethnicity. Linville (1985) also noted that individuals differ in terms of self-complexity, in the sense that some individuals have more diverse and extensive set of selves than othersthose with many independent aspects of selves have higher self-complexity that those with a few, relatively similar, aspects of self. The notion of self-complexity is given a rather different emphasis by Marilynn Brewer and her colleagues (Brewer and Pierce, 2005; Roccas and Bewer, 2002) who focussed on self that is defined in group terms (social identity) and the relationship among identities rather than number of identities individuals have.

TheMask

They argued that individuals have a complex social identity if they have discrete social identities that do not share many attributes but a simple social identity if they have overlapping social identities that share many attributes [simple]. For example, when Cognitive Psychologists [cognitive psychology explores mental processes] study high-level functions such as problem solving and decision making, they often ask participants to think aloud. The verbal protocols that are obtained [heard] are then analysed at different levels of granularity: e.g. to look at the speed with which participants carry out mental processes, or, at a higher level of analysis, to identify the strategies being used. Grant and Hogg (2012) have recently suggested and empirically shown that the effect, particularly on group identification and group behaviours of the number of identities one has and their overlap may be better explained in terms of the general property of social identity prominencehow subjectively prominent, overall and in a specific situation, a particular identity is one’s self-concept. Social identity theorists (Tajfel and Turner, 1979) argued 2 broad classes of identity that define different types of self:

(i) Social Identity [which defines self in terms of a « particular » group membership (if any meaningful ones exist for the individual)], and

(ii) Personal Identity [which defines self in terms of idiosyncratic traits & close personal relationships with specific individuals/groups (if any) which may be more than physical/social, e.g. mental [strength of association with specific others on specific tasks/degrees]

The first main focus question here is asked by Brewer and Gardner (1996), ‘Who is this “we”?’ and distinguished three forms of self:

  • Individual self – based on personal traits that differentiate the self from all others
  • Relational self – based on connections and role relationships with significant/meaningful others
  • Collective self – based on group membership [can depend of many criteria] that differentiates ‘us’ from ‘them’

More recently it has been proposed that there are four types of identity (Brewer, 2001; Chen, Boucher and Tapias, 2006):

  • Personal-based social identities – emphasising the way that group properties are internalised by individual group members as part of their self-concept
  • Relational social identities – defining the self in relation to specific other people with whom one interacts [may not be physical or social only] in a group context – corresponding to Brewer and Gardner’s (1996) relational identity and to Markus and Kitayama’s (1991) ‘interdependent self’.
  • Group-based social identities – equivalent to social identity as defined above [sense of belonging and emotional salience for a group is subjective]
  • Collective identities – referring to a process whereby  those who consider themselves as « group members » not only share self-defining attributes, but also engage in social action to forge an image of what the group stands for and how it is represented and viewed by others.

China Collective

The relational self  [for those who choose to be defined by others at least] is a particularly interesting concept as it can also be considered a particular type of collective self. As Masaki Yuki (2003) observed, some groups and cultures (notable East-Asian cultures) define groups in terms of networks of relationships. Research also revealed that women tend to place a greater importance than men on their relationships with others in a group (Seeley, Gardner, Pennington and Gabriel, 2003; see also Baumeister and Sommer, 1997; Cross and Madson, 1997).

In search for the evidence for the existence of multiple selves which came from research where contextual factors were varied to discover that most individuals describe themselves and behave differently in different contexts. In one experiment, participants were made to describe themselves on very different ways by being asked loaded questions which prompted them to search from their stock of self-knowledge for information that presented the self in a different light (Fazio, Effrein and Falender, 1981). Other researchers also found, time and time again, that experimental procedures that focus on group membership lead people to act very differently from procedures that focus on individuality and interpersonal relationships. Even “minimal group” studies in which participants are either: (a) identified as individuals; or (b) explicitly categorised, randomly or by some minimal or trivial criterion as ‘group’ members (Tajfel, 1970; see Diehl, 1990), a consistent finding is that being categorised tends to lead people to being discriminatory towards an outgroup, conform to ingroup norms, express attitudes and feelings that favour ingroup, and indicate a sense of belonging and loyalty to the ingroup.

ManVsGorilla

Furthermore, these effects of minimal group categorisation are generally very fast and automatic (Otten and Wentura, 1999). The idea that we may have many selves and that contextual factors can bring different selves into play, has a number of ramifications. Social constructionists have suggested that the self is entirely situation-dependent. An extreme form of this position argues that we do not carry self-knowledge around in our heads as cognitive representations at all, but rather that we construct disposable selves through talk (e.g. Potter and Wetherell, 1987). A less extreme version was proposed by Penny Oakes (e.g. Oakes, Haslam and Reynolds, 1999), who does not emphasise the role of talk but still maintains that self-conception is highly context-dependent. It is argued that most people have cognitive representations of the self that they carry in their heads as organising principles for perception, categorisation and action, but that these representations are temporarily or more enduringly modified by situational factors (e.g. Abrams and Hogg, 2001; Turner, Reynolds, Haslam and Veenstra, 2006).

evolution

Although we have a diversity of relatively discrete selves, we also have a quest: to find and maintain a reasonably integrated picture of who we are. Self-conceptual coherence provides us with a continuing theme for our lives – an ‘autobiography’ that weaves our various identities and selves together into a whole person. Individuals who have highly fragmented selves (e.g. some patients schizophrenia, amnesia or Alzheimer’s disease) find it very difficult to function effectively. People use many strategies to construct a coherent sense of self (Baumeister, 1998). Here is a list of some that we have used ourselves.

Sometimes we restrict our life to a limited set of contexts. Because different selves come into play as contexts keep changing, protections from self-conceptual clashes seem like a valid motive.

Other times, we continuously keep revising and integrating our ‘biographies’ to accommodate new identities. Along the way, we dispose of any meaningless inconsistencies. In effect, we are rewriting our own history to make it work to our advantage (Greenwald, 1980).

We also tend to attribute some change in the self externally to changing circumstances [e.g. educational achievements, professional circle, industry, etc] rather than simply internally to construct who we are. This is an application of the actor-observer effect (Jones and Nisbett, 1972).

In other case, we can also develop self-schemas that embody a core set of attributes that we feel distinguishes us from all other peoplethat makes us unique (Markus, 1977). We then tend to recognise these attributes disproportionately in all our selves, providing thematic consistency that delivers a sense of a stable and unitary self (Cantor and Kihlstrom, 1987). To sum up, individuals tend to construct their lives such that their self-conceptions are both steady and coherent.

One of major elements in the conception of self, is the ability to communicate through language and its varying degrees of granularity that hold a major role in social identity.

The remaining part of this essay will focus on the power and importance of language as the essence of the human being.

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MicOne.jpg

The Essence of the Modern Human Being: Language, Psycholinguistics & Self-Definition

Human communication is completely different from that of other species as it allows virtually limitless amounts of ideas to be expressed by combining finite sets of elements (Hauser, Chomsky, & Fitch, 2005; Wargo, 2008). Other species [e.g. apes] do have communicative methods but none of them compare with human language. For example, monkeys use unique warning calls for different threats, but never combine these calls on new ideas. Similarly, birds and whales sing complex songs, but creative recombination of these sounds in the expression of new ideas has not occurred to these animals either.

As a system of symbols, language lies at the heart of social life and all its multitude of aspects in social identity. Language may be at the essence of existence if explored from the philosopher Descartes most famous quote, “Cogito Ergo Sum” which is Latin for “I think, therefore I am.”, as thought is believed to be experienced and entertained in language.

cogito ergo sum

The act of thinking often involves an inner personal conversation with oneself, as we tend to perceived and think about the world in terms of linguistic categories. Lev Vygotsky (1962) believed that inner speech was the medium of thought and that it was interdependent with external speech [the medium of social communication]. This interdependence would lead to the logical conclusion that cultural differences in language and speech are reflected in cultural differences in thought.

In the theory of linguistic relativity devised by linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, a more extreme version of that logic was proposed. Brown writes:

Linguistic relativity is the reverse of the view that human cognition constrains the form of language. Relativity is the view that the cognitive processes of a human being – perception, memory, inference, deduction – vary with structural characteristics – lexicon, morphology, syntax – of the language [one speaks].

rene-descartes

Rene Descartes (1596-1659) was not only one of the most prominent philosophers of the 17th century but in the history of Western philosophy. Often referred to as the « father of modern philosophy », Descartes profoundly influenced intellectuals across Europe with his writings. Best known for his statement « Cogito ergo sum » (I think, therefore I am), the philosopher started the school of rationalism which broke with the scholastic Aristotelianism. Firstly, Descartes rejected the mind-body dualism, arguing that matter (the body) and intelligence (the mind) are 2 independent substances (metaphysical dualism) and secondly rejected the causal model of explaining natural phenomena and replaced it with science-based observation and experiment. The philosopher spent a great part of his life in conflict with scholastic approach (historically part of the religious order and its adherents) which still dominated thoughts in the early 17th century.

Communication & Language

The study of communication is therefore an enormous undertaking that draws on a wide range of disciplines, such as psychology, social psychology, sociology, linguistics, socio-linguistics, philosophy and literary criticism. Social psychologists have tended to distinguish between the study of language and the study of non-verbal communication [where scholars agree both are vital to study communication (Ambady and Weisbuch, 2010; Holtgraves, 2010; Semin, 2007)]; with also a focus on conversation and the nature of discourse. However the scientific revolution has quickly turned our era into one hugely influenced by computer-mediated communication which is quickly turning into a dominant channel of communication for many (Birchmeier, Dietz-Uhler and Stasser, 2011; Hollingshead, 2001).

Communication in all its varieties is the essence of social interaction: when we interact we communicate. Information is constantly being transmitted about what we sense, think and feel – even about “who we are” – and some of our “messages” are unintentional [instinctive]. Communication among educated humans comprises of words, facial expressions, signs, gestures and touch; and this is done face-to-face or by phone, writing, texting, emails or video. The social factors of communication are inescapable:

  • It involves our relationship with others
  • It is built upon a shared understanding of meaning
  • It is how people influence each other

Spoken languages are based on rule-governed structuring of meaningless sounds (phonemes) into basic units of meaning (morphemes), which are further structured by morphological rules into words and by syntactic rules into sentences. The meanings of words, sentences and entire utterances are determined by semantic rules; which together represent “grammar”. Language has remained an incredibly and endlessly powerful medium of communication due to the limitless amount of meaningful utterances it can generate through the shared knowledge of morphological, syntactic and semantic rules. Meaning can be communicated by language at a number of levels, ranging from a simple utterance [a sound made by one person to another] to a locution [words placed in sequence, e.g. ‘It’s cold in this room’], to an illocution [the locution and context in which it is made: ‘It’s cold in this room’ may be a statement, or a criticism of the institution for not providing adequate heating, or a request to close the window, or a plea to move to another room (Austin, 1962; Hall, 2000)].

SonicDelicacy

Linguistic mastery therefore involves dexterity at many levels of cultural understanding and therefore should likely differ from one individual to another depending on their personality, IQ, education and cultural proficiency in adaptation. This would lead to being able to navigate properly in the appropriate cultural context through language whilst knowing the appropriateness of the choice of words in term of “when, where, how and to whom say it.” Being able to master these, opens the doors to sociolinguistics (Fishman, 1972; also see Forgas, 1985), and the study of discourse as the basic unit of analysis (Edwards and Potter, 1992; McKinlay and McVittie, 2008; Potter and Wetherell, 1987). The philosopher John Searle (1979) has identified five sorts of meanings that humans can intentionally use language to communicate; the can use language:

  • To say how something is signified
  • To get someone to do something.
  • To express feelings and attitudes
  • To make a commitment
  • To accomplish something directly

Language is a uniquely human form of communication, as observed in the natural world, no other mammal has the elaborate form of communication in its repertoire of survival skills. Young apes have been taught to combine basic signs in order to communicate meaningfully (Gardner and Gardner, 1971; Patterson, 1978), however not even the most precocious ape can match the complexity of hierarchical language structure used by a normal 3-year-old child (Limber, 1977).

BabyBoy

Language has been called a human instinct because it is so readily and universally learned by infants. At 10 months of age, little is said, but at 30-month-old infants speak in complete sentences and user over 500 words (Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006). Moreover, over this very 20 month period, the plastic infant brain reorganises itself to learn the language of its environment(s). At 10 months infants can distinguish the sounds of all languages, but by 30 months, they can readily discriminate only those sounds to which they have been exposed (Kraus and Banai, 2007). Once the ability to discriminate particular speech sounds is lost, it is very hard to regain in most, which is one of the reason why most adults tend to have difficulties with learning a new language without an accent.

Neuro_SpeakingAHeardWord

Processes involved in the brain when speaking a heard word. Damage to areas of the Primary auditory cortex on the Left temporal lobe induce Language Recognition Problems & damage to the same areas on the Right produce deficits in processing more complex & delicate sounds [e.g. music, vocal performances, etc]. Hence, in Neuroscience, although it is not always the case, it can be generalised with a fair amount of confidence that Left is concerned with Speed, and Right is focused on Complex Frequency Patterns.

Most intellectuals researching the evolution of sophisticated human languages turned first to comparative studies of the vocal communications between human beings and other lesser primates [e.g. apes / monkeys]. For example, vervet monkeys do not use alarm calls unless other similar monkeys are within the vicinity, and the calls are more likely to be made only if the surrounding monkeys are relatives (Cheney and Seyfarth, 2005). Furthermore, chimpanzees vary the screams they produce during aggressive encounters depending on the severity of the encounter, their role in it, and which other chimpanzees can hear them (Slocombe and Zuberbuhler, 2005).

A fairly consistent pattern has emerged in the study of non-human vocal communication: There is a substantial difference between vocal production and auditory comprehension. Even the most vocal non-human primates can produce a relatively few calls, yet they are capable of interpreting a wide range of other sonic patterns in their environment. This seems to suggest that non-human primates’ ability to produce vocal language is limited, not by their inability to interpret sounds, but by their inability to exert ‘fine motor control’ over their voices – only humans have this distinct ability. It also confidently suggests that human language has likely evolved from a competence in comprehension already existing in our primate ancestors.

theyoungafricanape

The species specificity to language has led to some linguistic theorist to assume that an innate component to language must be unique to humans, notably Noam Chomsky (1957) who argued that the most basic universal rules of grammar are innate [called a “Language Acquisition Device”] and are activated through social interaction which enables the “code of language” to be cracked. However some other theorists argue for a different proposal, believing that the basic rules of language may not be innate as they can be learnt from the prelinguistic parent-child interaction (Lock, 1978, 1980), furthermore the meanings of utterances are so dependent on social context that they seem unlikely to be innate (Bloom, 1970; Rommetveit, 1974; see Durkin, 1995).

Motor Theory of Speech Perception

The motor theory of speech perception proposes that the perception of speech depends on the words activating the same neural circuits in the motor system that would be activated if the listener said the words (see Scott, McGettigan, and Eisner, 2009). Support for this theory has come from evidence that simply thinking about performing a particular task often activates the similar brain areas as performing the action itself, and also the discover of mirror neurons, motor cortex neurons that fire when particular responses are either observed or performed (Fogassi and Ferrari, 2007).

Cerebellum

Broca’s area: Speech production & Language processing // Wernicke’s area: Speech Comprehension

This seems to make perfect sense when solving the equation on the simple observation that Broca’s Area [speech area] is a part of the left premotor cortex [motor skills/movement area]. And since the main thesis of the motor theory of speech perception is that the motor cortex is essential in language comprehension (Andres, Olivier, and Badets, 2008; Hagoort and Levelt, 2009; Sahin et al., 2009), the confirmation comes from the fact that many functional brain-imaging studies have revealed activity in the primary or secondary motor cortex during language tests that do not involve language expression at all (i.e., speaking or writing). This may also suggest that fine linguistic skills may be linked to fine motor skills. Scott, McGettigan, and Eisner (2009) compiled and evaluated results of recorded activity in the motor cortex during speech perception and concluded that the motor cortex is active during conversation.

Gestural Language

Since the unique ability of a high degree of motor control over the vocal apparatus is present only in humans, communication in lesser non-human primates are mainly gestural rather than vocal.

chimps-gestures

Image: Reuters

This hypothesis was tested by Pollick, and de Waal in 2007, who compared the gestures and the vocalisations of chimpanzees. They found a highly nuanced vocabulary of hand gestures being used in numerous situations with a variety of combinations. To conclude, chimpanzees gestures were much more comparable to human language that were their vocalisations. Could this simply suggest that primate gestures have been critical stage in the evolution of human language (Corballis, 2003)?

On this same note, we may focus on the already mentioned “Theory of Linguistic Relativity” (Whorf, 1956) which states that our internalised cognitions as a human being, i.e. perception, memory, inference, deduction, vary with the structural characteristics, i.e. lexicon, morphology and syntax of the language we speak [cultural influence shapes our thoughts].

Thoughts

In support of of Sapir and Whorf’s position, Diederik Stapel and Gun Semin (2007) refer poetically to the “magic spell of language” and report their research, showing how different categories in the language we speak guide our observations in particular ways. We tend to use our category of language to attend to different aspects of reality. The strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that language entirely determines thought, so those who speak different languages actually perceive the world in entirely different ways and effectively live in entirely different cognitive-perceptual universes. However extreme this suggestion may seem, a good argument against this assumption would be to consider whether the fact that we can distinguish between living and non-living things in English means that the Hopi of North-America, who do not, cannot distinguish between a bee and an aeroplane? Japanese personal pronouns differentiate between interpersonal relationships more subtly than do English personal pronouns; does this mean that English speakers cannot tell the difference between relationships? [What about Chong, Khan, Balaraggoo, Tyrone, Vodkadinov, Jacob, Obatemba M’benge and Boringski – where would you attribute their skills in the former question?]

The strong form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is believed to be the most extreme version to be applicable to the mainstream, so a weak form seems to better accord with the quantitative facts (Hoffman, Lau and Johnson, 1986). Language does not determine thought but allows for the communication of aspects of the physical or social environment deemed important for the community. Therefore in the event of being in a situation where the expertise in snow is deemed essential, one would likely develop a rich vocabulary around the subject. Similarly, should one feel the need to have a connoisseur’s discussion about fine wines, the language of the wine masters would be a vital requisite in being able to interact with flawless granularity in the expression finer experiences.

EQ2

Although language may not determine thought, its limitations across cultures may entrap those ‘cultured’ to a specific one due to its limited range of available words. Logically, if there are no words to express a particular thought or experience we would not likely be able to think about it. Nowadays such an idea based on enhancing freedom of expression and the evolution of human emancipation, a huge borrowing of words across languages has been noted over the years: for example, English has borrowed Zeitgeist from German, raison d’être from French, aficionado from Spanish and verandah from Hindi. This particular concept is powerfully illustrated in George Orwell’s novel 1984, in which a totalitarian regime based on Stalin’s Soviet Union is described as imposing its own highly restricted language called “Newspeak” designed specifically to prohibit people from even thinking non-orthodox or heretical thoughts, because the relevant words do not exist.

Further evidence over the impact of language on thought-restriction comes from research led by Andrea Carnaghi and her colleagues (Carnaghi, Maas, Gresta, Bianchi, Cardinu and Arcuri, 2008). In German, Italian and some other Indo-European languages [such as English], nouns and adjectives can have different effects on how we perceive people. Compare ‘Mark is gay’ [using an adjective] with ‘Mark is a gay’ [using a noun]. When describing an individual, the use of an adjective suggests an attribute of that individual; whereas a noun seems to imply a social group and being a member of a ‘gay’ group. The latter description with a noun is more likely to invoke further stereotypic/prejudicial inferences and an associated process of essentialism (e.g. Haslam, Rothschild and Ernst, 1998) that maps attributes onto invariant, often bio-genetic properties of the particular social category/group.

Paralanguage and speech style

The impact of language on communication is not only dependent on what is said but also by how it is said. Paralanguage refers to all the non-linguistic accompaniment of speech – volume, stress, pitch, speed, tone of voice, pauses, throat clearing, grunts and sighs (Knapp, 1978; Trager, 1958). Timing, pitch and loudness (the prosodic features of language; e.g. Argyle, 1975) play major roles in communication as they can completely change the meaning of utterances: a rising intonation at the end of a statement turns it into a question or communicates uncertainty, doubt or need for approval (Lakoff, 1973). Underlying emotions are often revealed in prosodic features of speech: low pitch could signify sadness or boredom, while high pitch could communicate anger, fear or surprise (Frick,1985). Naturally fast speech often reflects power and control (Ng and Bradac, 1993).

EQ

To gain further understanding of the feelings elicited by different paralinguistic features, Klaus Scherer (1974) used a synthesizer to vary short neutral utterances and has had individuals identify the emotions that were being communicated. Fig. A shows how different paralinguistic features communicate information about the speaker’s feelings.

In addition to paralinguistic cues, communication can also happen in different accents, different language varieties and different languages altogether. These are important speech style differences that have been well researched in social psychology (Giles and Coupland, 1991). From social psychology, the focus in language is mainly on how something is said rather than on what is said, with speech style instead of speech content; whereas discourse analytic approaches also place importance on what is said.

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Fig. A | Emotions displayed through paralinguistic cues

Social Markers in Speech

Most individuals have a repertoire of speech styles that is automatically or deliberately tailored depending on the context of the communicative event. For example, one would tend to speak slowly, use short words and simple grammatical constructions when dealing with foreigners and children (Clyne, 1981; Elliot, 1981). Longer, more complex constructions along with formalised language varieties or standard accents tend to be used in more formal contexts such as an interview or a speech.

In 1979, Penelope Brown and Colin Fraser categorised different components of a communicative situation that may influence speech style and distinguished between two broad features:

  • The scene (e.g. its purpose, time of day, whether there are bystanders or an audience, etc)
  • The participants (e.g. their personality, ethnicity, chemistry between them)

It is important to note however that individual differences have a major role to play in this objective classification of situations as different individuals may not define the similar “objective” situations similarly. For example, what is deemed formal for some may simply be common place to others; this subjective perception of objective situations has an effect on one’s chosen speech style.

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One amazing point raised by Adrian Furnham (1986) is the fact that not only does one adjust speech styles to subjectively perceived situational demands, but one also seeks out situations that are appropriate to a preferred speech style. Contextual variations in speech style contains information about who is speaking to whom, in what context and on what topic? Speech contains social markers (Scherer and Giles, 1979). The most researched markers in social psychology are of group “memberships” such as society, social class, ethnicity, education, age and sex. Social markers are in most cases clearly identifiable and act as reliable clues to group membership. For example, most of the English can easily identify Americans, Australians and South Africans from their speech style alone, and (see Watson, 2009) are probably even better at identifying people who have been cultured in Exeter, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Essex! Speech style generally elicits a listener’s attitude towards the group that the speaker “represents” [at the exception of some non-mainstream individuals – as in any other group]. A mainstream media example could be the actress Eliza Doolittle’s tremendous efforts in the film My Fair Lady to acquire a standard English accent in order to hide her Cockney origins. This idea or concept is known as the match-guise technique, one of the most widely used research paradigms in the social psychology of language – devised to investigate language attitudes based on speech alone (Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner and Fillenbaum, 1960). The method involves individuals rating short speech extracts similar in paralinguistic, prosodic and content respects, differing ONLY in speech style (accent, dialect, language). All the speech extracts were spoken by the very same individual – who was fluently bilingual. The speaker is rated on a number of evaluative dimensions, which fall into 2 clusters reflecting competence and warmth as the 2 most basic dimensions of social perception (Fiske, Cuddy and Glick, 2007).

  • Status variables (e.g. intelligent, competent, powerful);
  • Solidarity variables (e.g. close, friendly, warm).

The matched-guise technique has been used extensively in a wide range of cultural contexts to investigate how speakers of standard and non-standard language varieties are evaluated. The standard language variety is the one that is associated with high economic status, power and media usage – in England, for example, it is what has been called received pronunciation (RP) English. Non-standard varieties include regional accents (e.g. Yorkshire, Essex), non-standard urban accents (e.g. Birmingham, North/South London) and minority ethnic languages (e.g. Afrikaan, Urdu, Arab, Hindi, Mandarin and other foreign minority languages in Britain). Research reveals that standard language varieties are more favourably evaluated on status and competence dimensions (such as intelligence, confidence, ambition) than non-standard varieties (e.g. Giles and Powesland, 1975).

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There is also a tendency for non-standard variety speakers to be more favourably evaluated on solidarity dimensions. For example, Cindy Gallois and her colleagues (1984) found that both white Australians and Australian Aborigines upgraded Aboriginal-accented English on solidarity dimensions (Gallois, Callan and Johnstone, 1984). Hogg, Joyce and Abrams (1984) found that a similar scenario occurs in other linguistic cultures, for e.g. Swiss Germans upgraded speakers of non-standard Swiss German relative to speakers of High German on solidarity dimensions.

Language, Identity & Ethnicity

Matched-guise technique and other studies in linguistics have revealed how our speech style [accents, language, grammatical proficiency & voice] can affect how others evaluate us socially. This is unlikely to be due to the fact that some speech styles are aesthetically more pleasant than others, but more likely to be because speech styles are associated with particular social groups that are consensually evaluated more or less positively in society’s scale. Unless being acted, a person speaking naturally in the speech style of lower-status groups may lead to an evaluation similar to that of the group and their image [in terms of way of life] in society [for most mainstream cases & not expert assessors of individuality]. This simply suggests that processes associated with intergroup relations and group memberships may affect language and social behaviour among the mainstream crowd.

A Scholar at His Desk

Howard Giles and Richard Bourhis and their colleagues employed and extended principles from the social identity theory to develop an intergroup perspective on the social psychology of language (Giles, Bourhis and Taylor, 1977; Giles and Johnson, 1981, 1987). Since the original analysis focussed mainly on ethnic groups that differ in speech style, the theory is called ethnolinguistic identity theory; however, the wider intergroup analysis of language and communication casts a much wider net to embrace all manner of intergroup contexts (e.g. Giles, 2012; Giles, Reid and Harwood, 2010). 

Speech Style and Ethnicity

Although it is well know that ethnic groups differ in appearance, dress, cultural practices, and religious beliefs, language or speech style is often one of the most distinct and clear markers of ethnic identitysocial identity as a member of an ethnolinguistic group (an ethnic group defined by language or speech-style). For instance, the Welsh and the English in the UK are most distinctive in terms of accent and language. Speech style, then, is an important and often central stereotypical or normative property of group identity: one of the most powerful ways to display your Welshness is to speak English with a marked Welsh accent – or, even better to simply speak Welsh.

Language or speech style cues ethnolinguistic identity. Therefore, whether people accentuate or de-emphasise their ethnic language is generally influenced by the extent to which they see their ethnic identity as being a source of self-respect or pride. This perception will in turn be influenced by the real nature of the power and status relations between ethnic groups in society. Research in England, on regional accents rather than ethnic groups, illustrates this (e.g. Watson, 2009) – some accents are strengthening and spreading and others retreating or fading, but overall despite mobility, mass culture and the small size of England, the accent landscape is surprisingly unchanged. Northern accents in particular such as Scouse and Geordie have endured due to low immigration and marked subjective regional pride of these respective communities. Brummie is slowly spreading into the Welsh Marches due to population spread, and Cockney-influenced Estuary English popular due to it being portrayed in mainstream middle-class films has luckily not influenced East Anglia and South East England – that have kept their grammar and granularity.

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It should be noted that almost all major societies have a multicultural component with ethnic groups, however all contain a single dominant high-status group whose language is the lingua franca of the nation with ethnic groups whose languages are subordinate. However, in major immigrant economies such as the United States, Canada and Australia some of the biggest variety of large ethnic groups occur. Unsurprisingly, most of the research on ethnicity and language comes from these countries, in particular, Australia and Canada. In Australia for example, English is the lingua franca, but there are also large ethnic Chinese, Italian, Greek and Vietnamese communities – language research has been carried out on all these communities (e.g.  Gallois, Barker, Jones and Callan, 1992; Gallois and Callan, 1986; Giles, Rosenthal and Young, 1985; Hogg, D’Agata and Abrams, 1989; McNamara, 1987; Smolicz, 1983)

Speech Accommodation

Social categories such as ethnic groups may develop and maintain or lose their distinctive languages or speech style as a consequence of intergroup relations. However, categories do not speak. People speak, and it is generally done with one another, usually in face-to-face interaction. As mentioned earlier, when people interact conversationally, they tend to adapt their speech style to the context – the situation, and in particular the listener. This concept is the foundation of the speech accommodation theory (Giles, 1984; Giles, Taylor and Bourhis, 1973), which invokes specific motivations to explain the ways in which people accommodate their speech style to those who are present. Motivation involved for such adaptations may be a desire to help the listener to understand what is being said or to promote specific impressions of oneself.

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Radcliffe Square at Night, Oxford [Image: Y. Song]

Speech Convergence and Divergence 

Since most conversations involve individuals who are potentially of unequal social status, speech accommodation theory describes the type of accommodation that might occur as a function of the sort of social orientation that the speakers may have towards one another (See Fig. B). Where a simple interpersonal orientation exists (e.g. between two friends), bilateral speech convergence occurs. Higher-status speakers shift their accent or speech style ‘downwards’ towards that of the lower-status speakers, who in turn shift ‘upwards’. In this scenario, speech convergence satisfies a need for approval or liking. The act of convergence increases interpersonal speech style similarity and this enhances interpersonal approval and liking (Bourhis, Giles and Lambert, 1975), particularly if the convergence behaviour is clearly intentional (Simard, Taylor and Giles, 1976). The process is based on the supported idea that similarity typically leads to attraction in most cases (e.g. Byrne, 1971).

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Fig. B | Speech accommodation as a function of status, social orientation and subjective vitality

Consider a particular scenario where an intergroup orientation exists. If the lower status group has low subjective vitality coupled with a belief is social mobility (i.e. one can pass, linguistically, into the higher status group), there is unilateral upward convergence on the part of the lower status speaker and unilateral speech divergence on the part of the higher status speaker. In intergroup contexts, divergence achieves psycholinguistic distinctiveness: it differentiates the speaker’s ingroup on linguistic grounds from the outgroup. Where an intergroup orientation exists and the lower status group has high subjective validity coupled with a belief in social change (i.e. one cannot pass into the higher status group), bilateral divergence occurs. Both speakers pursue psycholinguistic distinctiveness.

Speech accommodation theory has been well supported empirically (Gallois, Ogay and Giles, 2005; Giles and Coupland, 1991). Bourhis and Giles found that Welsh adults accentuated their Welsh accent in the presence of RP English speakers (i.e. the standard non-regional variety of English).  Bourhis, Giles, Leyens and Tajfel (1979) obtained a similar finding in Belgium, with Flemish speakers in the presence of French speakers. In both cases, a language revival was under way at the same time, and thus an intergroup orientation with high vitality was salient. In a low-vitality social mobility context, Hogg (1985) found that female students in Britain shifted their speech style ‘upwards’ towards that of their male partners. Accommodation in intergroup contexts reflects an intergroup or social identity mechanism in which speech style is dynamically governed by the speakers’ motivation to adopt ingroup or outgroup speech patterns. These motivations are in turn formed by perception of:

  • The relative status and prestige of the speech varieties and their associated groups;and
  • The vitality of their own ethnolinguistic group

Stereotyped Speech 

One important factor that may actually govern changes in speech style is conformity to stereotypical perceptions of the appropriate speech norm. Thakerar, Giles and Cheshire (1982) distinguished between objective and subjective accommodation. People converge on or diverge from what they perceive to be the relevant speech style. Objective accommodation may reflect this, but in some circumstances it may not: for instance subjective convergence may resemble objective divergence if the speech style stereotype is different from the actual speech behaviour of the other speaker.

Even the “Queen’s English” is susceptible to some accommodation towards a more popular stereotype (Harrington, 2006). An analysis of the phonetics in the speech of Queen Elizabeth II from her Christmas broadcasts to the world since 1952 show a gradual change in the Royal vowels, moving from ‘upper-class’ RP to a more ‘standard’ and less aristocratic RP. This may simply reflect a softening of the once strong demarcation between the social classes – social change may sometimes be a catalyst for speech change. Where once she might have said “thet men in the bleck het”, she would now say “that man in the black hat”.

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Red Queen Illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass (Oxford Classics)

Speech accommodation theory has been extended in recognition of the role of non-verbal behaviour in communication – now called communication accommodation theory (Gallois, Ogay and Giles, 2005; Giles, Mulac, Bradac and Johnson, 1987; Giles and Noels, 2002), which acknowledges that convergence and divergence can occur non-verbally as well as verbally. Anthony Mulac and his colleagues found that women in mixed-sex dyads converged towards the amount of eye contact (now called ‘gaze’) made by their partner (Mulac, Studley, Wiemann and Bradac, 1987). While accommodation is often synchronised in verbal and non-verbal channels, this is not necessarily the case. Frances Bilous and Robert Kraus (1988) found that women in mixed-sex dyads converged towards men on some dimensions (e.g. total words uttered and interruptions) but diverged on others (e.g. laughter).

Bilingualism and second-language acquisition 

Due to the excessive and culturally destructive waves of migration caused by the exploitation of diplomacy and some corrupt mainstream media and politicians to promote mass migration, most major countries are now bilingual or multilingual, meaning that people need to be able to speak two or more languages with a fair amount of proficiency to communicate effectively and successfully achieve their goals in different contexts. These countries contain a variety of ethnolinguistic groups with a single dominant group whose language is the lingua franca – very few countries are effectively monolingual (e.g. Portugal and Japan) anymore – which may be reflected in the rise in cultural conflict and lack of social coherence.

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The Intervention of Sabine Women par Jacques-Louis David (1795-1799)

The acquisition of a second language is rarely a matter of acquiring basic classroom proficiency, as one might in order to ‘get by’ on holiday – in fact, it is a wholesale acquisition of a language embedded in a highly cultural context with varying degrees of granularity to reach the levels of flawless/effective communication (Gardner, 1979). Second-language acquisition requires native-like mastery (being able to speak like a native speaker), and this hinges more on the motivations of the second-language learner than on linguistic aptitude or pedagogical factors. Failure to acquire native-like mastery can undermine self-confidence and cause physical and social isolation, leading to material hardship and psychological suffering. For example, Noels, Pon and Clément (1996) found low self-esteem and marked symptoms of stress among Chinese immigrants in Canada with poor English skills. Building on earlier models (Gardner, 1979; Clément, 1980), Giles and Byrne (1982) proposed an intergroup model of second language acquisition. There are five socio-psychological dimensions that influence a subordinate group member’s motivational goals in learning the language of a dominant group (see Fig. C):

  • Strength of ethnolinguistic identification
  • Number of alternative identities available
  • Number of high-status alternative identities available
  • Subjective vitality perceptions
  • Social beliefs regarding whether it is or is not possible to pass linguistically into the dominant group

Low identification with one’s ethnic ingroup, low subjective vitality and a belief that one can ‘pass’ linguistically, coupled with a large number of other potential identities of which many are high-status, are conditions that motivate someone to acquire native-like mastery in the second language. Proficiency in the second language is seen to be economically and culturally useful; it is considered additive to our identity. Realisation of this motivation is facilitated or inhibited by the extent to which we are made to feel confident or anxious about using the second language in specific contexts. The converse set of socio-psychological conditions motivates people to acquire only classroom proficiency. Through fear of assimilation, the second language is considered subtractive in that it may attract ingroup hostility and accusations of ethnic betrayal. Early education, individual Intelligence, personality and aptitude may also affect proficiency.

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This analysis of second-language acquisition grounds language firmly in its cultural context and thus relates language acquisition to broader acculturation processes. John Berry and his colleagues distinguished between integration (individuals maintain ethnic culture and relate to dominant culture), assimilation (individuals give up their ethnic culture and wholeheartedly embrace the dominant culture), separation (individuals maintain their ethnic culture and isolate themselves from the dominant culture) and marginalisation (individuals give up their ethnic culture and fail to relate properly to the dominant culture (Berry, Trimble and Olmedo, 1986).

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Human brain specimen being studied in neuroscience professor Ron Kalil’s Medical School research lab. © UW-Madison News & Public Affairs 608/262-0067 Photo by: Jeff Miller

While the only effective forms of adjustments that completely benefit a system remain « native citizens » [in terms of designing culturally fitting human organisms from the lower to the upper scale of society], and assimilation [the small number of culturally & educationally worthwhile & proficient organisms that manage to], the remaining could simply be qualified as burden to most systems, specially children deriving from economic migration [who are already being born in mass (in some cases) due to the higher fertility culture from their parents’ cultural origins, and who seem to want native treatment while not being able to culturally navigate with native-like proficiency (illogical demands with illogical cultural belonging). This ‘nomadic‘ generation of children whose parents initially moved from land to land for nothing else but the simple rush for cash from a socio-economic system with better financial prospects may unfortunately [at the exception of some illogical mainstream college-educated far-left human rights activists] be a scenario fitting with a parasitic ‘metaphoric example’, while to others [such as left wing economic policy makers], this could be what they cheaply describe as « modernism » & « cultural-enrichment« .

In a ‘psychological’ reality, from a social-psychologist’s perspective this may simply be described as a mass phenomenon that society is not used to dealing with and has not been monitoring effectively since the 1950s, to a point where confusion and sheer desperation sets for both native citizens and authorities when thinking of a « rational » solution that seems to be constantly destroyed by outdated, irrational and illogical human rights laws, forever unfavourable to major western societies while defending cheap unskilled migration originally from culturally and economically disastrous systems [e.g. the third world, middle east & some parts of Southern and Eastern Asia].

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Thus, the consequences for second language learning can indeed be very dramatic and have a life changing impact. Most major economies today are fragmented due to linguistic barriers and cultural differences, furthermore, since language is refined from interactions, the lack of chemistry and coherence may well be a major factor in the drop in cultural and educational standards – not to mention a generation that does not seem to represent any values [cultural or philosophical] – but simply regional classroom proficiency and barely any granularity or refinement in the linguistic and cultural context of a heritage that comes with traditions ‘developed’ over centuries of civilisation.

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Majority group members do not generally have the motivation to acquire native-like mastery of another language. According to John Edwards (1994), it is precisely the international prestige and utility, and of course widespread use of English that makes native English speakers such poor language students: they simply lack the motivation to become proficient. Itesh Sachdev and Audrey Wright (1996) pursued this point and found that English children were more motivated to learn languages from the European continent (e.g. French, German, Italian) than those from the Asian continent (e.g. Mandarin, Hindi, Russian, Urdu, Tamil, Arabic, etc) even though a fair amount of children in the sample were exposed to more Asian & African immigration [due to years of mediocre policies linked to cheap democratic governments & leftist agendas bent on promoting alien invasions – fragmenting societies & destructively shifting geographical compositions] than languages & cultures from Europe. A possible reason would be that English children perceive more prestige and desirability in mastering additional languages & cultures such as French, German & Italian instead of far-flung incompatible foreign ones [e.g. African Third world, Middle-East, Asia etc].

Communicating without words

Speech rarely happens in complete isolation from non-verbal cues. Even on a phone, individuals tend to automatically use a variety of gestures [body language] that cannot be ‘seen’ by the recipient at the other end of the phone line. In a similar fashion, phone and computer-mediated communication (CMC) conversations can be difficult precisely because many non-verbal cues are not accessible [e.g. users may interpret some messages as ‘cold’, ‘short’ or ‘rude’ when a participant might simply not be proficient at expressing themselves on a keyboard]. However, non-verbal channels do not always work in combination with speech to facilitate understanding. In some cases, non-verbal message starkly contradicts the verbal message [e.g. threats, sarcasm and other negative messages accompanied by a smile; Bugental, Love and Gianetto, 1971; Noller, 1984].

Agony, Torture, and Fright by Charles Darwin

Agony, Torture, and Fright | Charles Darwin, 1868

Human beings can produce about 20,000 different facial expressions and about 1,000 different cues based on paralanguage. There are also about 700,000 physical gestures, facial expressions and movements (see Birdwhistell, 1970; Hewes, 1957; Pei, 1965). Even the briefest interaction may involve the fleeting and simultaneous use of a huge number of such devices in combination, making it unclear even to code behaviour, let alone analyse the causes and consequences of particular non-verbal communications. However, their importance is now acknowledged in social psychology (Ambady and Weisbuch, 2010; Burgoon, Buller and Woodall, 1989; DePaulo and Friedman, 1998), and doing research in this area has remained a major challenge. Non-verbal behaviour can be used for a variety of purposes, one may use it to:

  • Glean information about feelings and intentions of others (e.g. non-verbal cues are often reliable indicators of whether someone likes you, is emotionally suffering, etc);
  • Regulate interactions (e.g. non-verbal cues can signal the approaching end of an utterance, or that someone else wishes to speak)
  • Express intimacy (e.g. touching and mutual eye contact);
  • Establish dominance or control (non-verbal threats);
  • Facilitate goal attainment (e.g. pointing)

These functions are to be found in most aspects of non-verbal behaviour such as gaze, facial expressions, body language, touch and interpersonal distance. Non-verbal communications has a large impact, yet it goes largely ‘unnoticed’ – perhaps since we acquire them unaware, we tend not to be conscious when using them. Most individuals acquire non-verbal skills without any formal training yet manage to master a rich repertoire of non-verbal behaviour very early in life – suggesting that huge individual differences in skills and uses should be noticed. Social norms can have a strong influence on our use of non-verbal language, for example, if one is delighted at the demise of an arrogant narcissist or foe, one would be unlikely to smile at their funeral – Schadenfreude is not a noble emotion to express [at least in most situations].

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Individual and group differences also have an influence on, or are associated with, non-verbal cues. Robert Rosenthal and his colleagues (Rosenthal, Hall, DiMatteo, Rogers and Archer, 1979) devised a profile of non-verbal sensitivity (PONS) as a test to chart some of these differences. All things equal, non-verbal competence improves with age, is more advanced among successful people and is compromised among individuals with a range of psychopathologies (e.g. psychosis, autism).

Gender Differences 

Reviews conclude that women are generally better than men at decoding both visual cues and auditory cues, such as voice tone and pitch (E. T. Hall, 1979; J. A. Hall, 1978, 1984). The explanation for this seems to be rather social than evolutionary (Manstead, 1992), including child-rearing strategies that encourage girls more than boys to be emotionally expressive and attentive. One major question remains whether women’s greater competence is due to greater knowledge about non-verbal cues. According to Janelle Rosip and Judith Hall (2004), the answer seems to be ‘yes’ – women have a slight advantage, based on results from their test of non-verbal cue knowledge (TONCK). A meta-analysis by William Ickes has shown that when motivated to do so, women can become even more accurate: for example when women think they are being evaluated for their empathy or when gender-role expectations of empathy are brought to the fore (Ickes, Gesn and Graham, 2000).

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Most individuals can improve their non-verbal skills (Matsumoto and Hwang, 2011), that can be useful for improving interpersonal communication, detecting deception, presenting a good impression and hiding our feelings [when required in some situations]. Practical books have been written and courses on communications has always had an enduring appeal. Why not try yourself out on the TONCK?

Non-verbal behaviour differs among individuals since most have different attachment styles thus different relationships too. In the case of intimate relationships, we would tend to assume that partners would enhance each other’s emotional security through accurate decoding of their individualistic non-verbal cues and responding appropriately (Schachner, Shaver and Mikulincer, 2005). Although there are data dealing with non-verbal behaviour in parent-child interactions and how they relate to the development of attachment styles in children (Bugental, 2005), there is less research focussing on how adult attachment styles are reflected ‘non-verbally’ in intimate relationships.

 

Discovering the self

In turning our attention to ourselves, we begin to apply the psychological concept of self to the individual’s consciousness of his or her own identity. What does the “mind’s eye” see when it looks into the self – into that special mirror that reveals one’s innermost thoughts and feelings, i.e. our own private world we so often hide from others. Ancient Greeks who travel to the Oracle at Delphi for answers to their problems, found this message inscribed on the shrine: “Know Thyself”.

Centuries later, it was William James who in 1890, set the stage for the modern resurgence of psychology’s interest in the self. In studying what he called “the mind from within”, James distinguished three aspects of the self: the material, the spiritual and the social.

The material self is our awareness of the physical world: our body and the people and things around us.

The spiritual self is the part that “thinks of ourselves as thinkers” – the inner witness to events.

And the part of the self that focuses on the images we create in the minds of others is called the social self.

While it was William James who pioneered the scientific concept of the self, many earlier philosophers and writers had also recognised this dimension of human nature. Some psychologists believe that the gradual separation of a young child from its mother, a process called individuation, is essential for developing a unique sense of self and a healthy personalityfailure to acquire an independent self-identity may lead to psychological problems.

Today many psychologists are keenly interested in studying the self, however there was a time when psychology focused almost exclusively on behaviour – there was no place for anything as fuzzy as the concept of self. Even to Freud, the conscious self was little more than a weak, passive link in his triad of Id, Ego and Superego. Freud defined the Id as a primitive, unconscious part of the personality where drives and passions originate. The Superego restrains the Id. For Freud the Superego is a combination of the conscience and the ideal self. The ego, our conscious self of self-identity, moderate between the Id and Superegobetween our primitive impulses and our sense of moral obligation. Freud was much more interested in the dramatic confrontations between the unconscious Id and Superego, than he was in the conscious processes of the ego [which we believe accommodates many basic principles of Cognitive Psychology, although not sufficient to explain a complete model of the mind, behaviour, drives and motivation as it ignores the unconscious processes].

Carl Rogers in the 1960s placed a much greater emphasis on aspects of the conscious self [the conscious Ego]. Rogers led the humanistic movement, which was hugely responsible for psychology’s return to the self. In contrast to Freud’s view of a conflicted, impulse driven creature, Rogers offered a vision of psychological growth and health. There exists within the healthy individual, a capacity for self-understanding, for self-direction, for guiding behaviour in self-directed ways, which can be tapped if the right conditions [e.g. resources, education, commitment, training, etc] are provided.

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In other words, the individual does have the capacity and a potential for self-development, change and integration [eventually leading to assimilation in various “cultural” contexts, i.e. linguistic, socio-behavioural, philosophical, geographic, etc] – which does not need to be supplied from the “outside world”, but rather learnt and developed from within the individual. As Jacques Lacan beautifully puts it in describing the mirror stage, one unfortunate outcome of the stage is that individuals tend to look outward and not inward in their search for identity – such external orientation toward individuals’ own identity is doomed to fail.

In the humanistic view, we find a self that is striving towards personal fulfilmenta guiding force that moves us towards positive actions and enhancements imbued with a kind of virtue that gives humans kinship with the angels. For psychologists, the next step after describing the properties of the self has been to explore just how this dynamic mental structure works in controlling behaviour. Researchers who study the self usually speak of the self-concept: the individual’s awareness of his or her continuing identity as a person. This self-concept is viewed as an internal regulator of thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It interprets and organises our ongoing experiences. It reflects on how our present actions compare with our standards and expectations, and it affects our performance by providing plans, scripts, goals and incentives.

We tend to organise our beliefs and information about ourselves in terms of schemas, or knowledge clusters. For example, to some people, gender schemas are all-important – masculinity and femininity dominate their thinking. To others, “weight schematic” may be more important, where they may be trying to lose weight and perceive others primarily in terms of being fat (out of control) or being thin (having it all together). Our self-schema or self-image can have a powerful impact on our behaviour. If our self-image is good, we try to live up to our standard: we try harder and succeed more often. If our self-image is bad, we tend to adjust downward, and end up failing more often. So, self-image can work for or against us. Along this line, Albert Bandura of Stanford developed what he calls the theory of self-efficacy, a new theory of how the self works which can help us understand how some people translate promise and passion into optimal performance. In this experiment, researcher Delia Cioffi would give one subject the task of improving production at the model furniture factory. She would tell the subject that his ability to make good decisions for the factory is based on innate intelligence and ability. The higher one’s basic capacities in the skills, the better one will perform. Nowadays however computer programs tend to ease this process. The next subject is told that complex decision-making is an acquirable skill, and that his performance can improve through his own efforts. In any new skill, one does not begin with faultless performance, but the more one practices formulating and testing decisions, the better one gets at it. The first subject who believes that decision-making is a measure of his intelligence proceeds cautiously and sets lower goals for himself and is frustrated by an increasing number of incorrect decisions. His confidence is measured by the number on the lower left of the screen which keeps falling, as does his sense of efficacy. The second subject, however, sees early mistakes as a necessary part of learning. He profits by them and his performance improves. He sets higher goals for himself, and his response to questions about confidence demonstrate an increasing sense of his own efficacy.

The issue is not what you have, but how you use what you have. From this point of view, we can see that we can have the same competencies and subskills and use them poorly, adequately, or extraordinarily, depending on our self-belief. So for this reason, we can often predict people’s accomplishments better from their self-belief rather than from just their past attainments.

Up to this point we have been focusing on the part of the self which focuses inward to assess its capabilities. But there is another aspect of the self that focuses outward to get an understanding on the impression being created in others. This outward focus, the awareness of the social self, asked the questions: “How am I coming across? What impression am I creating? Do you see me the way I see myself? Do you see me the way I would like you to see me?”

To better explain this part about self-presentation, we are going to explore the arts, particularly drama which addresses the nuances of self-presentation. As a former student of literature and drama, I will use the example of the drama teacher who trains young individuals and actors in self-presentation skills to help them convey an impression to an audience. How does this work? Well, we are going to use the concept of status, which has to do with how we manipulate the affect of our self to one another. The content in a given circumstance may be the same, however the way in which I choose to speak to you [the way I use non-verbal cues, i.e. body language] may affect my relationship to you.

These status transactions, come in different aspects, and here we are going to discuss some of them.

The first of these would be eye contact, as it is commonly known that eye contact is a useful device in asserting oneself.

The second variable is of course whether or not one’s body is moving in a sustained way or whether it has jerky movements. As soon as a person starts to move in jerky ways it also affects his or her speech, as it is hard to sustain sentences when for example one is moving there head up and down. Many people tend to speak uncomfortably while moving at the cost of their status [e.g. Uh, as soon as, um, I begin to move my body in, uh, jerky ways – it also affects my speech you notice, It’s hard to uh, sustain sentences when I’m moving, uh, kind uhbut, but it, uh…. At the cost of their status in some cases]. A third kind of jerky motion we notice often is people touching the face, their hair or their hands, which conveys a sense of nervousness – which again would be lowering their status as a speaker]. In other words, anything we might consider to be nervous gestures would be in the category of lowering one’s status. So, the prototype for high status would be someone who is basically calm and composed, and who speaks in complete sentences, breathes deeply, makes eye contact and [uh?] does not have any particular jerky mannerisms.

These factors in interactions are known as status transactions, and they take place all the time between all kinds of people. They are a form of interpersonal communication where individuals establish their degree of social status and power, and demonstrate as well as anything the social aspects of the self-concept. To manage the impressions we create in others, we all engage in what is known as strategic self-presentation – how we present ourselves to others so that they perceive us in the way we see ourselves. Society reacts to us according to the context our behaviour has created [e.g. profession(s), values, education, language(s), nationality(ies), etc], then we see the way they respond to us, which confirms our original belief about the kind of individual we truly are [have become through growth and development]. It is a closed circle – what researcher Mark Snyder has called behavioural confirmation. Our beliefs, our sense of self, create their own reality. That is why depressed people elicit negative reactions and tend to be treated as if, in fact, they are inadequate in most aspects of normal life. While extroverts create an easy-going social climate in which others tend to respond positively to them.

There is also an intimate connection between self and culture [please note that culture here may be related to many fields, e.g. language, profession, clubs, private circles, orientations, identities, musical circles, arts, etc] – culture can be defined objectively [scientifically] as behavioural patterns individualised to a particular select group.

When we talk about the self, we are referring to the way in which the biological organism/being becomes a person. Becoming a person [human being], is largely a social endeavour. We can be a biological being [a primate] all by ourselves but to become a person, to become a self, we must engage with or take on or incorporate the cultural meanings, cultural ideas and practices of a particular group or groups [for individuals who have the chance to be bi or tri-cultural]. We must use these to become a person as it would be impossible to be a self by ourself. We can be a biological entity, but to be a person with a sense of self, we normally do it in some set of culture specific ways.

Culture can be seen not as biologically based, but rather socially based. It is a set of behavioural patterns and attitudes that we adopt as a means of defining who we are depending of where we are and who we want to be.

Dpurb-com Official Concept of Self FINAL 1200

Traduction(EN): « The day when I will stop questioning, learning, creating and innovating, will be the day that I will be dead. » -Danny J. D’Purb / © 2018

Many tend to think of “culture” as an entity inside people, similar to some sort of essence. Taking myself as an example, I qualify myself as bi-cultural, being a Franco-British individual, and since the majority of people do not have the chance to receive the heritage of two European empires, I will focus on the French side. Many people tend to think about us French [yes, the heirs of the language of Victor Hugo, Molière and Chateaubriand] as having some kind of French genes, or French traits or some kind of French attributes that make us French. It is absolutely not true, as culture is “what we choose to do”. And so, as the French school of thought, which has always been avant-garde in structuring minds to the French family; if we take an individual and guide him or her to connect with and use French ideas/concepts, and French ways of perceiving, feeling, behaving and doing things [i.e. values], then eventually that person will become French. Similarly, if I took that same person and placed him or her in the British context, that person will then become British in that sense [at least the science of Psychology in 2018, has enough evidence that I have collected throughout the dpurb.com website, to show that such a scenario depending on the individual’s abilities should be scientifically and psychologically valid – the mainstream people at large are still to embed and share this principle to open new perspectives to their own lives and in doing so allow themselves to grow psychologically and culturally].

Culture is simply a set of common ideas and common ways of doing things – although each culture has its sub-cultures that may vary [e.g. geographically, linguistically, artistically and philosophically].

We can view culture and self as a collaboration where each has an effect on the other: culture shapes self and the Self also has the power to shape culture. This idea is known as mutual constitution and it is reflected in the artefacts of all societies through art, literature and languages of all societies. It also affects each individuals differently in their choice of identification, consumption and adoption of particular products of culture. For example, having been brought up in a society with a Franco-British heritage, it was my choice to shape my self with French literature, arts, journalism, music, heritage, along with Oxford English, literature and heritage as a foundation to establishing myself as an individual with a self of Western European origin, and to make the region a place that I call home. As Jacques Lacan beautifully placed it:

«…en disant que seule la perspective de l’histoire de la reconnaissance permet de définir ce qui compte pour le sujet.

Je voudrais, pour ceux qui ne sont pas familiers avec cette dialectique que j’ai déjà abondamment développée, vous donner un certain nombre de notions de base. Il faut toujours être au niveau de l’alphabet. Aussi vais-je prendre un exemple qui vous fera bien comprendre les questions que pose pour la reconnaissance, et qui vous détourne de la noyer dans des notions aussi confuse que celles de mémoires ou de souvenir…

…un refoulement est autre chose qu’un jugement qui rejette et choisit. » – Jacques Lacan

___________

Translation :

« by saying that only the perspective of the history of recognition allows the definition of what matters for the subject. I would like to, for those who are not familiar with that dialectic that I have already abundantly developed, give you a number of basic notions. We must always be at the level of the alphabet. So I will take an example that will make you understand the questions posed for recognition, and that distracts you from drowning it in notions as confusing as those of memories or souvenirs…

…a repression is something other than a judgment that rejects and chooses. » – Jacques Lacan

 

Most of us are exposed to thousands of images in a given day, which many go by our conscious [not the unconscious] senses unnoticed. While these images discarded by our attention are deemed unnecessary, they collectively shape our thinking about how to be a person [a model to follow], how to be a self [the chosen self]. Take Richard Dawkins, Oscar Wilde, or William Penn for example; it is quite clear that none of those characters would be qualified as the boy next door. And they have been taken here as examples because, as myself, none of us of English heritage [specially those with the educational elements to optimise their output in life] choose to be the “boy next door”. This may also be said in the French realm for those with a French heritage like myself, with examples such as René Descartes, François-René de Chateaubriand, Napoléon 1er, Jacques Lacan, Pierre Bourdieu, Francis Cabrel or Florent Pagny, since none of these Frenchmen would also qualify as the “boy next door”. This is because none of us of French heritage with the educational capacity to optimise our output in life would choose to be the “boy next door”the French culture is known for its heritage embedded in the “grandeur d’esprit et de l’être”, as Charles de Gaulle famously said: « Un peuple comme le nôtre accoutumé aux malheurs comme aux gloires, sait reconnaître les États qui forment avec lui, l’équipe de la liberté. » [Translation: “A people like ours accustomed to misfortunes as well as glories, knows how to recognize the states that form with him, the team of freedom.”]

After all, in most enlightened nations of Western Europe, we are a culture of individuals, a society of unique people who besides their individual characteristics can still find ways to synchronise and work together in matters of national importance without it being restrictive to our personal liberties and choices from one person to the other. So, to be a person generally means to be connected [even indirectly through arts and literature for example] to others. However, taking the metaphor of a golf competition to explain the picture, we cannot all win the contest. Clearly, one person will win and others will still perform well while some will need training to reach a decent standard although not within competitive categories. However, in an advert promoting golf, no company would only show one golfer by himself on all its adverts, but rather they show and promote many golfers, happy to be together. Hence, the way to be a person in modern society seems to be a part it [directly or indirectly, all representatives of the society but with varying degrees of skills and abilities].

As with myself, having pushed the limits of my Franco-British heritage to the academic stage globally, more and more people are slowly getting the opportunity to be bi or tri-cultural. It is not a simple thing to do or accommodate, but it will be the task of more and more people in the world if individuals are to overcome their limitations in perception, feeling and understanding, and experience the world from the finest cultural & linguistic lenses to explore their different senses on a planet that is more accessible in its depth through the magic of modern media [e.g. internet, multimedia experiences, high definition packages, distance learning, virtual reality, etc] that is changing the processes of learning at a speed never seen before.

The reasoning person, being the intelligent being who has infinite worth and dignity would logically try to assimilate into the best heritage / linguistic-culture(s), knowing that the world is not flat and that we have natural masters and natural slaves, where intelligence is the only thing that distinguishes them – as Immanuel Kant also concluded. Like the analogy of humans, who being more intelligent than other living creatures, have become the supreme beings at the top of the food chain to rule over our planet. If we also side with this evolutionary logic, the best and most sophisticated society or societies [in terms of language, education, philosophy, heritage, etc] should by the laws of meritocracy have the privilege to guide and/or inspire the human civilisation to create a singular society/human empire in synchronisation with itself in the future as our civilisation evolves and comes to terms with its insignificance as a mortal bunch of organisms on a small, depleting and lonely planet in the universe without a spare planet to colonise, that could still be wiped out and never remembered like the dinosaurs with an asteroid.

Asteroid Impact on Earth

Image: Illustration of an asteroid impact on Earth that could wipe out all life / See: Le Jour Où Les Dinosaures Ont Disparu (2017)

Modern psychological research has shown that we are reflections of all social interactions that mark us throughout our life and these interactions do not only come in the physical form, but also through arts, film, modern media and literature, all these create symbolic desires that affects each individual differently. And those who choose who and what shapes them, will tend to be inspired by those they admire [this extends beyond minor interactions such as the fishmonger at the market place or the coconut seller at the beach, but reaches as far as the mind goes up to the highest level of culture through exposure directly or indirectly (modern media) and breaches barriers once thought impossible]. As Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic writings also suggest – relying heavily on linguistic theory and intellectual trends in late 20th-century France, such as the structuralist movementour sense of self is a tissue of identification with people we have known [directly or indirectly exposed to, e.g. mentors, fictional characters, authority figures, artists, etc], and the only wholeness we imagine ourselves to have is a fiction, a comforting and self-deceiving way of narrating our personal story, since our “selves” are profoundly “de-centred”.

However, one of the greatest challenges to individual cultural identity remains the overcoming of bigotry. The prejudices of a superior heritage can eat away the self-regard of inferior cultures, languages and heritage. Prejudice is a form of psychological genocide that works across generations and contributes to the despair, drug abuse and violence we see in communities whose cultural identities are under siege. This can be seen through high levels of depression, alcoholism and suicide among Native Americans for example. Hence, an agreement that respects the achievements, strengths and individuality of others would likely ease the tensions with inferior cultures who may have more to gain in assimilating into superior ones. Diplomacy and empathy will also help in the transition to adopting new patterns of living if we [as a group of organisms on planet Earth] take the direction that leads to a synchronised civilisation/empire in the future, looking into space for new planets to ensure our existence.

In the face of adversity we have seen another side of the self that creates new realities, transforming life into art. This is what Alfred Adler called the creative self. Throughout history, men and women have put their creative imprint on anything that can be shaped, coloured and re-arranged. Even in the depths of despair, Jews who were imprisoned in German deportation camps [that had been heavily damaged by allied bombings, and cut off from receiving rations due to bombed train tracks while the lack of sanitation led to outbreaks of typhus which killed thousands], still managed to create art on whatever scraps of paper they could get their hands on to give meaning to the incomprehensible horror of their lives at that time.

However, research from Brandeis University that explored the creativity of two groups of girls aged 7 to 11 from the community centre of an apartment complex has found that people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest and enjoyment, the satisfaction, the challenge of the work itself, and not by external pressures (Amabile, 1982).

So, now, you have learnt some of the ways in which intellectuals, academics and psychologists try to follow the Delphic Oracle’s exhortation to “Know Thyself.” We have explored a number of aspects and dimensions of the self, some of which may be known readily – although not accurately – through empirical investigations [e.g. using basic constructs for variables such as traits in questionnaires of quantitative empirical research that remain questionable in terms of construct validity and internal consistency], while others [such as the impact of art on the mind] can only be explained theoretically [since traits too can be modified, affected or changed through an individual’s desires or external influence (e.g. arts) and evolve into different behaviours through cultural evolution as we move further into human history]. We have also seen how we differ in our self-concepts from one individual to another, and how our behaviour differs as a result [e.g. the choices we make as unique organisms/individuals with unique fingerprints and brain chemistry].

Reflections 

Finesse

The concept of self is not an overnight process but a gradual and intelligent process involving calculated, precise and minute adjustments to one’s inner thoughts, thus, over time, changing one’s cognitive schemas, personality, identity and linguistic proficiency. It is a process hugely dependent on individual motivation, education, dedication, capability, IQ and cultural proficiency. Along with it, languages are the essence of identity as it also leads to cultural belonging and thus, cognitive schemas related to inner thoughts that allow one to navigate efficiently within the particular cultural theme and be part of the societies related to the languages. Together, psychology, linguistic culture, personality and education are the core of individual conception – to sum it up beautifully for colleagues in innovation, science and psychology out there, “It is not what is in the head that counts, but the ability to turn it into a believable logical reality and a psychologically valid human concept/identity.”

Arthur Hughes Self-Portrait 1851

Image: Arthur Hughes (1832 – 1915), « Arthur Hughes« 

Ad Augusta Per Angusta

Translation (EN): « Has grandiose results by narrow lanes » / Source: Le Petit Larousse 2018 / Les locutions étrangères gravées dans nos mémoires ont la magie des formules oubliées dont le charme va croissant lorsque l’alchimie des mots nous est plus mystérieuses. Elles ont l’autorité de la chose écrite. / Mot de passe des conjurés au quatrième acte d’Hernani, de Victor Hugo. On n’arrive au triomphe qu’en surmontant maintes épreuves.

*****

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