Wednesday, November 28, 2018


The discipline of psychology, from an early phase, right after its inception, has been emphasizing on the significance of social relationships. Psychologists, from the beginning, have been suggesting the role of relationships in individuals’ life. Over the years till contemporary times, theories and research, in psychology, have emphasized how social and interpersonal relationships play an integral role in guiding human thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, in shaping the psyche of the individual, and being an important source for individual and social wellbeing.
One of the earliest psychologists to extensively talk about social relationships is William McDougall. McDougall suggested that human beings are goal-oriented and purposive. He called his approach hormic psychology. Hormic means an urge or an impulse.
William McDougall
Hormic psychology suggests that psychological activity has a purpose, or goal, that prods the individual to action. The propelling force of such activity is termed as instinct. Instincts are inborn patterns of behavior that are not learned. McDougall was one of the pioneers of the instinct theory of motivation. His theory of motivation states that organisms are pre-programmed to behave in the way they do so. This includes seeking social relationships.
In 1908, McDougall wrote his highly influential book, Introduction to Social Psychology. This is one of the first books to emphasize on social behavior, and was a major precursor to the field of social psychology. It was in this book that McDougall introduced his instinct theory of motivation. In the book, he wrote a full chapter on what he called the gregarious instinct.
The gregarious instinct, according to McDougall, enables individuals to seek others and works as a motivation to have social interactions and develop affiliations. McDougall also writes that it is the gregarious instinct that makes people indulge in behaviors like cooperation, and leads people to sharing of feelings and emotions with as many people as possible. McDougal further suggests that the gregarious instinct is responsible for the development of civilizations. It is the gregarious instinct that makes people want to be in groups and socialize at a much larger scale, leading to the formation of cities and societies.
The gregarious instinct, therefore, plays a very important role with respect to social behavior and the development of social relationships. By the year 1932, McDougall had created a list of a number of instincts such as hunger, sex, sleep, curiosity, construction, comfort, among others, including the gregarious instinct.
Drawing inspiration from McDougall, Henry Murray, in the 1930s, developed his theory of needs, called personology. According to Murray, a need is something that is internally aroused or results from external stimulation that produces an activity on part of the individual, which continues till that need is satisfied.
Henry Murray
A need, as per Murray, may be weak or intense, momentary or enduring, but it gives rise to overt behavior leading or directing to reduction or satisfaction of the need. Murray, further, suggests that a need is related to underlying processes in the brain and is accompanied by feelings and emotions.
Murray listed a number of needs, among which is the affiliation need. The affiliation need is a psychological or psychogenic need and is characterized by being drawn towards cooperation, reciprocity, winning affection, and remaining loyal to others.
David McClelland
Murray’s theory led to a great deal of research, especially by the psychologist David McClelland. McClelland in his theory of social motives or social needs talked about three needs that lead to social outcomes. One of those three needs is the need for affiliation.
The need for affiliation is the desire to be with others and have harmonious relationships. It prompts people to have friends as well as maintain their friendships. The need for affiliation may differ from person to person, some being high and some being low on the need. Nevertheless, each and every person has this need to some extent or the other.
Abraham Maslow
Before McClelland’s research, Abraham Maslow, one of the pioneers of the humanistic movement in psychology, extended Murray’s personology, in the 1940s, and gave his theory of hierarchy of needs, in which he described a number of inherent needs that motivate individuals. Among these needs, Maslow talks about the belongingness needs.
The need for belongingness is the need to have friends and family. It is a natural tendency to belong to a larger group and enables people to experience companionship and have affectionate relationships. Empirical evidences suggest that deficits in belongingness and a lack of strong social bonds lead to lowered physical and mental health. Human beings, according to Maslow, are, thus, naturally and inherently driven towards belongingness.
Mark Leary
Roy Baumeister
Extensive research has been done on the need for belongingness in contemporary times. Leading researchers in this area are Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary. In the 1990s, Baumeister and Leary did extensive work on the need for belongingness suggesting that it is a pervasive need to develop long-lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships. It involves a need for frequent, pleasant, and stable interactions. If such interactions are with the same people then it is more satisfying as compared to when they interact with a changing sequence of individuals. A lack of belongingness, according to Baumeister and Leary, leads to a feeling of severe deprivation and other psychological issues.
Emily Esfahani Smith
The need for belongingness is viewed as highly significant in understanding human behavior, and over the years a number of psychologists have emphasized its importance. More recently, in her book The Power of Meaning, published in 2017, Emily Esfahani Smith suggested that the fulfilment of the need for belongingness is one of the major factors to experience meaning in life.
Therefore, the instincts and underlying needs depicted in the early and modern theories of motivation show that individuals are inherently motivated to be with others and have relationships. They urge people to seek out others, spend time with them, and maintain satisfying relationships with them.
The idea of the individual and social relationships is appositely reflected in the concept of the self. The self is a construct that is referred to contain an individual’s organized and stable experiences. It is the cognitive and affective representation of an individual’s identity. In other words, it is the sum of what the person actually is. It is about phenomena that pertain to the individual.
William James
The concept of the self was introduced in psychology by William James, in his book The Principles of Psychology, published in the year 1890. According to James, the self is central to all of an individual’s experiences and that people divide the world into me and not me. This distinction that people derive is based on interactions with others. According to James, social interactions are the key to the self.
James also talked about the social self. The recognition that individuals get from others is referred to as the social self. This further led to the idea of many selves – suggesting that individuals have different sides to them, depending on the person with whom one interacts with. We maybe a completely different individual with one person as compared to the other, indicating how others are important in shaping the self.
George Herbert Mead
The views of William James were taken forward by George Herbert Mead, often considered to be the father of social psychology. Mead, in the early 1900s, argues that the self is a product of social processes. The self, according to Mead, arises in the process of social experiences and is based on an individual’s perception of how he/she looks to others. He further states that the self is a product of social interactions. His ideas were published posthumously in the book Mind, Self, and Society, in 1934.
Influenced by Mead, Harry Stack Sullivan, the founder of the interpersonal approach to psychology, and a post-Freudian, in the 1940s, placed great emphasis on the social, interpersonal basis of the development of the self. Sullivan preferred the term self-system, instead of self, conveying his notion that the self is not a static entity, structure, or being, but rather an active process, or dynamism. For Sullivan, the self, including individuality and uniqueness, is a product of interpersonal experience and social influence. The self-system is constructed out of the individual’s perceptions of others reactions, from reflected appraisals.
Harry Stack Sullivan
Sullivan extended his idea of interpersonal interactions shaping the self to his notion of personality. In his theory of personality called the interpersonal theory of psychiatry, Sullivan states that enduring patterns of human relationships form the essence of personality. He asserts that personality is the relatively enduring pattern of recurrent interpersonal situations, which characterizes an individual’s life. For Sullivan, personality cannot be isolated from interpersonal situations, and interpersonal behavior is all that can be observed as personality. He repeatedly insisted that personality is shaped almost entirely by the individual’s relationships.
The interpersonal approach to self and personality led to other post-Freudian views that gave emphasis to interpersonal relationships in the development of the individual. One of such perspective was the object relations theories. The object relations theories suggest that the essence of an individual cannot be understood without the understanding of the significant relationships of the individual. Objects are internalized representations of real people.
Heinz Kohut
The most influential object relations theorist is Heinz Kohut. Kohut is the founder of self psychology - a school of thought of psychoanalytic theory and therapy that explains psychopathology as the result of disrupted or unmet developmental needs. According to self psychology, the key issue in the formation of the self is the presence and absence of loving relationships. Kohut, in the 1960s, suggests that the receipt of empathic reactions from significant others is highly important for the healthy development of the self.
Kohut further suggested that healthy interactions with people who are important to an individual leads him/her to develop into an ideal personality type, where the individual is an independent and self-sufficient person. On the other hand, if this interaction is not healthy then it will lead the individual towards emptiness and insecurity. By suggesting the role of healthy interactions with significant others, Kohut was clearly emphasizing the significance of relationships in the development of the self.
Apart from the post-Freudians, the humanistic psychologists, especially Carl Rogers, have also emphasized the role of interpersonal relationships in the formation of the self. Self is the central concept of Rogers’s theory, which is why it is referred to as the self theory.
The self, according to Rogers, is patterned conscious perceptions experienced by the individual. The self is an outgrowth of what a person experiences, and an awareness of self helps a person differentiate himself/herself from others.
Carl Rogers
Rogers, in the 1940s, suggested that the self is a social product that is developed out of interpersonal relationships. For a healthy self to emerge, a person needs unconditional positive regard – love, warmth, care, respect, and acceptance – from parents/caretakers. This unconditional positive regard helps in having less discrepancy between the real self (what the person actually is) and the ideal self (what the person wants to become), a state referred to as congruence by Rogers. This state of congruence leads to the condition of becoming oneself, eventually making the individual what Rogers calls a fully functioning person – a person who is well adjusted and is close to his/her true potential.
Susan Anderson
These perspectives of the self, right when it was introduced by William James to the post-Freudians and Rogers, vividly indicate that individual is shaped by his/her interpersonal interactions. This is further reflected in the emergence of the concept of the relational self, first proposed by Susan Anderson and Serena Chen, in early 2000s. They suggest
Serena Chen
that the self is relational, in the sense, that it is entangled with significant others that has implications for self-definition, self-evaluation, self-regulation, and daily functioning, which is all in relation to others. By significant others, Anderson and Chen mean someone who has been highly influential in the individual’s life and someone in whom the individual is or was emotionally invested.
The concept of relational self indicates that each of the significant others are linked to the self, capturing unique aspects of that relationship. Therefore, the self is shaped by the significant others, if they are present both physically as well as symbolically.
Influenced by this, a number of interpersonal theorists state that the concept of the relational self reflects that relationships are incorporated in the self and that the self is defined in terms of interpersonal relationships. By being tied to the self, these relationships influence behavior, cognition, and affect of the individual, as well as perceptions of the self.
Therefore, theories of self indicate that individuals are shaped by their relationships. Some theorists suggest general interpersonal interactions to shape the self, and some give emphasis on healthy interactions with significant others in the formation of the self.
Along with theories of motivation and self, more recently, advances in neurosciences suggest that human beings are in fact built to have appropriate social relationships. The biological system of human beings is structured in such a way that it helps them develop proper interpersonal interactions. This is explicitly depicted in the field of social neuroscience.
John Cacioppo
Social neuroscience is the biological approach to social behavior. It was proposed by the neuroscientists John Cacioppo and Gary Berntson in 1992. Social neuroscience is an integrative field that examines the involvement of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems in socio-cultural process. It examines how the brain drives social behavior and in turn how the social world influences brain and biology. It is a comprehensive attempt to understand mechanisms that underlie social behavior by combining biological and social approaches.
Gary Berntson
Social neuroscience has led to the discovery that the brain of human beings are built in such a way that it guides people to have social interactions. The neural circuitry of human beings is designed in such a way that it enables people to socialize with each other. There are a number of areas spread in the brain that act together and are responsible for people to interact with each other. These brain regions are collectively termed as the social brain.
Michael Gazzaniga
The term social brain was introduced into neuropsychology by the psychologist, and founder of cognitive neuroscience, Michael Gazzaniga in 1985 in his studies of disturbances in social and emotional communication after damages in the right hemisphere. The term was then more prominently used by Leslie Brothers in 1990. Brothers in her studies with monkeys proposed that there are a set of brain regions that are dedicated to social cognition. With the advent of brain imagining techniques, the social brain has also been discovered in human beings, and neuropsychologists like Ralph Adolphs have found similar results in humans as that of monkeys.
Ralph Adolphs
The social brain is a set of distinct but fluid and wide-ranging neural networks that synchronize around relating to others. Neuroscientists suggest that these social centers are mainly in structures of the prefrontal area of the brain in connection with areas in the sub-cortex, especially the limbic system (set of brain structures responsible for emotions, motivation, memory, and olfaction). However, other brain areas apart from these have also been discovered to constitute the social brain.
Giacomo Rizzolatti
During any kind of social interaction, regions in the social brain work together to fine tune the activity and orchestrate the bodily movements and emotions to make the person attuned to that social action. The specific brain cells called the mirror neurons play a very important role in this. The mirror neurons were first discovered in the early 1990s by the neurophysiologist Giacomo Rizzolatti.
The mirror neurons, found in the social brain, connect the brain of one person with that of the other. The mirror neurons immediately get active and start function during a social interaction. These neurons sense both the move that the other person is about to make and their feelings, and instantly prepares the individual to respond appropriately. For instance, if a person smiles the mirror neurons detect that and make the other individual to smile back. Or, if a person waves his/her hand, the mirror neurons detect that and make the other individual to wave back. Emotions have been found to be contagious because of the mirror neurons. In these ways, mirror neurons function during any social activity in the brain region that is responsible for that action.
The social circuits together keep things operating smoothly during interactions. Damage to any of these social centers impairs the ability to attune. It leads to making poor interpersonal decisions, misjudge the feelings of other people, and are incapable in coping with the social demands of life.
Howard Gardner
Interpersonal intelligence, one of the multiple intelligences proposed by the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, the the mid-1980s, is an important factor in social interactions. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations, and feelings of other people. It includes sensitivity to facial expressions, voice, and gestures; the capacity for discriminating among many different kinds of interpersonal cues; and the ability to respond effectively to those cues in some pragmatic way. These aspects have been to be associated with the frontal lobe, right temporal lobe, and the limbic system.
Reuvan Bar-On
Emotional intelligence - a set of abilities related to self and social awareness – is another important aspect that helps in having appropriate social interactions. Reuvan Bar-On, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, on the basis of lesion studies (studies on patients who have brain injuries in clearly defined areas) identified several brain areas crucial for the abilities of emotional intelligence. Other findings using different methods support the same conclusion. These brain researches suggest that there are unique brain centers associated with specific aspects of emotional intelligence, including aspects that help in social interactions.
For instance, abilities to solve interpersonal problems, managing impulses, expression of feelings effectively, and relating with others, have been found to be associated with the prefrontal cortex. Empathy, the ability to understand the emotions of others, has been found to be associated with the right somatosensory cortex and the insula. A large number of studies have also found the amygdala (center of emotions in the brain) to be associated with empathy.
Cameron Carter
Research has identified many specific chemicals that are synthesized in the brain to be associated with social behaviors that play a role in social interactions. Cameron Carter and Eric Keverne, in early 2000s, found that the neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that the brain cells use to communicate) such as dopamine and endogenous opioids play a role in social bonding. Additionally, hormones such as oxytocin, vasopressin, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), and adrenal hormones, including corticosterone are also responsible for social bonding.
The human brain, thus, not only guides people in socializing with others, but it also works in order to help people in having appropriate social interactions, which in turn help in having better relationships. The human brain, is therefore, built to make human beings form proper social relationships.
In the field of psychology, the notion of humans being social in nature, like to be in groups, and have social interactions, can be said to have begun with the early theories of motivation. This notion was strengthened by the perspectives of the social self, and the beginning of the interpersonal approach to psychology. Finally, the advances in neuroscientific techniques gave proper evidences that the brain plays a very important role in fine tuning social interactions to help in having appropriate social relationships.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Sigmund Freud
Psychoanalysis was established by Sigmund Freud, in 1895. While examining his patients, as a neurologist, Freud realized that many of his patients had neurological symptoms without any organic cause. He came to the conclusion that such symptoms result from inner conflicts that are repressed in the form of traumatic memories and experiences. Resolving those inner conflicts by uncovering the repressed memories into the conscious mind then became the underlying feature of psychoanalysis.
As psychoanalysis evolved, it began to gain popularity but at the same time faced criticisms. Freud’s associates like Alfred Adler and Carl Jung parted ways from him due to their disagreements and developed their own forms of psychoanalysis, keeping some of the basic elements the same. Like Adler and Jung, others had different perspectives about psychoanalysis, which became more prominent after the death of Sigmund Freud in 1939.
Despite the many modifications, over the years, classical Freudian psychoanalysis continued to have wide acceptance. It was found to be highly applicable in therapeutic settings as well as in day-to-day life. Psychoanalysis received its immediate expression through the needs of the mentally ill. It was, initially, a clinical-based discipline, and was not academically oriented.
It was due to this that psychoanalysis had a dominant role in psychiatry, as it was found suitable to clinical problems. Till the 1960s, psychoanalytic writings found an almost exclusive position in psychiatry and clinical psychology. It was one of the major reasons for the alarming rise of clinical psychology.  
Being clinically oriented, psychoanalysis resulted in huge advances in treatment of mental patients. It was one of the pioneer movements to treat mental patients more humanely. It is, in fact, the first of the five classical schools of psychology to give emphasis to mental illness. It stressed the importance of allowing patients to talk and express themselves. It is, thus, the forerunner of all the current approaches to counselling and psychotherapy.
Sigmund Freud
Even though there has been a decline in the usage of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, psychoanalysis is still considered to be fairly comprehensive. Psychoanalysis has led to the expansion of the domain of psychology. Before psychoanalysis, none of the systems pointed to the importance of studying the relationships among such concepts as the unconscious, infantile experience, and anxiety. Freud’s was, in fact, the first comprehensive theory of personality. Psychoanalysis also created a new way of dealing with mental disorders and revolutionized the conceptions of abnormality.
Psychoanalysis, however, has not restricted itself to mental illness. Apart from the understanding of abnormal behavior, psychoanalysis has also led to an understanding of normal behavior. It addresses both normal and abnormal behavior, and demonstrates that the psychological processes underlying both are fundamentally the same. Psychoanalysis has addressed a wide range of topics, apart from mental illness. It has contributed to ground breaking work on humour, marriage, death, friendship, suicide, creativity, competition, forgetfulness, mistakes, importance of culture, society, and war, and many other domains. Sigmund Freud being one of the most frequently cited authors in the psychology and the Division of Psychoanalysis (Division 39) being the sixth largest of all APA Divisions reflects the huge impact that psychoanalysis has had.
Further, psychoanalysis has helped in the generalization of psychology to other fields. By showing the usefulness of psychology in explaining everyday life phenomena such as religion, sports, politics, art, literature, and philosophy, the relevance of psychology has expanded to almost every sector of human existence. Additionally, it also created substantial interest in the field of psychology among other professionals like physicians and philosophers and even the general audience.
Psychoanalysis has also had an enormous influence on art and literature. This has led to literary and artistic expressions interpreted in light of the unconscious of the artist as well as the perceiver. It is for this reason that art is seen as symbolic, something that can be probed for unconscious meanings. The analysis of art is regarded as an extension of psychoanalysis.
One of the reasons for the popularity of psychoanalysis is that it has a strong influence on popular culture, which began immediately after Sigmund Freud’s visit to Clark University in 1909. Due to the rising of psychoanalysis, the 20th century saw a loosening of sexual restraints in behavior, arts, literature, and entertainment. It has become widely acceptable that inhibitions or repression of sexual impulses can be harmful. The emphasis of psychoanalysis on sex helped to popularize its ideas.
Even though being highly popular and contributing to the field of psychology in a major way, psychoanalysis has faced major criticisms, especially by the philosopher Karl Popper, regarding falsifiability and scientific validity. Popper, considered to be one of the greatest 20th century’s philosopher of science, majorly criticized the methodology used by Freud, which was solely based on clinical case studies and did not adhere to the commitment to the methodology expressed in the systems that were generated by academic research.
In later times, however, there has been a great deal of empirical research on psychoanalytic concepts, trying to give it scientific validity. This research was initiated by Anna Freud, and later carried forward by Heinz Hartmann, George Klein, and Henry Murray. Through their research, they have given empirical evidences of psychoanalytic concepts, which in turn, led to the acceptance of psychoanalysis in mainstream academic psychology.
In more recent times, advances in cognitive psychology and neurosciences have led to findings that are very consistent with Freudian concepts. These findings led a group of cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and psychiatrists began a movement and established a society called Neuro-psychoanalysis, which is an integration of Freudian concepts with neuroscience. This movement is often referred to as the second coming of Sigmund Freud.
The person at the forefront of this movement, known as the originator of Neuro-psychoanalysis, is the neuropsychologist Mark Solms. Along with Solms, neuroscientists like Daniel Schacter and Antonio Damasio argue that Freud’s conceptions of consciousness are corroborated by contemporary neuroscience.   According to Solms, Freudian concepts like the unconscious, repression, and pleasure principles can be supported by neuroscientific research.
Mark Solms
Solms examined patients of brain damage in the light of Freudian concepts. He found that the brain part known as the brain stem is associated with the core conscious also called the state of not being awake. Damage to this region makes the person unconscious. The brain area known as the prefrontal cortex is found to be associated with being aware and the ability to self-reflect. Solms likened these findings in terms of Freud’s unconscious (the part of the mind that consists of memories and emotions beyond awareness) and conscious mind (the part of the mind that consists of memories and emotions within awareness).
Proponents of neuro-psychoanalysis also compare the unconscious to the highly studied phenomenon of cognitive psychology referred to as nonconscious mental processing. These are processes that are implicit and have automaticity. Cognitive psychologists refer to such activities as beyond conscious awareness and intentional control. 
John Bargh
The social-cognitive psychologist John Bargh, on the basis of a number of studies in cognitive psychology on the phenomenon of nonconscious mental processing concluded that 95 percent of human behavior is determined by these implicit and automatic activities. Psychologists clearly mention that nonconscious cognition may not be similar to Freud’s unconscious, but it comes close to it and can be seen consistent with the tip-of-the-iceberg metaphor used by Freud in describing the conscious mind.

Nonconscious cognition may not be exactly the same as the unconscious mind, however, other studies by Solms reflect neuroscientific findings that are similar to specific aspects found in the unconscious.

Sigmund Freud suggested that one of the basic instinctual drives that individuals have is to seek pleasure and immediate gratification, which is guided by one of the structures of personality called the id. Neuroscientific research, by Solms, shows that the pleasure-seeking drives have their neurological origins in two brain structures, namely the brain stem and the limbic system. Further, the neurotransmitter called dopamine is centrally involved in most pleasure seeking behaviors. These findings indicate a neuroscientific basis of the Freudian concept of the id.
Neuroscientific research also identified the brain area of the frontal-limbic system to be associated with inhibition of impulses or impulse regulations. It has been found that when this brain area is damaged, the individual’s id-based pleasure seeking impulses increase.
In other words, basically in Freudian terms, the individual behaves as if the ego is not inhibiting the basic drives and that he/she becomes hostile, highly impulsive, and least concerned about social norms. Solms suggests that injuries to the frontal lobe lead to inability of individuals to stay reality bound and they start interpreting and reacting to events through their wishes or basic drives. This, according to Solms, provides a neuroscientific explanation of Freud’s concepts of id and ego.  
Sigmund Freud’s concept of defense mechanisms, especially repression, has been found to have a neuropsychological basis. According to Freud, in repression the unconscious keeps ideas, feelings, and unpleasant or threatening impulses out of consciousness. Neuroscientific research, by Solms, reports cases that explore the areas of the brain that may be implicated in the use and perseverance of defense mechanisms. A number of cases have demonstrated repression of unpalatable information when damage occurs to the right brain hemisphere and, if this damaged region becomes artificially stimulated, the repression goes away; that is, awareness returns. Additionally, these patients frequently rationalize away unwelcome facts by fabricating stories, which is an indication of demonstrating the Freudian wish-fulfilling defense mechanisms.
Apart from research in cognitive and neuroscience, recent research in social cognition has also given empirical evidences for Freudian concepts, especially the phenomenon of transference. Transference refers to holding mental representations of significant others in memory. According to Freud, transference occurs when childhood fantasies and conflicts associated with a parent or significant other are imposed on the psychoanalyst, during a psychotherapeutic session. This takes place outside conscious awareness.
Freud believed that people hold unconscious prototypes of individuals that determine their relationships with other new individuals that they meet. Transference becomes an important phenomenon as it helps the therapist to understand and uncover the conflicts and fantasies of the individual.
Susan Anderson
Susan Anderson and Adil Saribay have taken this notion and extended it to day-to-day life scenarios, calling it the social-cognitive model of transference, contrasting with the clinical, psychoanalytic phenomenon. According to the social-cognitive model, a significant-other representation gets activated in relation to a new person in similar ways as the transference process, indicating that it is not limited to therapeutic settings, and is not necessarily associated with psychopathology.  
A series of experiments have been conducted by researchers in which they deliberately activate significant-other representations. These researches show that people tend to fill in the blanks about a new person based on the knowledge of a significant-other, when that significant-other representation is triggered. Such researches on the social-cognitive model of transference give experimental evidences for the Freudian phenomenon of transference.
Therefore, contemporary research in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social cognition provide scientific explanations of many of Freudian concepts. These researches have made classical Freudian psychoanalysis relevant in today’s time, not letting it fade away from the realms of psychology.
On one the hand there have been contemporary researches that give evidence for Freudian concepts, and on the other hand there have been a series of recent researches that completely refute Freudian psychoanalysis. Recent research in the areas of memory, consciousness, trauma, and psychotherapy has not just been questioning, but has even provided evidences against phenomena that have shaped the foundation of Freudian psychoanalysis.
The central concept of Freudian psychoanalysis is the phenomenon of repression. Repression refers to the exclusion of painful, traumatic memories or undesirable urges that may have taken place in childhood, from the conscious awareness and pushing them into the unconscious. These lost/repressed memories are said to cause troubles to individuals in adulthood, in the forms of anxiety and other psychological problems. A way to treat these psychological problems, according to Freudian psychoanalysis, is to try to uncover or recover those lost/repressed memories, which is also known as recovered memory therapy.
The idea of treating psychological problems by recovering repressed childhood memories has been a contention of a huge controversy, which originates to the early 1990s, known as the memory wars. Recovered memory therapy has been at the receiving end of heavy criticisms, discrediting the central idea of Freudian psychoanalysis.
Elizabeth Loftus
One of the leading the persons behind these criticisms is the well-known cognitive psychologist and human memory expert, from the University of California, Irvin, Elizabeth Loftus. Loftus has been involved in research in memory for over 20 years. She has a number of books on memory, including, The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse.
The work of Loftus on eyewitness testimony has been groundbreaking. Her research showed that eyewitness testimonies are not always accurate and can easily be manipulated by misinformation, giving rise to false memories. She conducted a series of experiments in which she showed that false memories can be implanted in individuals. Similar mechanisms, according to Loftus, can be applied in recovered memory therapy sessions. She came to this conclusion when she investigated cases of a number of parents claiming to be falsely accused of sexually abusing their children.
A large number of women during recovered memory therapy sessions are able to recall specific details of how they were sexually abused by their parents or a close relative. Psychotherapists claim that they are able to uncover traumatic memories of being sexually abused in childhood, helping them to overcome their psychological problems. Loftus completely discredits the idea of repressed memories being recovered, claiming that memory does not function in this manner.
Loftus argues that the memories that are recovered are not accurate - memories are not like video recordings in which every past thought, emotions, and experiences are stored safely and can be recovered easily. Memories are more of reconstructive in nature. This means that past events that are recalled are not in an accurate manner, but are a blend of fact and fiction. The assumption of therapists that memory works as per the video-recorder model and not the reconstructionist model leads to the creation of false memories – memories of events that do not exist.  
According to Loftus, it is easy to make someone believe something to be true even if it has not occurred, especially in highly suggestible situations like recovered memory psychotherapeutic sessions. The memories that are recovered are mostly false memories. These false memories are implanted, unknowingly, by overzealous or biased therapists.
The individuals after being in multiple of such recovered memory therapy sessions end up believing things that have not even taken place; they actually start believing that they have had traumatic experiences (sexual abuse in the cases investigated by Loftus) in their childhood. In a number of cases, it has been found that people end up believing that they had experienced paranormal activities such as being abducted by aliens.
Strengthening her claims regarding the notions of repression and recovered memories, Loftus also states that the hippocampus, brain area that plays an important in the formation of memories, is not properly developed in early childhood. Due to this it is impossible that accurate memories are stored for a really long time and retrieved in adulthood. The human brain, therefore, according to Loftus, is incapable of recovering accurate memories from early childhood.
Richard McNally
In the same light as Loftus, Harvard psychologist and expert in trauma research, Richard McNally argues that there is no such thing as repression. In a number of his researches he shows that there is no scientific evidence of repression. On the basis of his research, he further suggests that people actually do not forget their traumatic experiences; they in fact very well remember the traumatic events.
Traumatic events due to being highly emotionally arousing are remembered in a better manner rather than being forgotten. A good example of this is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in which people keep getting flashbacks of their past traumatic experiences.
Further, McNally in his researches found that recovered memories are not genuine; they do not correspond to real events; for instance people being able to recall satanic ritualistic abuse or alien abduction. McNally also found that people recall such instances only after undergoing recovered memory procedures.
McNally like Loftus, argues that memory does not operate like a video recorder and that recollections are always reconstructive in nature. Regarding this he found that false memories of emotionally negative events can be implanted in recovered memory procedures.
These researches by Loftus and McNally create serious doubts and completely refute the phenomenon of repression, which is the central concept of Freudian psychoanalysis. They give clear research evidences that disprove the idea of repression.
John Kihlstrom
In contemporary times, one of the biggest critics of Sigmund Freud is the University of California, Berkeley, psychologist John Kihlstrom. Known for his work on consciousness, Kihlstrom has heavily criticized Freud in many of his writings. Kihlstrom states that Sigmund Freud in contemporary times is irrelevant and his ideas are completely obsolete. He argues that from 1950s onwards, with the rise of cognitive-behavioral therapies and empirical approaches to personality, Freud’s theories can be considered to be archaic.
According to Kihlstrom, Freud’s theory of personality and psychotherapeutic techniques are completely dead as many of his ideas such as the psychosexual stages, Oedipus complex, or childhood origins of adult personality have no empirical evidence. He also argues that there is no empirical evidence that psychoanalytic psychotherapy is more effective than any of the behavioristic and cognitive therapies.
Kihlstrom further states that there is no scientific evidence of the Freudian concepts of the unconscious and repression, which play a central role in Freudian psychoanalysis. He argues that the discovery of cognitive unconscious or nonconscious (mentioned above) and that the concept of automaticity (automatic processes) cannot be considered as evidences of Freudian unconscious.
Automatic processes are unintentional, involuntary, effortless, consume little or no attentional capacity, and take place outside conscious awareness. Processes like implicit memory (any effect of a past event on an individual’s thoughts, actions, and experiences, without any conscious reflection of that event), implicit perception (influence of an event without conscious perception of that event), implicit learning (acquiring of knowledge without conscious awareness of what has been learnt) are included in automatic processes. Such processes have been found to generate conscious mental contents like percepts, memory, feelings, and desires.
These automatic processes are certainly unconscious and play an important role in conscious activities, and have been proven experimentally. But Kihlstrom argues that they cannot be considered as evidence for Freud’s unconscious. The automatic processes, Kihlstrom states are very different from Freud’s unconscious, which is represented by repressed contents like childhood trauma, emotional conflict, and sexual and aggressive urges.
Like Loftus and McNally, Kihlstrom completely discredits the phenomenon of repression. He also states that there is no scientific evidence of repression. He argues that experiments that claim to be evidences of repression do not involve any unconscious processes, and are simply evidences of suppression. As per Kihlstrom, the concept of repression is a clinical myth. Kilhstrom also states that Freud at best can be seen as a historical figure and is relevant only as a writer in the fields of language and literature, but has no relevance in psychology, in contemporary times.
The enormous impact that Sigmund Freud has had is undeniable. However, there is always the question of the relevance of Freudian concepts in the present-day. Advances in cognitive and neurosciences giving rise to the society called Neuro-psychoanalysis led by Mark Solms and research in social cognition by Susan Anderson and associates not only give cognitive and neuroscientific explanations of Freudian concepts, but even widen the scope of Freudian psychoanalysis.

In contrast, contemporary research in memory, trauma, consciousness, and psychotherapy give a different picture. Psychologists like Elizabeth Loftus, Richard McNally, and John Kihlstrom with their research completely discredit and refute the central concepts of Freudian psychoanalysis, suggesting that psychology in the present-day can do away with Sigmund Freud and his ideas.

Monday, August 21, 2017


The beginning of modern psychology is marked by the time when psychology was being established as a science, giving it a separate identity, making it different from philosophy. The major force behind this movement was Wilhelm Wundt, the founder of modern psychology. Wundt had been conceiving his ideas about psychology from the time when he was conducting research in physiology calling it the new science of psychology or simply new psychology.
Wundt believed that the field of psychology should adopt the methods of natural sciences, like physics. He expressed his ideas in his book Contributions to the Theory of Sensory Perception, published in 1858 in which for the first time he used the term experimental psychology. This led to the first formal course of psychology he began in 1862, called Psychology as a Natural Science. He further elaborated his book Principles of Physiological Psychology, published in 1873/74; all of this culminating into Wundt establishing the first ever experimental psychology laboratory at Leipzig, in 1879.
According to Wundt, psychology is the study of the mind, emphasizing on the structure and contents of consciousness, using the method of introspection, in an experimental framework. Wundt’s psychology led to the beginning of the first school of psychology by Edward Titchner, called structuralism, further establishing psychology as an experimental science that uses methods similar to that of the natural sciences.
Even though Wundt’s influence was widespread, there were other individuals who did not agree with Wundtian psychology. These individuals who were contemporaries of Wundt were not part of any common school of thought that rivalled Wundtian psychology. Like Wundt, they also wanted to expand psychology as a science, but collectively disagreed with Wundt in confining psychology to experimentation. These individuals, along with Wundt, were influential in their own way and played a significant role in the development of modern psychology.
One of the most significant persons of this movement was Franz Brentano. Brentano was one of the major early and significant psychologists who had an alternate view of the dominant Wundtian psychology. He was the person who came the closest to Wundt in terms of influence in the 19th century German psychology.
Brentano’s approach was empirical rather than experimental. He believed that the method of psychology should be observation instead of experimentation. He did not outright reject the use of experiments, but felt observation to have a broader scope.
Franz Brentano
The movement started by Brentano came to be known as Act Psychology. He opposed Wundt’s view that psychology should be the study of the structure and content of consciousness. Brentano’s system centered around the idea that interaction between individual and the environment is inseparable. Accordingly, psychological events are defined as phenomena and cannot be reduced to smaller components without losing their identity. In regard to this, Brentano argued that the subject matter of psychology should be mental activity rather than mental content. Brentano’s act psychology, thus, argued against the elementism of Wundtian psychology.
Brentano proposed his perspective in his book Psychologie vom vom empirischen Standpunkt (Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint), published in 1874. He defined psychology as the science of psychic phenomena expressed as acts and processes. He viewed consciousness as a unity in terms of acts, opposing the existing reductionism and elementism.
In redefining the subject matter of psychology in terms of mental acts, and the unity of consciousness, Brentano proposed the method of observation; he preferred an empirical method over experimentation. However, he was not proposing a return to speculative philosophy. He, instead, proposed the method of systematic observation.
Brentano, also, moved towards the development of the method of phenomenology in psychology. According to him, phenomenology is a descriptive method. He believed that the method of phenomenology will be useful in describing psychological acts in a subjective, experiential manner, that is, describing objects in the environment as part of the process of perceiving. This method was further developed by his student Edmund Husserl, who is considered the founder of phenomenological psychology.
Brentano’s Act psychology, later on, played an influential role in the beginning of other movements in psychology. The idea of mental acts in terms of the unity of consciousness being the subject matter was influential in the development of Gestalt psychology. Laying emphasis on subjective experiences helped in the beginning of phenomenological psychology, which eventually also led to the development of the humanistic movement in psychology.
Brentano, therefore, is regarded as the intellectual heir to the Gestalt and phenomenological movements in psychology. Being one of the first persons to oppose experimentation, during the dominance of Wundtian psychology, also makes his perspective being influential for the development of Functionalism.
Brentano had a strong influence on Carl Stumpf, who was a major figure in German psychology and is considered to be one of the greatest rivals of Wundt. The most influential work of Stumpf was Tonpsychogie (Psychology of Tones), published in two volumes, first in 1883 and then in 1890. He had a lifelong interest in the unity of musical experience, making him one of the pioneers of the psychological study of music.
Carl Stumpf
The influence of Brentano on Stumpf is reflected in Stumpf adopting the method of phenomenology. Like Brentano, Stumpf suggested that the primary data for psychology are phenomena. According to him, phenomenology is the analysis of unbiased experience, in the sense that experience just as it occurs. He disagreed with Wundt’s approach of reducing experience into smaller elements. He believed that breaking down experience into smaller components makes it artificial and therefore unnatural.
Stumpf, through his publications, had a heated debate with Wundt concerning the proper description of melodies. He did not agree with Wundt in reducing melody to its smaller sensory elements. He believed in the unity of melody. This view of Stumpf resembled the phenomenological view, later on developed by Edmund Husserl.
Stumpf passed his version of act psychology and phenomenology to his students. Among those students were Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka, who along with Max Wertheimer were two of the founders of the Gestalt movement. The Gestalt movement began in opposition to Wundtian psychology and the structural viewpoint. In this way, Stumpf turned out to be a leading precursor to Gestalt psychology and thus led to the creation of an alternate view to Wundtian psychology in Germany.
The beginning of modern psychology, in terms of establishing psychology as an independent scientific discipline, was largely due to the enormous efforts of Wilhelm Wundt, especially his emphasis on experimentation. At a time when Wundtian psychology was dominant and consistently on the rise, leading to the development of the structural perspective, it was Franz Brentano and, later on, Carl Stumpf who proposed an alternative perspective.
Opposing Wundt’s idea of reducing conscious experience to sensory elements, Brentano and Stumpf proposed the idea of mental acts and phenomena. Their emphasis on the unity of consciousness and subjective experiences led to the beginning of the Gestalt and the phenomenological movements in psychology, making their approach to be highly significant in the development of modern psychology. Their perspectives, thus, can be regarded as very successful.
The perspectives of Brentano and Stumpf indicate that psychology right from an early stage has been a multi-method and multi-perspective discipline. If there was Wundt’s elementism, reductionism, and experimentation, there was also Brentano’s unity of phenomena, subjectivity, and systematic observation. Both viewpoints were significant in their own rights, with respect to modern psychology.