(The Psychoanalytic Perspective)


  1. Describe what is meant by personality, and explain how Freud’s treatment of psychological disorders led to his study of the unconscious.

  2. Describe personality structure in terms of the interactions of the id, ego and superego.

  3. Identify Freud’s psychosexual stages of development, and describe the effects of fixation on behavior.

  4. Explain how defense mechanisms protect the individual from anxiety.

  5. Explain how projective tests are used to assess personality.

  6. Discuss the contributions of the neo-Freudians, and describe the strengths and weaknesses of Freud’s ideas.


personality – an individual’s characteristic pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting.

free association – in psychoanalysis, a method of exploring the unconscious in which the person relaxes and says whatever comes to mind, no matter how trivial or embarrassing.

psychoanalysis – Freud’s theory of personality that attributes our thoughts and actions to unconscious motives and conflicts; the techniques used in treating psychological disorders by seeking to expose and interpret unconscious tensions.

unconscious – according to Freud, a reservoir of mostly unacceptable thoughts, wishes, feelings, and memories. According to contemporary psychologists, information processing of which we are unaware.

preconscious – information that is not conscious but is retrievable into conscious awareness.

id – contains a reservoir of unconscious psychic energy that, according to Freud, strives to satisfy basic sexual and aggressive drives. The id operates on the pleasure principle, demanding immediate gratification.

ego – the largely conscious, “executive” part of personality that, according to Freud, mediates among the demands of the id, superego, and reality. The ego operates on the reality principle, satisfying the id’s desires in ways that will realistically bring pleasure rather than pain.

superego – the part of personality that, according to Freud, represents internalized ideals and provides standards for judgment (the conscience) and for future aspirations.

psychosexual stages – the childhood stages of development (oral, anal, phallic, latency, genital) during which, according to Freud, the id’s pleasure seeking energies focus on distinct erogenous zones.

Oedipus Complex – according to Freud, a boy’s sexual desires toward his mother and feelings of jealousy and hatred for the rival father.

identification – the process by which, according to Freud, children incorporate their parents’ values into their developing superegos.

fixation – according to Freud, a lingering focus of pleasure-seeking energies at an earlier psychosexual stage, where conflicts were unresolved.

defense mechanisms – in psychoanalytic theory, the ego’s protective methods of reducing anxiety by unconsciously distorting reality.

repression – in psychoanalytic theory, the basic defense mechanism that banishes anxiety-arousing thoughts, feelings, and memories from consciousness.

regression – defense mechanism in which an individual faced with anxiety retreats to a more infantile psychosexual stage, where some psychic energy remains fixated.

reaction formation – defense mechanism by which the ego unconsciously switches unacceptable impulses into their opposites. Thus, people may express feelings that are the opposite of their anxiety-arousing unconscious feelings.

projection – defense mechanism by which people disguise their own threatening impulses by attributing them to others.

rationalization – defense mechanism that offers self-justifying explanations in place of the real, more threatening, unconscious reasons for one’s actions.

displacement – defense mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses toward a more acceptable or toward a more acceptable or less threatening object or person, as when redirecting anger toward a safer outlet.

sublimination – in psychoanalytic theory, the defense mechanism by which people rechannel their unacceptable impulses into socially approved activities.

projective test – a personality test, such as the Rorschach or TAT, that provides ambiguous stimuli designed to trigger projection of one’s inner dynamics.

Thematic Apperception Approach (TAT) – a projective test in which people express their inner feelings and interests through the stories they make up about ambiguous scenes.

Rorschach inkblot test – the most widely used projective test, a set of 10 inkblots, designed by Hermann Rorschach; seeks to identify people’s inner feelings by analyzing their interpretations of the blots.

Collective unconscious – Carl Jung’s concept of a shared, inherited reservoir of memory traces from our species’ history.