Freud's theory of psychosexual development

About freuds theory of psychosexual development and about the structure of the self and the unsubconscious.

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Freud's view of the structure of the self

Freud desribed the self as being made up of 3 components. These components where:

- ID: 'the Pleasure principle'. It motivates a person to gratify desires immediately. According to Freud the id is the part of the self that is made up of, or contains basic drives. These drives include libido, aggression and self-preservation. Human behaviour is driven by these 3 instictual energy - even behaviours that do not relate to sex, dominance and aggression. Most people unaware of the ID and these motivations.

- Ego: 'the Reality principle'. The ego is the part of the self that is in contact with the outside world, which pecieves and is conscious (aware of cicumstances). The ego enables us to look for opportunities to gratify desires while avoiding unpleasant experiences.

- Superego: 'the morality principle'. This can be though of as the person's moral beliefs - beliefs about what should and should not be done. The superego exerts an influence on the ego, so that the ego sometimes has to balance the demands of the ID and the restrictions of the superego. Note that the superego cannot always overrule the ego. In certain situations there maybe no conflict between the 3 parts of the self.

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Evaluation of Freud's view of the structure of the

Evaluation:The idea that the self is divided up in this way is reasonably plausible.

However, there is no way of testing this theory. If someone proposed an alternative theory in which there were 4 or 5 components, there would be no way of testing which of the two theories was correct.

Freud's theory could be viewed as a fanciful way of saying that we sometimes have conflicting motivations between basic drives and moral beliefs.

We do not need to assume that drives and beliefs exist in different parts of the self.

 A obvious critism of freud view of the ID is that some people do not appear to show evidence of sexual or aggressive drives. Example is some people choose to be celibate.

Freud tried to explain this apparent contradiction by saying that such people had the same basic drives as others but fulfilled them in different ways. He called this process 'sublimation'. Main problem is Freud theory not testable!

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Psychosexual stages

Freud theory of psychosexual development describes a series of stages of development. This theory was used to explain the development of the personality by Freud.

This theory assumes that sexual motivations are genetically buit in, but the way that instinct is expressed develops during childhood.


Oral stage (from Birth - 1 year)

During the oral stage, the infant gains ****** pleasure from the mouth.

Sucking objects, especially the mother's breasts, gives infants a kind of satisfaction equivalent to sexual satisfaction in adults.

During this stage, the child's self only consists of the ID.


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First stage of psychosexual development


Accoring to Freud, this explains why babies are so demanding of immediate gratification and protest as soon as they feel hunger or discomfort.

Freud believes if a child experiences conflict at one of the stages of psychosexual development, the child's personality retains some features of the stage when this occured. This is called 'Fixation'.

He believed fixation at the oral stage might result from unsatisfactory feeding. For example if the baby is weaned from milk too early. He believed that this might lead to the person continuing to show oral behaviour in adulthood.

Examples of this are: smoking, oral aggression, such as sarcasm.

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Second stage of psychosexual development

The second stage in Freud psychosexual stages is:

The anal stage (1-3 years)

During the anal stage, ****** pleasure is focused on the ****.  The child begins to get control over excretion, with the help of toilet training. Withholding or expelling faeces gives the child pleasure.

This is the stage during which the ego develops. The child begins to become more aware of the world and also salf-aware.

The child begins to be able to delay gratification and starts to control the ID to a certain extent.

Fixation at this stage, according to Freud, might result from conflict over toilet training and lead to later personality characteristics such being obsessively tidy and pre-occupied with money.

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Third stage of psychosexual development

The third stage of Freud psychosexual stages is:

The phallic stage (3-6 years)

During the phallic stage, the child beings to get ****** pleasure from the genitials.

Boys begin to develop a kind of sexual desire for their mothers and girls for their fathers.

The superego develops at this stage.  


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Freud used the ancient greek myth of Oedipus to explain the phallic stage in boys.

Greek myth story:Oedipus was the son of the king Thebes. A prophecy foretold that he would kill his father, so the king took the pre-caughtion of ordering the baby boy to be abandoned on a hillside, where it was expected he would die. However, he was found by a shepherd and kept alive, not knowing who his parents were. When he grew up he was injured in an accident with a chariot containing his father, the king. Angered by this, Oedipus drove the chariot, dragging the king along until he died. The thebans them made Oedipus their king and he married the existing queen, unaware that she was actually his mother.

Freud believed this story reflected the desire of all boys in the phallic stage to take the place of their father in their relationship with their mother. 

Freud believed that boys recognise that their fathers are too powerful and threatening to be replaced. Boys feel a conflict between desire for their mother and fear of punishment by their father. Freud believed boys feared that their father would cut their penis off. Freud called this the Oedipus Conflict. 

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Faced with this conflict, Freud suggested that boys identify with their fathers. Meaning they try to become just like their father to try and be a poor substitute for their mother.  

One result of this process is that boys take on their father's set of attitudes and beliefs, including moral belief. This is how the superego is acquired

Freud theory for girls was called the Electra conflict. He assumed that girls experience 'penis envy' - a kind of regret or resentment that they do not have penises, believing that they have already been castrated by their mothers as a punishment. 

He believe that because the damage was already done, girls have less reason to fear their mothers than the boys have to fear their fathers.

As a result he believed girls developed weaker superegos than boys. 

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Evaluation of psychosexual stages of development

Only weak evidence to support Freud theory. 

It is fact that babies **** objects, but it is not evident that this gives them ****** satisfaction. 

Young children occasionally state that they would like to marry their opposite-sex parents. These facts are consistent with Freud's theory but are not sufficient proof of the theory's accuracy.  

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Key Study:Freud reported a case study in support of his view of the Oedipus Conflict. This was a case not actually studied by Freud, but reported to him by a friend. It is know as the case of Little Hans.

Hans developed a phobia of horses when he was around 5 years old. His fear was particularly strong for large white horses with black blinkers and black mouths. Hans was afraid to go out, because he thought a horse might bite him.

The suggested psychoanalytic explanation was that the boy's phobia was actually a fear of of his father, transferred to horses. Han's father had glasses and a moustache - a bit like the appearance of the feared horses. Han's fear of being bitten was actually a disguised fear of castration. 

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As evidence to support the Oedipus conflict, this case study is extremely weak. First, it was a study of only a single case and so unlikely to be typical of all boys. Second the case was reported second hand, rather than investigated by Freud himself. 

Finally, the interpretation that the horse phobia was actually a fear of the father is an unjustifiable leap of the imagination. There are other more plausible explanations for the phobia - for example, that Hans had seen an accident involving a horse in which someone had been hurt.

Freud's claims about the influence of sexual motivation in infancy, especially the mechanisms of the phallic stage, are generally regarded as highly implausible. 

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 The theory of psychosexual stages was based on an error Freud made early in his career. Some of Freud's adult patients described what might have been sexual abuse by their parents. Freud reported this in a lecture, describing the possibility that some parents might sexually abuse their children as the 'seduction hypothesis'.

This idea proved so unacceptable to Freud's audience he changed his views and attributed stories of childhood sexual abuse to 'wish fulfilment'. This meant he began to interpret these stories as evidence that children in the phallic stage have sexual feelings towards their opposite sex parent. 

Freud's assumptions that girls experience 'penis envy' appears to have no basis in fact. To most people in modern society Freud theory would be taken as prejudice to women. That he was sexist. 

Freud's research seems unscientific. His main source of data was clinical interviews with middle-class adult patients, which he wrote up afterwards. Freud actually never studied children. 

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Application of Freud theory to attachment

A simple psychoanalytic explanation for attachment is that an infant attaches to the mother as a result of feeding, especially breastfeeding, which gives ****** pleasure to the child in the oral stage. 

This is a rather similar explanation to the learning theory explanation and can be criticised in a similar way. There is plenty of evidence  that children attach to some people who do not feed them.

The study by Schaffer & Emerson (1964) is an example. 

The timing of the onset of attachment & its universality point to a stronger maturational influence. 

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Prosocial & antisocial behaviour

Freud's basic explanation of moral development is that moral beliefs (including prosocial & antisocial behaviours) are acquired by identification with the same sex parent in the phallic stage. 

Individual differences in moral behaviours is that the moral beliefs of parents vary. 

Another explanation of why different people produce different moral behaviours relates to the strength of a person's superego. 

Some people have a powerful superego, whose influence often overrules the ego, producing more prosocial than antisocial behaviour.

The strength of the ID is another explanation for such individual differences. In some people, instictual desires are stronger than in others. In those individuals the ID may ifluence the ego more.

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Evaluation of prosocial & antisocial behaviour

A problem with Freud theory is that it assumes moral development is influenced mainly by one person. Which is unlikely as it ignores the agents of socialisation ie peers and the media.

Boys who grow up without their fathers still develop moral beliefs and the same for girls who grow up without their mother.

There is also no evidence to prove Freud belief that women are morally weaker.

Freud's belief that boys with authoritarian fathers are morally strongest is not supported by evidence. Studies carried out by Sears et al and Baumrind do not support this belief.

The ID strength varies between individuals is consistent with the evidence of studies of the influence of biological factors on behaviours, such as that by Dabbs et al.

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Development of sex differences in behaviour / gend

Freud did not provide a specfic explanation for sex differences in behaviour.

However, his theory of psychosexual stages does provide an explanation - for example, as described above, children tend to identify with their same-sex parent during the phallic stage.

As well as acquiring moral beliefs as a result of this identification, they might also acquire beliefs about behaviours that are seen as appropriate for their sex. Boys try to become like their fathers, while girls are more likely to identify with their mothers. 

Children often do acquire behaviours of same-sex parents.

However the psychoanalytic explanation is much less plausible than the social learning theory explanation.

Children who are reared without a same-sex parent still display the usual sex differences in behaviour, suggesting that parents are not the only influence.  

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Evaluation of freud's theory

Area of evaluation of freud work: Structure of self / personality

Positives of structure of self: Idea of unconscious motivation is useful in explaining some behaviours and conflicts.

Negatives of structure of self: Not testable; not everyone shows evidence of all instinctual energies or drive.

Area of evaluation of freud's work: Theory of psychosexual stages

Positives: none

Negativies: not testable - very weak evidence; implausible; sexist, possibly based in a mistaken interpretation of stories of sexual abuse; overstates the role of identification with parents in moral development; not a complete explanation of moral development stages.


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Area of evaluation of freud work: research

Positive: none

Negative: case studies only, sample unrepresentative.

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Implications of Freud's theory for child rearing

Freud's theory implies that parents, rather than other caregivers, are vital to a child's development.

It also implies parents should avoid conflict with infants during breastfeeding, weaning and toilet training.

Authoritarian parenting style is likely to lead to a stronger superego.

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