Psychodynamic Explanations - Freud



  • Conscious: The small amount of mental activity we kmow about
  • Preconscious: Things we could be aware of if we wanted to or tried
  • Unconscious: Things we are unaware of and cannot become aware of
  • Material is repressed into the unconscious and then is not accessible to conscious thought.
  • This happens on an unconscious level.
  • This helps to protect the individual from anything traumatic that they are unable to deal with
  • The Oedipal Conflict - sexual energy directed towards opposite-se parent and want same-sex parent out of the way
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  • Freud believed if people were having mental health problems, then the source of the problem lay in the unconscious mind.
  • Even though repressed memories are inaccessible, they are still guiding our behaviour.
  • Therapy (psychoanalysis) is needed to uncover these unconscious thoughts and desires and make the unconscious conscious.
  • These will no longer guide behaviour inappropriately but can be dealt with by the conscious mind.

There are a variety of ways that Freud's concepts can be used in order to explain why peopla are aggressive.

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1. Aggression Results from our Innate Drives

Eros (Life Instinct): The energy of Eros (known as libido) is focused on the preservation and enjoyment of life. It is also sexual energy. The drive to go forwards in life. Eros provides the energy for the ego to inhibit the instinct that leads to death.

Thanatos (Death Instinct): The drive towards death and destruction which is initially directed towards the self. The drive to go back to before being born. Thanatos provides the energy for the ego to inhibit the sexual instinct.

Human behaviour is seen as an interaction between these two opposing forces.

Explanation for aggression: aggression is an expression of thanatos. Basic biological instinct to aggression which lies in the id. 

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2. Aggression as a Result of Personality Developme

Freud thought that our early years are really important for forming our personality. Children pass through stages of development which form their personality. If this goes well, and they deal with any issues that arise, then they will have a stable personality as adults. If, however, issues from these early years are not resolved, then they will have problems forming good and healthy adult realationships. 

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2. Continued

  • Id ('it' in Latin): Basic biological drives including sexual energy (eros) and aggressive energy (thanatos). Lies in the unconscious mind so we are not aware of these urges.
  • Ego ('I'): Balances the needs of the id with the superego. Allows the id to get what it wants in a way that is acceptable to the superego (socially acceptable).
  • Superego ('above I') : Our sense of what is right and wrong which is learnt, from a large extent, from our same-sex parent.

Any issues in the development of their ego/superego could result in problems managing the impulsive urges of the id. If a person's id is too dominant, then this could lead to aggression. 

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3. Aggression as a Process of Catharsis

Humans are not uncontrollably aggressive all of the time. This is because of catharsis. Catharsis is the process of releasing negative energy from the mind. It is a way of: venting aggression, letting off steam, releasing emotions and satisfying our violent impulses. This makes us feel better, but is in a safer way than acting in a highly aggressive manner towards others.

We deal with our aggressive instincts by redirecting them into other activities, e.g taking part in sport, playing violent video games, watching violence like boxing, watching violent films etc. 

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3. Evidence

Lab Experiment, Verona and Sullivan (2008):

  • Aimed to find out whether acting aggressively is cathartic for an individual.
  • Particiapants were placed in a frustrating situation. Half of the participants got to act in an aggressive way (by pressing a shock button). Half got to act in a non-aggressive way. Later in the study, a blast of hot air was delivered to them.
  • The half that behaved aggressively saw a reduction in the aggression, measured by heart rate. This would suggest that aggressive behaviour is cathartic.
  • But, they were more aggressive in their response to the blast of hot air than the other group.
  • Conclusion: Acting aggressively by pressing the shock buttonreduced tension (shown by decrease in heart rate) but it did not reduce the aggressive drive. In fact, this increased as a result of acting aggressively.
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