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Category Archives: Freud and Psychoanalysis

See, I told you psychoanalysis is still in fashion….

From psychology:

“….new film A Dangerous Method centered on the relationship between Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein. The film stars Michael Fassbender as Jung, Viggo Mortenson as Freud and Keira Knightley as Spielrien.”

Here’s the website for the film:, and the trailer: (contains some nudity and sexual content, but, thank goodness, little violence). Directed by David Cronenburg, who made The Fly.

YouTube version, without the sex and nudity:

Out in the US this week (23 Nov), in the UK in February.

Viggo Mortenson as Freud? mmmm.

The best cinema Freud I’ve seen was Alan Arkin in The Seven Percent Solution: (
Sherlock Holmes meets Freud (with some narration from John H Watson – but that has to be Holmes’ Watson, not the one we’re interested in: must be a Freudian slip). Wonderfully silly, but Arkin comes across (to me, anyway) as being full of depth and intelligence. It was unobtainable on video for years, and hardly ever shown on TV, but I’ve just seen that the DVD’s on Amazon: now on my wish list.
Here’s the cast list & photos:
Lots of big names (for 1976, anyway).


Today’s newspaper: some spoilers for Schools of Thought later in the year

Just a post to show how the kind of thing we talk about in Schools of Thought comes up in the mainstream press (well, The Guardian, anyway). Today (Mon 20th  November)  there are two stories about topics which we’ll be taking up later in the year:
About the ideas behind the Siri personal assistant on the latest iPhone (you know you want one). Two themes here. The original voice recognition/artificial intelligence/natural language recognition research was financed by the US military, along  with most of the rest of cognitive psychology (as I’ll discuss in Cognitive Psychology as the Science of Killing People), and also how it’s possible to build computer systems which mimic how we understand everyday speech (something which it is still a big problem for psychology to understand). Christina will be talking about the usefulness of the computer simulation approach in The Rise and Fall of Computational Psychology.

The other story:
is about a veteran forensic psychotherapist who uses a psychoanalytic/Freudian approach. The subheading and first few paragraphs sound as though it’s about really weird ideas, but read on – it gets more sensible. The point here, apart from the intrinsic interest, is that this is a three page article about a psychoanalyst – in 2011. I’ll be arguing that Psychoanalysis is Alive and Well next term (well, maybe more accurate to say that Psychoanalysis’s Zombie is Differently Alive* and Still Shambling Among Us).

*Who is trying to rehabilitate the undead by (politically correctly) calling them the differently alive?

Racism and Sexism Linked, Scientists Find (and Are We Repressing Something?)

Another ‘who would have guessed?’ story, maybe – but it led me to another forgetting/changing the past story. That story is a long way down the page, but the long lead-in to it is a bit interesting

Prejudiced attitudes are based on generalised suppositions about certain social groups and could well be a personality trait. Researchers at the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU) have confirmed the link between two types of discriminatory behaviour: sexism and racism. They also advise of the need for education in encouraging equality.

As I read through this story, I thought “but haven’t they heard about The Authoritarian Personality* (AP), the famous post WWII study which looked at the links between anti-Semitism, other forms of ethnocentrism (AKA racism, roughly), political beliefs, personal beliefs and upbringing?” I guess maybe the original researcher knew about it, but that knowledge doesn’t come across in the press release.

Very roughly (the story is complicated) the AP researchers were looking for the roots of anti-Semitism: not surprising in research financed by a Jewish organisation in California in the late 1940s. They used several personality/opinion scales, and showed a significant relationship (remember all the issues about what that might actually mean) between anti-Semitism, ethnocentrism, conventional ideas about sex and gender roles (a woman’s place is in the home), support for those in authority, and punitiveness towards those who broke society’s rules – and also far-right, anti-democratic values (using the F [for Fascism] scale). They also proposed a link between all those values and family dynamics and harsh discipline in childhood, and tied the whole ‘Authoritarian’ syndrome together with a Freudian/psychodynamic explanation to do with repressed and projected aggression. This research has been very controversial over the years, and took a slightly comic turn, in the 1950s, when the Enemies of the World changed from (sort-of) right-wing Fascists to (sort-of) left-wing Communists, and a UK researcher discovered the ‘authoritarian of the left’ to match the ‘authoritarian of the right’.

The whole thing is a fascinating study in methodology, kinds of explanation in psychology, and how political values are intertwined with ‘scientific’ psychology. Lots of the conclusions were questioned, and the whole package wasn’t really accepted as an explanation of racism and far-right values (especially the harsh upbringing bit), but I think the finding that these various prejudiced attitudes were to some extent associated held up. The best account I know is in Roger Brown’s book Social Psychology (first edition: not in the second edition) published in 1965. I can’t find any version of this available online. I’ve got a copy (bought new for my second year undergraduate social psych class when it was an exciting new book). I could loan out a photocopy of the chapter, maybe. I used to teach about the AP as a young psych lecturer in the 70s and 80s, but it’s sort-of dropped into the mists of history now. The whole of the (long, quite hard going, but wide-ranging) first volume of original report on the research is available on-line at the American Jewish Committee archive:
The E (ethnocentrism) and A-S (anti-Semitism) scales are at (this links them together as the E scale, but I think the first set of items were a separate scale in the original research). The statements you’re asked to agree or disagree with are pretty vile – maybe we’ve come some way in the last 60 years.

OK: what’s my point here?

Well, first, we’ve known for a long time that different aspects of racism go together, and were associated with conventional gender values in 1940s USA (what we’d call sexism today) so the Basque result isn’t surprising. The original AP suggested that authoritarianism was associated with over-positive self-image: the Basque researchers are reported to be surprised that racism wasn’t associated with low self-esteem – perhaps they hadn’t picked up the link with the AP, after all.

A bit more interesting – to me, anyway – is what I found when I started looking for modern information on the AP. There are quite a few short, fairly simple, not very academic accounts available online. The accounts seem to focus on the Fascism, anti-democratic aspect, and problems with the upbringing explanation, and downplay or leave out anything about the whole spectrum of attitudes, particularly various forms of racism, and how they might be associated and might be associated with political values. Examples:
(this summary starts with “Adorno et al. (1950) proposed that prejudice is the results of an individual’s personality type” – fair enough, but prejudice isn’t mentioned again)

Wikipedia gives a pretty good account, I think (it often does), but that plays down the prejudiced attitude stuff, too:

Seems like a clear case of (psychodynamic) repression to me – why won’t we recognise the study of racism as a vital part of a study which started as an inquiry into anti-Semitism? Are we not prepared to face up to something here?

* T.W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson and R. Nevitt Sanford (1950) The Authoritarian Personality, Studies in Prejudice, Volumes 1 & 2 Harper & Brothers

†Maite Garaigordobil at The University of the Basque Country. There’s no proper reference in the release (I hate that: this is why getting into the habit of proper referencing is part of being a good member of the academic community). Maite seems to publish mainly in Spanish, but a quick scan of the papers she lists on her web pages doesn’t show one that looks like this one, either in Spanish or English – please do let me know if you locate the original.

17th century Iroquois and late 19th century Austrian Jew share psychological insights

Here’s an extract from Apologies to the Iroquois by Edmund Wilson, an informal journalistic anthropology of Six Nations Peoples, published in 1960:

Quoting Jesuit priest Fr Paul Ragueneau, writing in 1648:

“In addition” he says, “to the desires which we generally have which are free, or at least voluntary in us, [and] which arise from a previous knowledge of some goodness that we imagine to exist in the thing desired, the Hurons believe that our souls have other desires, which are, as it were, inborn and concealed. […]
“Now, they believe that our soul makes these desires known by means of dreams, which are its language.  Accordingly, when these desires are accomplished, it is satisfied; but , on the contrary, if it be not granted what it desires, it becomes angry, and not only does not give the body the good and the happiness that it wished to procure for it, but it often also revolts against the body, causing various diseases, and even death.”

According to Wilson, Ragueneau thought the Hurons* were mistaken about this , but a few hundred years later Sigmund Freud thought “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.” (in The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900) – and the first paragraph above is a pretty good rough description of the Freudian unconscious.

A couple of pages later in Wilson, there’s a description of a myth which is very similar to the Judaeo-Christian myth of Jacob & Isaac – testing faith to limit of inhuman practice, with a last-minute reprieve for the tested one. Funny how these ideas go round and round.

Here’s another chunk of Freud which seems to fit with shamanic practices (which is probably partly what he was talking about): “It can easily be imagined, too, that certain practices of mystics may succeed in upsetting the normal relations between the different regions of the mind, so that, for example, the perceptual system becomes able to grasp relations in the deeper layers of the ego and in the id which would otherwise be inaccessible to it.” (in New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis).

OK, to be fair, ideas about the unconscious and the revelatory nature of dreams have been around for ever, but that’s not to devalue the insights of the Native American philosophers, or of good old Sigismund Shlomo.

*note for John LaR: all right, the Huron weren’t actually part of the Iroquoian Federation, but they’re part of the same language broup.