2) Why does the psychodynamic/psychoanalyticalapproach to understanding personality attract so much attention from laypeople? Does this support the work that personality psychologists do or hinderit? Give reasons for your opinion. IntroductionThepsychodynamic approach looks at internal and psychological forces as a way tojustify manifestations of the behaviour, thoughts and feelings that define ourpersonality. Pyschoanalysis is Freud’s particular theory, that suggests ourbehaviour is a manifestation of conscious and subconscious forces, as well as aproduct of our childhood experiences. To the lay person, personality is judgedthrough naive assumptions, for example in the case of confirmatory bias wherewe look for information to confirm our assumptions (S.Nikerson). This may justify the use of psychoanalysisas a popular method of personality analysis for the lay person, as using naiveassumptions such as a person suffering abuse in their childhood to explain whythey are violent as an adult is a rather convenient conclusion to draw. However,looking beneath the surface, we see that a person is too nuanced to fullyattribute personality traits toone’s ‘past’.
In this essay I seek to explore the effect of psychodynamictheory’s popularity on personality psychologists work. I will do this byexamining the actual purpose of the personality psychologists’ work, in orderto fully assess whether a lay person helps or heeds this. Overall, it will be argued that lay people don’t hinder the workof personality psychologists (for the psychodynamic approach), because theapproach is at times unscientific. If the approach was fully scientific, we could arguethat attention from the lay person hinders research as it would inevitably bemisinterpreted by non professionals. However because it is unscientific andhence can be interepted subjectively, meaning the non professional will notnecessarily have a big impact.
Firstly, I will outline three reasons why the psychodynamic/psychoanalyticalapproach to understanding personality attract so much attention from lay people.One type of psychodynamic approach that attracts attention is Freud’spsychoanalysis. He is well-known by the lay person due to his controversialtheories (Wilson, 1997). (Freud, 1905), on psychological development, proposedthat all human beings possess an instinctual libido that is established throughfive stages, the oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital stages.
During thephallic stage the Oedipus complex occurs, described by an unconscious sexualdesire for one’s mother (Freud, 1896). This has been exacerbated by popculture. In the show Law and Order, a murder investigation looks into whetherthe stepson has murdered the dad because of the Oedipus complex. We also seenexample of this in one of the most controversial novels of the twentiethcentury, ‘Sons and Lovers’, (D.H.Lawrence, 1913).
Further, psychosexual development is seen in parentingbooks (Rosemond, 1947). Thus, controversy and literature and filmshowcasing this controversy have made psychoanalysis attract attention from thelay person. Further, it generates attention from those disputing itscontroversial nature. Secondly, the psychodynamic approach appeals to the layperson because it overlooks the trappings of science. Accordingto Karl Popper (1959), for a subject to be scientific it must be falsifiable.This can be contrast with the more objective, scientific methods used bybehaviourists. This can be contrast with the more objective, scientific methodsused by behaviourists. Winnicott(1967), used his ‘squiggle game’, during psychriatric assessment to determinehow the child’s brain works.
(Theoretical Approaches in Psychology). This inevitably psychodynamic workmore accessible to lay people; the reading and interpretation of this workwould be easier to understand than other theoretical approaches likebehaviourism. Theconclusions drawn in psychodynamic theory are less clear due to theunscientific methods (Grünbaum,1986), as opposed to objective conclusions and thus can be interpreted indifferent ways. Again, this would attract the lay psychologist as it allowsthem to draw their own interpretations from reading as opposed to beingconstricted by objective results. Thirdly, the psychodynamic approach is popular because itwas revolutionary for its time. Freud, in particular, revolutionised the way weperceived ourselves. He highlighted the importance of unconscious activitywhich made him stand out amongst his contemporaries, giving him attention. (Manichander,2016) Furthermore, throughpsychoanalysis, the lay person could be cured from a terrible mental conditionand understand why they thought in such a way.
He provided them with an outlet,and made mental illness more acceptable as it could now be attributed to badlife experiences. (Freud, 1905) He helped people to feel more at ease withtheir mental illness, hence resonating with them. Further, the idea that problemscould be solved through talking was also something new to the lay person, hencetheir attention to it.
Does this support the work that personality psychologists do orhinder it?Now, Iwill discuss the second part of the question. As mentioned earlier, todetermine whether attention supports or hinders the work, we must look at theaims of personality psychology to see what the work hopes to achieve andthe methods used to achieve it. A general aim of personality theory is to assessvariability within individuals (Ashton, 2013). This can be done in anideographic or nomothetic manner. The ideographic approach seeks to assess an individual in particular,looking at what is unique to them. For example, (Freud 1909) theorised that inthe case of Little Hans, his unique phobia of horses could be attributed to theOedipus complex. One important thing to note here is that Freud didn’t workwith little Hans (Merlino, 2006). Thus, his interpretation of the boys symptomswas purely based on letters from the boys father; he read the fathers findingsand theorised from them.
This can be likened to the behaviour of the laypsychologist; they would read Freud’s findings and theorise on personality fromthem. Without evidence that Freud was any more experienced than the laypsychologist at drawing conclusions, it would be fair to conclude in this caselay people did not hinder his work because they would do the exact same thingas him, draw conclusions from what they read. What’s more, in the case of theideographic approach the lay person may even support Freud’s work. For example,the suggestion that the Oedipus complex was universal led to excoriation byanthropologists, but it made anthropologists research into Freud’s hypothesesand use his test methods (such as dreams and psychoanalysis). In this instance,the nonprofessional would help to test the generalisability and reliability ofFreud’s results, hence supporting the work of personality psychologists. Thisis especially useful for the ideographic approach, as it makes such findingsmore applicable to multiple individuals.
However, the extent to which it would support personalitypsychologists depends on if it helps them to get to closer to their aim, inthis case assessing individual variability. In this case, a well-knownanthropologist, Malinowski (1927), further refined Freud’s theory by claimingthat in the Trobriand Islands the Oedipal conflict arose concerning a child’smaternal uncle as opposed to their father. This aids in assessing individual variability,however it could be undermined by subsequent findings.
Spiro (1982), amongstothers, have reviewed the Trobriand island ‘myths’, to have little empirical basis. So whilst it doessupport their work in terms of further research, some may argue it does notsupport their work due to lack of scientific evidence. The other approach, the nomothetic approach is based ondrawing ‘law like’ generalisations on personality from research findings.Horney (1945) proposed the tripartite structure of personality. Based on herclinical observations, she said that children, as a reaction to bad parentingcan develop 3 types of coping mechanisms; the child can move toward, against oraway from people. Her research was well-received by lay people, as in it they’found self-recognition’ (Reynolds, 2003). This was further exacerbated by herbook self-analysis (1942). Here, one could argue that the lay person hindersthe work of personality psychologists.
This is because a lay people thatweren’t trained in diagnosis would inevitably draw erroneous conclusions formher reading, as well as draw conclusions that were not generalizable to apopulation, but specific to themselves. Lay people drawing individualconclusions fails to support personality psychologists in seeking outnomothetic conclusions. It also doesn’t neccesarily help in ‘assessingvaraibality within individuals’ because this assessment is done in a completelysubjective manner and thus completely lacks validity, so personalitypsychologist couldn’t use it to supplement their research. Although, some may argue that the attention paid to Horney’stheories was beneficial in a sense because it lead to further experiementation.Coolidge (2001), for example, sought to operationalise the tripartite structureof personality through the Horney-Coolidge Tridimensional Inventory. It has been reported the HTCIhas test-retest and scale reliability andconstruct validity (compared with otherpersonality disorders).
This is of course good for personality psychologists. However, because Horney had anarguably bigger reception with the original theory than Coolidge did with theoperationalisation, the argument still stands that in the case of thenomothetic approach to assessing the variability within individuals, the layperson’s attention did more harm than good. Finally, I will discuss the second aim of personalitypsychologists, an arguably more nuanced definition; personality psychology assesses’the variability of individuals in regard to the intricate interaction betweengenetics and the environment (McGue, 1998). We see the psychologists themselvesdisagree on the impact of nature versus nurture. Freud saw the tripartite unconsciousas storage for reprehensible thoughts, with the superego being affected by ourparents, here we see an interaction nurture versus nature.
Whereas Adler viewed the unconscious as’un-understood’, but understanding wasn’t needed for everyday functioning,hence speciously placing little emphasis on nature. The lay person wouldn’t necessarilyunderstand the nature aspect of personality, hence placing great emphasis onnurture as a way of explaining their behaviour. In doing so, they would fail torecognise an important aspect of personality therefore hindering the work ofpersonality psychologists. evaluation Moreover, if we look deeper into Adler’s work it could beargued that there is an aspect of nurture in his work, that would be beneficialto understanding his theory fully, this is evident in his first book. (Adler, 1907) wrote how humans try to subdueorgan inferiority through physical compensation.
Only when he began to studydepth psychology did he realise that compensation (and overcompensation) canplay out physically and psychologically. (Ansbacher, 1964). As Adler (1979) reported, an infant withinferior organs would feel incompentent at the ‘tasks of life’, leading toovercompensation.
Hence, here we see and interaction between nature andnurture. The lay person probably wouldn’t seek out this further informationinto Adler’s work, or if they did it would probably misinterpret the intricate interplaybetween nature and nurture (as were misinterpreted hi more well-known ideassuch as the inferiority complex). Hence this further backs up the point thatthe lay person would hinder the work of personality psychologists because in failingto understand they do not better the work in any way. This, of course of course would be based on theassumption that they didn’t have the motivation to understand the Adler’sapproach. In conclusion, in determining whether the laypsychologist hinders or supports the work of pychologists there are manynuances one must consider. In the case of assessing individual variability,whether they help or hinder depends on the use of the ideographic or nomotheticapproach.
In the case of looking at the intricate interplay between natureversus nurture, it could be argued that the lay person fails to fullyunderstand how the both interact and in seeking a lay explanation as opposed toa true explanation, they hinder the psychologists work. Furthermore, it couldbe argued that personality psychologists themselves didn’t believe the layperson would hinder their work, as they encouraged involvement of the layperson; in ‘The Question of the Lay Analysis’, Freud argues that a medicaleducation isn’t needed for psychoanalysis. Further, Horney claimed they layperson could learn self-analysis in ‘Self-Analysis’. Through my findings on the psychodynamic approach, it isclear that one must reject the traditional scientific testing for moresubjective approaches such as self-analysis and psychoanalysis. This can bejustified by the very topic of what we are testing, a person’s personality and individualvariability, which is extremely difficult to define let alone test objectively.Perhaps if it was a more scientific approach, as defined by Popper, (1959) it wouldbe hindered more by the lay person. So, whilst It is fair to argue that in somenuanced examples lay people can hinder personality psychologists, such as inthe case where hypotheses can and have been objectively measured ((Baars 1992),on Freudian slips, experimented whether primed taboo that was typically avoidedwould increase the likelihood of slips that reveal it).
Freudian slips aremisinterpreted as any mistake slip of the tongue, even though there isempirical evidence to suggest otherwise, hence misrepresenting this work. However,ultimately due to the mainly subjective nature of the psychodynamic approach, thelay person doesn’t hinder the work of personality psychologists.