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2) Why does the psychodynamic/psychoanalytical
approach to understanding personality attract so much attention from lay
people? Does this support the work that personality psychologists do or hinder
it? Give reasons for your opinion.


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psychodynamic approach looks at internal and psychological forces as a way to
justify manifestations of the behaviour, thoughts and feelings that define our
personality. Pyschoanalysis is Freud’s particular theory, that suggests our
behaviour is a manifestation of conscious and subconscious forces, as well as a
product of our childhood experiences. To the lay person, personality is judged
through naive assumptions, for example in the case of confirmatory bias where
we look for information to confirm our assumptions (S.Nikerson).  This may justify the use of psychoanalysis
as a popular method of personality analysis for the lay person, as using naive
assumptions such as a person suffering abuse in their childhood to explain why
they 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 fully
attribute personality traits to
one’s ‘past’. In this essay I seek to explore the effect of psychodynamic
theory’s popularity on personality psychologists work. I will do this by
examining the actual purpose of the personality psychologists’ work, in order
to fully assess whether a lay person helps or heeds this.


Overall, it will be argued that lay people don’t hinder the work
of personality psychologists (for the psychodynamic approach), because the
approach is at times unscientific. If the approach was fully scientific, we could argue
that attention from the lay person hinders research as it would inevitably be
misinterpreted by non professionals. However because it is unscientific and
hence can be interepted subjectively, meaning the non professional will not
necessarily have a big impact.   

Firstly, I will outline three reasons why the psychodynamic/psychoanalytical
approach to understanding personality attract so much attention from lay people.
One type of psychodynamic approach that attracts attention is Freud’s
psychoanalysis. He is well-known by the lay person due to his controversial
theories (Wilson, 1997). (Freud, 1905), on psychological development, proposed
that all human beings possess an instinctual libido that is established through
five stages, the oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital stages. During the
phallic stage the Oedipus complex occurs, described by an unconscious sexual
desire for one’s mother (Freud, 1896). This has been exacerbated by pop
culture. In the show Law and Order, a murder investigation looks into whether
the stepson has murdered the dad because of the Oedipus complex. We also seen
example of this in one of the most controversial novels of the twentieth
century, ‘Sons and Lovers’, (D.H.Lawrence, 1913). Further, psychosexual development is seen in parenting
books (Rosemond, 1947). Thus, controversy and literature and film
showcasing this controversy have made psychoanalysis attract attention from the
lay person. Further, it generates attention from those disputing its
controversial nature.


Secondly, the psychodynamic approach appeals to the lay
person because it overlooks the trappings of science. According
to Karl Popper (1959), for a subject to be scientific it must be falsifiable.
This can be contrast with the more objective, scientific methods used by
behaviourists. This can be contrast with the more objective, scientific methods
used by behaviourists. Winnicott
(1967), used his ‘squiggle game’, during psychriatric assessment to determine
how the child’s brain works. (Theoretical Approaches in Psychology). This inevitably psychodynamic work
more accessible to lay people; the reading and interpretation of this work
would be easier to understand than other theoretical approaches like
behaviourism.  The
conclusions drawn in psychodynamic theory are less clear due to the
unscientific methods (Grünbaum,1986), as opposed to objective conclusions and thus can be interpreted in
different ways. Again, this would attract the lay psychologist as it allows
them to draw their own interpretations from reading as opposed to being
constricted by objective results.


Thirdly, the psychodynamic approach is popular because it
was revolutionary for its time. Freud, in particular, revolutionised the way we
perceived ourselves. He highlighted the importance of unconscious activity
which made him stand out amongst his contemporaries, giving him attention. (Manichander,
2016) Furthermore, through
psychoanalysis, the lay person could be cured from a terrible mental condition
and 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 bad
life experiences. (Freud, 1905) He helped people to feel more at ease with
their mental illness, hence resonating with them. Further, the idea that problems
could be solved through talking was also something new to the lay person, hence
their attention to it.


Does this support the work that personality psychologists do or
hinder it?

Now, I
will discuss the second part of the question. As mentioned earlier, to
determine whether attention supports or hinders the work, we must look at the
aims of personality psychology to see what the work hopes to achieve and
the methods used to achieve it. A general aim of personality theory is to assess
variability within individuals (Ashton, 2013). This can be done in an
ideographic 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 in
the case of Little Hans, his unique phobia of horses could be attributed to the
Oedipus complex. One important thing to note here is that Freud didn’t work
with little Hans (Merlino, 2006). Thus, his interpretation of the boys symptoms
was purely based on letters from the boys father; he read the fathers findings
and theorised from them. This can be likened to the behaviour of the lay
psychologist; they would read Freud’s findings and theorise on personality from
them. Without evidence that Freud was any more experienced than the lay
psychologist at drawing conclusions, it would be fair to conclude in this case
lay people did not hinder his work because they would do the exact same thing
as him, draw conclusions from what they read. What’s more, in the case of the
ideographic approach the lay person may even support Freud’s work. For example,
the suggestion that the Oedipus complex was universal led to excoriation by
anthropologists, but it made anthropologists research into Freud’s hypotheses
and use his test methods (such as dreams and psychoanalysis). In this instance,
the nonprofessional would help to test the generalisability and reliability of
Freud’s results, hence supporting the work of personality psychologists. This
is especially useful for the ideographic approach, as it makes such findings
more applicable to multiple individuals.


However, the extent to which it would support personality
psychologists depends on if it helps them to get to closer to their aim, in
this case assessing individual variability. In this case, a well-known
anthropologist, Malinowski (1927), further refined Freud’s theory by claiming
that in the Trobriand Islands the Oedipal conflict arose concerning a child’s
maternal uncle as opposed to their father. This aids in assessing individual variability,
however it could be undermined by subsequent findings. Spiro (1982), amongst
others, have reviewed the Trobriand island ‘myths’, to have little empirical basis. So whilst it does
support their work in terms of further research, some may argue it does not
support their work due to lack of scientific evidence.



The other approach, the nomothetic approach is based on
drawing ‘law like’ generalisations on personality from research findings.
Horney (1945) proposed the tripartite structure of personality. Based on her
clinical observations, she said that children, as a reaction to bad parenting
can develop 3 types of coping mechanisms; the child can move toward, against or
away from people. Her research was well-received by lay people, as in it they
‘found self-recognition’ (Reynolds, 2003). This was further exacerbated by her
book self-analysis (1942). Here, one could argue that the lay person hinders
the work of personality psychologists. This is because a lay people that
weren’t trained in diagnosis would inevitably draw erroneous conclusions form
her reading, as well as draw conclusions that were not generalizable to a
population, but specific to themselves. Lay people drawing individual
conclusions fails to support personality psychologists in seeking out
nomothetic conclusions. It also doesn’t neccesarily help in ‘assessing
varaibality within individuals’ because this assessment is done in a completely
subjective manner and thus completely lacks validity, so personality
psychologist couldn’t use it to supplement their research.


Although, some may argue that the attention paid to Horney’s
theories was beneficial in a sense because it lead to further experiementation.
Coolidge (2001), for example, sought to operationalise the tripartite structure
of personality through the Horney-Coolidge Tridimensional Inventory. It has been reported the HTCI
has test-retest and scale reliability and
construct validity (compared with other
personality disorders). This is of course good for personality psychologists. However, because Horney had an
arguably bigger reception with the original theory than Coolidge did with the
operationalisation, the argument still stands that in the case of the
nomothetic approach to assessing the variability within individuals, the lay
person’s attention did more harm than good.



Finally, I will discuss the second aim of personality
psychologists, an arguably more nuanced definition; personality psychology assesses’
the variability of individuals in regard to the intricate interaction between
genetics and the environment (McGue, 1998). We see the psychologists themselves
disagree on the impact of nature versus nurture. Freud saw the tripartite unconscious
as storage for reprehensible thoughts, with the superego being affected by our
parents, 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 necessarily
understand the nature aspect of personality, hence placing great emphasis on
nurture as a way of explaining their behaviour. In doing so, they would fail to
recognise an important aspect of personality therefore hindering the work of
personality psychologists. evaluation


Moreover, if we look deeper into Adler’s work it could be
argued that there is an aspect of nurture in his work, that would be beneficial
to understanding his theory fully, this is evident in his first book. (Adler, 1907) wrote how humans try to subdue
organ inferiority through physical compensation. Only when he began to study
depth psychology did he realise that compensation (and overcompensation) can
play out physically and psychologically. (Ansbacher, 1964). As Adler (1979) reported, an infant with
inferior organs would feel incompentent at the ‘tasks of life’, leading to
overcompensation. Hence, here we see and interaction between nature and
nurture. The lay person probably wouldn’t seek out this further information
into Adler’s work, or if they did it would probably misinterpret the intricate interplay
between nature and nurture (as were misinterpreted hi more well-known ideas
such as the inferiority complex). Hence this further backs up the point that
the lay person would hinder the work of personality psychologists because in failing
to understand they do not better the work in any way. This, of course of course would be based on the
assumption that they didn’t have the motivation to understand the Adler’s


In conclusion, in determining whether the lay
psychologist hinders or supports the work of pychologists there are many
nuances one must consider. In the case of assessing individual variability,
whether they help or hinder depends on the use of the ideographic or nomothetic
approach. In the case of looking at the intricate interplay between nature
versus nurture, it could be argued that the lay person fails to fully
understand how the both interact and in seeking a lay explanation as opposed to
a true explanation, they hinder the psychologists work. Furthermore, it could
be argued that personality psychologists themselves didn’t believe the lay
person would hinder their work, as they encouraged involvement of the lay
person; in ‘The Question of the Lay Analysis’, Freud argues that a medical
education isn’t needed for psychoanalysis. Further, Horney claimed they lay
person could learn self-analysis in ‘Self-Analysis’.


Through my findings on the psychodynamic approach, it is
clear that one must reject the traditional scientific testing for more
subjective approaches such as self-analysis and psychoanalysis. This can be
justified by the very topic of what we are testing, a person’s personality and individual
variability, which is extremely difficult to define let alone test objectively.
Perhaps if it was a more scientific approach, as defined by Popper, (1959) it would
be hindered more by the lay person. So, whilst It is fair to argue that in some
nuanced examples lay people can hinder personality psychologists, such as in
the case where hypotheses can and have been objectively measured ((Baars 1992),
on Freudian slips, experimented whether primed taboo that was typically avoided
would increase the likelihood of slips that reveal it). Freudian slips are
misinterpreted as any mistake slip of the tongue, even though there is
empirical evidence to suggest otherwise, hence misrepresenting this work. However,
ultimately due to the mainly subjective nature of the psychodynamic approach, the
lay person doesn’t hinder the work of personality psychologists.




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