Thursday, August 2, 2007

Freud Pumps His Fist

I'm a bit foggy tonight after nearly finishing the fifth of six weeks straight with my campers with Asperger's. (Today was a most victorious day, by the way.) And I'm up extra-early tomorrow in order to be able to take them on their weekly field trip. So tonight, a quick link to a really interesting article in the Times claiming that the unconscious drives our daily actions far more than we think. A tip of the Thinkulous hat to Goat Rope blogger El Cabrero for hipping me to this article.

I can just see old Freud coolly releasing a cloud of cigar smoke, and saying, "Well, duh!" (A rough translation from the German.)

Herr Sigmund may have named the concept over a century ago, but it's only recently that science, that stodgy older sibling, is grudgingly admitting that psychology was right all along. Some key 'graphs:
On the way to the laboratory, [participants in a recent study] had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee — and asked for a hand with the cup.

That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java.

Findings like this one, as improbable as they seem, have poured forth in psychological research over the last few years. New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” — all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.
Like a lot of academic psychology, the implications of the new research are far more interesting than they are practical. That doesn't stop me from gobbling them up...

1 comment:

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Interesting article! But...

This certainly adds evidence to Freud's revolutionary "stratified" brain -- id, ego, superego -- but that was only the BEGINNING for Freud. He went off into wacky realms of objective symbolism that -- I suspect -- was based more on his personal hang-ups (and his unbalanced sample of patients) than on anything really relevant to the human mind.

The most Freudian conclusion in the article is also the one I can't swallow whole:

"[subjects who chose the hand wipes] had been primed to psychologically “cleanse” their consciences...Their hands were clean: the unconscious goal had been satisfied and now was being suppressed, the findings suggest."

I'd like to see those findings. Maybe they chose the hand wipes because the only OTHER object -- a pencil -- was somehow unattractive to them? Maybe they thought a pencil was worth more than a hand wipe, and since they'd been talking about their own shortcomings they felt like they should take the cheapest reward? Maybe, while talking about past traumas, they felt sweaty and clammy? Maybe they should have tried pairing other objects together...a hand wipe and a $1 bill, for instance?

The idea that a hand wipe objectively symbolizes the "cleansing" of consciousness sounds like the sort of Freudian hackery that has ultimately obscured Freud's unparalleled achievements.