How Relevant Is Freud Today

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Sigmund Freud was arguably one of the most influential psychologists in the investigation of personality, and his work can still, to some extent, be considered relevant today. His methods allowed for the first time the investigation of phenomena that were previously difficult to tackle, such as dreams and sexual desires. “Yes and No” is a justified reply to the question of whether Freud is relevant today in that his ideas on personality were the first to investigate the role of childhood trauma, and have been reflected in the work of many other psychologists since, either as a continuation of his work or as a reaction to it.

In this essay, the relevance of Freud's Personality Theory will be assessed, with reference to conflicting theories, such as social-cognitive, trait and biological approaches. It can be argued that Freud's original ideas still have relevance today as they sparked off much research, leading to the development of more thorough and relevant theories, as well as the development of techniques for research and therapy. Most other personality theories were developed at least partly due to the limitations of his work (Pervin et al, 2005). However, the relevance can be thrown into question in terms of Freud's outdated methods, and his inability to accept new evidence or research that conflicted with his ideas.

Central to Freud's psychoanalytical theory is the idea that peoples' actions are driven by powerful, innate biological urges that must be satisfied (Schaffer, 2008). Many of his ideas caught on early in the twentieth century, as they covered a wide scope, and even today his insights are still influential, however many psychologists have severe criticisms of his methods, and disagree with his theories. One such criticism is that the empirical testing of Freud's theory is very difficult, almost impossible, therefore the scientific status of psychoanalytic theory can be questioned. “We can no more test Freudian hypotheses on the couch than we can adjudicate between the rival hypotheses of Newton and Einstein by going to sleep under the apple tree” (Eynsenck, 1953, cited by Pervin et al). The terminology used in psychoanalysis can be vague and ambiguous, for example how can we define libido? (Gleitman et al, 2004). Also, the energy model, while it is a useful metaphor for personality functioning, it cannot adequately explain the complexity of human behaviour. Freud's theory does not allow for predictions in the future, and does not explain phenomena from the past, therefore it is no surprise that “many psychologists believe the theory should be set aside in favour of other, more powerful conceptions.” (Gleitman et al, 2004)

A major critic of Freudian theory was Hans J. Eynsenck, who believed that a serious shortcoming of psychoanalytic theory was the lack of precise, reliable measures (Pervin et al, 2005). Eynsenck placed emphasis on the biological basis of personality traits, and used the method of factor-analysis to establish the basic traits of personality. It can be argued that trait approaches to personality are more relevant to today's study of personality than earlier Freudian ideas, as Freud and other early theorists relied heavily on pure intuition while trait theorists rely on an objective, statistical procedure (Pervin et al, 2005). The Five-Factor Model of Personality was developed as a solution to the fact that there are many different words that can describe personality traits; in English alone, there are more than 5,000 words to describe personality characteristics (Pervin et al, 2005). Everrett (1983) suggested that the number of factors used for determining personality traits should be decided by comparing rotated solutions in different samples and using the one solution that could be replicated (McCrae, 1987). The five factor solution showed high replication of all factors, demonstrating that when compared to psychoanalytic theory, trait theories have higher reliability and...
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