Sociological and Psychological Perspectives

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An overview of six psychological perspectives

Psychodynamic perspective

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) developed a theory of the human mind that emphasised the interaction of biological drives with the social environment. Freud’s theory emphasises the power of early experience to influence the adult personality.

Freud’s theories are called Psychodynamic theories. Psychodynamic refers to the broad theoretical model for explaining mental functioning. ‘Psycho’ means mind or spirit and ‘dynamic’ means energy or the expression of energy. Freud believed that people were born with a dynamic ‘life energy’ or ‘libido’ which initially motivates a baby to feed and grow and later motivates sexual reproduction. Freud’s theory explains that people are born with biological instincts in much the same way that animals such as dogs or cats are. Our instincts exist in the unconscious mind - we don’t usually understand our unconscious. As we grow we have to learn to control our ‘instincts’ in order to be accepted and fit in with other people. Society is only possible if people can ‘control themselves’. If everybody just did what ever they felt like, life would be short and violent, civilisation would not be possible. Because people have to learn to control their unconscious drives (or instincts) children go through stages of psychosexual development. These stages result in the development of a mature mind which contains the mechanisms that control adult personality and behaviour.

Freud’s stages of Psychosexual Development

The Oral stage: Drive energy motivates the infant to feed, activities involving lips, sucking, biting, create pleasure for the baby. Weaning represents a difficult stage which may influence the future personality of the child.

The Anal stage: Young children have to learn to control their muscles and in particular the control of the anal muscles. Toilet training represents the first time a child has to control their own body in order to meet the demands of society. The child’s experiences during toilet training may influence later development.

The Phalic stage: Freud shocked Europeans a century ago by insisting that children had sexual feelings toward their parents. Freud believed that girls were sexually attracted to their father and boys were sexually attracted to their mother. These attractions are called the Electra and Oedipus complexes named after characters in ancient Greek mythology who experienced these attractions. As children develop they have to give up the opposite sex parent as a ‘love object’ and learn to identify with the same sex parents. Children’s experience of ‘letting go’ of their first love may have permanent effects on their later personality.

Latency: After the age of 5 or 6, most children have resolved the Electra and Oeidipus complexes (Freud believed that this was usually stronger and more definite in boys, i.e. girls often continue with a sexual attachment to their father!). Children are not yet biologically ready to reproduce so their sexuality is latent or waiting to express itself.

Genital: With the onset of puberty adolescents become fully sexual and ‘life drive’ is focused on sexual activity.

What if?

Have you ever watched animals such as kittens develop? Freud’s theories are often hard to accept in a society which is ‘out of touch’ with nature, but if you watch kittens they focus all their energy on getting milk from the mother cat - life energy seems almost visible. As kittens grow to young cats they will sometimes attempt to mate with parents! Freud’s theories were based on the idea that people are animals - but animals that have to adapt their behaviour to the needs of society.

How far do you think we forget or even deny our inner ‘animal’ drives?

Freud’s mental mechanisms

Freud believed that we were born with an ‘id’, the ‘id’ is part of our unconscious mind that is hidden from conscious understanding. The ‘id’ is like a dynamo that generates...
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