Freud's Definitions - heavy reading
A Review of the Freudian Perspective on Human Motivation.
By John Hamling.
Freud's (1915a) view of human motivation was written at a time when Darwinism was a relatively new theory of evolution and it is not surprising that the German word 'trieb' has been translated as 'instinct' rather than 'drive'. However, Freud carefully defined the word 'trieb' as he used it in reference humans and even so, as with all his ideas, he was willing to accept changes when these were dictated by experience (Freud, 1916-17b). It is my belief that his so-called instinct theory still provides valuable insights into the behaviour of human beings but that it must be modified if it is to have more than curiosity value for present-day students of psychology. The notion of instincts does not seem to have direct relevance to human beings and the term 'drives' may be more appropriate. A meaningful theory of human motivation will allow the needs of people to be more accurately determined and will help in the development of progams of employment or occupation (in the sense of having something to do) which people are likely to find rewarding. Such programs are necessary to maintain high levels of self-esteem and to help mitigate high rates of suicide among those with no direction in their lives.
Freud's Definition of an Instinct.
Freud's definition of an instinct included the terms impetus, aim, object and source. He believed that every instinct makes some demand on the organism's energy supply. The impetus of the instinct is the amount of energy it uses in reaching its aim, which is to regain the state it was in before it was aroused. Its object is the thing through which gratification is to be sought and its source is the biological substrate of the impulse (Freud, 1915a). The source of an instinct is unconscious and, I believe, is part of what Freud (1923) called the 'id'. A Freudian definition of an instinct, then, is a need that arises within an organism and drives the organism to try and restore the state that existed before the need arose.
In Freud's theory, an unsatisfied instinctual drive forces man into action as it creates a feeling of 'unpleasure' while its satisfaction creates a feeling of pleasure. This not-surprising preference for feelings of pleasure over 'unpleasure' was called the 'pleasure principle' by Freud (1920). Delay of gratification is possible, however, and it is quite common for the organism to try and postpone the need for action. The mechanism often used is this regard is the creation of a mental image of a gratifying event (Freud, 1900; Freud, 1911) and this will be successful if satisfaction is fairly likely to occur in the near future. For example, the desire to eat brought on by the smell of roast meat cooking can be controlled by the thought of the meal as it will look when finally dished up.
Freud wrote about the instincts in three broad classes; those of self-preservation, sex (preservation of the species), and death. He first divided them into two groups, namely, those of self-preservation and sex (Freud, 1915a) but these were later combined under the term 'life instincts' and were seen to be in conflict with a death instinct (Freud, 1920).
The composition of the instinct for self-preservation is not specified by Freud but it is assumed to include the instincts for hunger, thirst, and physical preservation. The largely involuntary processes like breathing, sleeping, excretion, and urination are excluded as it is not easy to permanently deny them. For instance, a child can hold its breath until it passes out but breathing will recommence in the unconscious state.
The Life Instincts.
The hunger instinct is assisted in its development by the sucking reflex of newborn babies. This reflex usually ensures access to the mother's milk supply which satisfies the baby's nutritional needs. The infant soon learns that the intake of other substances through the mouth also satisfies hunger and it learns to distinguish objects that are edible from those that are not, and foods that it likes from those it does not. A number of factors have been suggested as playing a part in feeding control but most of these pertain to the experience of the feeling of hunger and not to an instinctual fixed action pattern of behaviour capable of satisfying it. An exception is the above-mentioned sucking reflex of babies.
Like the hunger instinct, the thirst instinct is originally satisfied by the mother's milk and infants do not appear to differentiate between hunger and thirst. As they develop though they become of the separate desires and that fluids are better than solids for quenching thirst.
Thirst for water is intimately associated with the sodium appetite. Although it has been demonstrated that each is a separate phenomenon (Fitzsimons, 1970) with its own time course (Fitzsimons, 1961), the two are inter-dependent and work together to maintain a normal blood volume and a normal osmotic state (Stricker, 1973). As with feeding control no fixed action pattern of behaviour has been shown to be capable of reducing the need created by thirst or the sodium appetite (or an appetite for any vitamin or mineral for that matter). Individuals simply ingest various substances until satisfaction is gained and then remember which foods are satisfying and which are not.
The instinct for physical preservation encompasses notions like a will to survive, pain avoidance, and temperature control. It achieves its aim through the processes of stamina and perseverance in times of deprivation, the 'fight or flight' reaction in times of danger, and changing one's clothing or situation in time of extreme temperatures, for example, moving into the shade.
Each of the above responses can be looked at as an example of the 'fight or flight' reaction in a broad sense. In other words, individuals can either remove the source of potential harm (or nullify its effects), that is, fight, or remove oneself from the potentially harmful situation, that is, flee. This limitation of behavioural choice will be referred to again when the effects of low self-esteem are discussed later.
Apart from conscious manipulation of the environment, humans are able to develop protective reflexes that operate without conscious control, for example, closing one's eyes to protect them from a flying piece of grit. Other reflexes can be learned purposely to enhance performances on tasks requiring muscular responses that are beyond the scope of normal conscious control mechanisms. Machine operators, sportsmen and musicians make use of this facility.
A sex instinct has been discussed by many theorists but there is no consensus on its character. Jung (1959) suggested that an archetype or pattern of behaviour specific to the sex instinct was programmed into the unconscious but Freud's (1905) view was that the sex instinct developed through a series of psychosexual stages. These were labelled the oral, anal, phallic and genital stages with a latency period between the phallic and genital stages. During each stage the sensations associated with a particular erogenous zone are assimilated into the maturing sexual instinct.
The oral stage (first 6 months of life) relates to the satisfaction apparent in babies while being breast or bottle fed. This pleasure is often extended to acts like thumb-sucking which provide comfort and reassurance at times when the mother is absent.
Next comes the anal stage (6 to 18 months of age) in which the infant supposedly gains pleasure from learning to master the muscles needed for defecation. This may be partly due to the degree of parental attention given to toilet training.
This is followed by the phallic stage (18 months to 3 years) which sees the infant becoming aware of, and gaining pleasure from, stimulation of the penis or clitoris. There is no suggestion that such sexual activity is to be equated with the same behaviour in adults.
Between the phallic and genital stages it is presumed to be common, but not inevitable, for psychosexual activity to diminish. This is called the latency period and extends from the age of about 4 years to puberty.
With the onset of puberty comes the final psychosexual phase, the genital stage. Auto-erotic aims are now expected to be abandoned and replaced by a search for sexual partners. For men this period extends into old age but for women it may finish (biologically) at menopause.
Freud's view of the sex instinct developing through a series of partial sexual instincts receives support from the progressive development of neuromuscular connections and the systematic mastery of specific muscle groups in all normal children. Adequate stimulation of each muscle group at the appropriate developmental time is necessary for normal growth. Deprivations hinder, and may halt, development. For example, visual systems respond effectively only to the type of stimulation they have been exposed to (Mitchell, 1980).
Direct hormonal influence on sexual behaviour has been demonstrated in lower animals but not in humans. Testosterone has been implicated directly in the promotion of mounting behaviour in male rats (Harris & Levine, 1965) while oestrogen and progesterone in combination have been implicated in the promotion of lordosis (the sexual response of a receptive female) in female rats (Grady, Phoenix & Young, 1965). The extent of an instinctive response in humans seems to be limited to a penile erection in males and a similar increase in clitoral sensitivity in females. Any consequent sexual behaviour is influenced by psychological factors like familial expectations, societal norms, and religious teachings. Freud (1920) termed this conscious consideration of a particular course of action the 'reality principle' and it sees the person acting to enhance his/her feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. That is, human beings do not follow the hedonistic path suggested by the 'pleasure principle' or the biological path of preservation of the species without regard to the consequences.
The Death Instinct.
According to Freud's (1920) hypothesis the above life instincts of self-preservation and sex are in conflict with a death instinct, whose aim is to reduce life-forms to inanimate matter (Freud, 1933a). The activity of a death instinct can be determined at the level of individual cells which have a genetically predetermined life span but not at the level of the whole organism. Apart for injury or disease the determinant for cell death is the number of doublings it has undergone. In normal cells these are limited to 50, plus or minus 10 (Hayflick, 1965). The rate of doubling though is mutable and cells are halted in their development as particular organs mature. They are subsequently free to multiply only when neighbouring cells have died through injury or disease (Gelfant & Smith, 1972).
Despite this apparent support for Freud's hypothesis the notion of a death instinct can be challenged on two grounds. Firstly, an organism does not have to take any specific action for satisfaction to occur. Secondly, Prescott (1973) demonstrated that while normal cells respond to spatial clues in limiting their reproduction, abnormal ones do not. In these cases a single abnormal cell will continue to multiply without regard to its neighbours. That is, it defies its death instinct and, paradoxically, the organism of which is a part can suffer premature death from cancer. The abnormal cells that make up cancers appear to have lost their ability to communicate with other cells (Cairns, 1978). When allowed to multiply in a laboratory they do so without regard to spatial cues and pile up on top of each other (Prescott, 1973). Their propensity for life is demonstrated by their ability to secure a blood supple via newly grown blood vessels (Cairns, 1978) and their apparently indefinite life span under laboratory conditions (Prescott, 1973).
The conclusion is that genetically programmed cell death is a normal involuntary process like breathing and, as such, should be excluded from a discussion about instinctive behaviour. Therefore, Freud's (1920) notion of a death instinct and his suggestion that it provides the aggression for the other instincts may have to be rejected. Aggression, rather than being a function of the death instinct, may simply be a function of the behavioural options of 'fight or flight'. Indeed, it is easy to imagine how aggression can be useful in gaining satisfaction for the instincts of hunger, thirst, physical preservation, and sex.
The implication is that Berkowitz's (1965) proposal that aggression arises in circumstances associated with frustration and is directed at the apparent cause of the frustration may be close to the true situation. There is no evidence to suggest that aggression is an instinct in its own right (see Lorenz, 1966). Aggression, for the sake of aggression, serves no evolutionary purpose.
The Vicissitudes of the Instincts.
Freud (1915a) thought it possible for an instinct to be subjected to a number of changes or vicissitudes. It may undergo be a reversal of content or means (of achieving the aim), it may become self-directed, it may be sublimated, or it may be repressed. Freud's writings on these vicissitudes relate almost entirely to the sex instinct and it does seem to be the only instinct for which they can all realistically apply.
Reversal of content occurs in only one instance which is the changing of love into hate. The psychoanalytic concept of love applies to the relationship with an object of pleasure. If an object is found to satisfy an instinct it is loved but if it subsequently ceases to satisfy the instinct the love changes to hate. Such a change need not be permanent and once an alternative object is found the original love-relationship can be re-established along different lines. In the case of a romantic relationship the initial contact leads to the two people involved "falling in love". A breakdown of the relationship will see the emergence of feelings of hatred but a later readjustment as new partners are found can see the couple once again caring about each other (and perhaps loving each other) but no longer being "in love".
Reversal of the means of achieving the aim refers to a change from active to passive or vice versa. In the case of the sex instinct the usual preference of waiting to be seduced can change and the person concerned turn into a seducer or, at the extreme, a rapist.
The second vicissitude of self-direction is likely to arise when an external relationship cannot be established. The persistent sex drive can be relieved on one's own through masturbation.
Sublimation arises when an instinct is unlikely to be satisfied at all or will be satisfied only rarely. An unrelated act is performed in place of a more normal act of gratification, for example, vigorous physical activity might take the place of sexual activity. Freud (1912) goes so far as to suggest that many cultural achievements are nothing more than the sublimation of the sexual instinct. A more reasonable view which is discussed below would embody the notion of non-instinctive motivation which grants human beings a range of psychological needs related to personal growth and self-development.
Repression, the final vicissitude, operates subconsciously and works to prevent ego-dystonic urges from being acted on (Freud, 1915b). If the operation is successful all is well as the conscious mind remembers nothing of the impulse or its repression. But when repression is only partially successful a message of unspecified need is noted by one's consciousness as a feeling of anxiety (Freud, 1916-17a). The conscious mind will then try and identify the source of the need as instinctual non-gratification may be life-threatening. The state of 'unpleasure' reawakens in the subconscious mind all past instances of anxiety (theoretically, right back to the first life-threatening experience of one's own birth) (Freud, 1933b). The likely outcome is that the source will not be acknowledged, no action will be taken and a state of anxiety will remain. Consequently, some means of dealing with the anxiety must be found. Many possibilities exist, for example, strenuous exercise, but not all attempts at coping are adaptive. Some lead to phobias, as is the case when an object is incorrectly associated with the source and is subsequently avoided. This act of avoidance is able to temporarily allay the feelings of anxiety but their inevitable re-emergence leads to more intensive and extensive acts of avoidance.
Alternatively, the individual may develop a conversion-hysteria in which part of the body is manipulated to prevent gratification. For example, paralysis of an arm may have been subconsciously designed to prevent masturbation.
A third example of a maladaptive response is the development of an obsessional-neurosis. This can occur when a person feels the urge to carry out an act that is thought to be 'dirty'. The response may be to compulsively clean some part of oneself or one's home to reassure oneself that such a clean person could never perform such a dirty act.
The conclusion drawn from the above section on the life instincts is that the physiological needs of hunger, thirst, physical preservation, and sex are undoubtably motivational and they do seem to fit in with Freud's definition of an instinct. However, they bear little resemblance to the instincts of animals who display fixed action patterns of behaviour of varying degrees of complexity and, furthermore, these 'instincts' cannot account for all aspects of human motivation. Fromm (1949) noted that many human problems related to the meaning of life begin only when the physiological needs have been taken care of. Maslow (1968) came to a similar conclusion and suggested a hierarchy beginning with physiological needs and progressing to psychological needs. The end point in Maslow's hierarchy is a state of 'self-actualisation' in which an individual is supposedly no longer worried by the influences of either physiological or psychological desires.
White (1959) proposed a motivational concept called 'competence' to account for the psychological strivings of human beings. His concept covers instances of physical exercise motivated by no more than a desire to move, and looking or exploring out of curiosity or a desire to learn. The aims of psychological needs are to become competent in dealing with the environment.
Freud (1916-17a) himself placed great importance on the notion of 'ego defence mechanisms' which seem to arise out a need for psychological preservation and which serve to protect individuals from the psychological pain associated with negative criticism. Defence of the ego may be necessary following criticism to avoid a lowered self-esteem. Unfortunately, any feelings of inadequacy that do arise are readily associated with previous feelings of inadequacy, including life-threatening situations over which the person involved had no control, and the current situation is reacted to as if it were also life-threatening. As discussed above, this brings up the option of 'fight or flight'. The 'fight' option is possible if an external source of the bad feelings can be located but if not, 'flight' will be the response. Real flight cannot occur as low self-esteem is an internal phenomenon but flight from reality into illness (mental or psycho-somatic) or flight from life (suicide) is possible (Freud, 1917; Freud, 1933b).
Neither flight from reality nor flight from life is of any evolutionary value to a species so it is not surprising that the behavioural choice of fight is the preferred option. There is no problem if the negative criticism is external as the responsible agent will become the target for acts of aggression. Difficulties arise, however, after negative criticism of one's own behaviour (even if the criticism is subconscious) as it is not obvious where one should direct the aggression. In these cases the defence mechanism of projection leads to the targeting of an external object, a scapegoat, who will bear the brunt of any response.
Under normal circumstances a hungry person will seek food, a thirsty person will seek water, a person under threat will seek protection, and a person with sexual need will seek satisfaction. The greater the need, the more intense the preoccupation with gratification, and the greater the likelihood of feelings of anxiety. In order to minimise the unpleasantness associated with anxiety man has learned to exercise as much control as possible over his environment. For example, he learned to farm, he damned rivers, he built castles, he took a partner. Once some measure of constancy for his physiological needs had been established man was able to look to his psychological needs. These needs strive for satisfaction just as persistently as the physiological ones and frustration of them can lead to a feeling of emptiness, a lack of direction, or feeling there is a loss of purpose in life. The brain gives humans he capacity to learn and it operates best when put to regular use. The pleasure associated with the learning process is not easy to define but it is a valid phenomenon that leads to a state of psychological satisfaction. The specific act of learning needed to achieve this state is determined individually as experiences and resources dictate available options. Thus, one person may develop a need to achieve highly in the field of mathematics while another will be satisfied by being able to maintain a productive vegetable garden.
Just as frustration of physiological needs causes anxiety, so it is with psychological needs. Inadequate or inappropriate utilisation of intellectual capacity causes anxiety and, therefore, it is always important to pay attention to individual requirements when setting tasks and planning careers. Individual requirements are determined by mental and physical ability and areas of interest. It is no secret or surprise that people work best and hardest at jobs that interest them.
Although there will always be a need for society to direct some people into particular occupations to ensure its survival and for protection of the community, there are flow-on benefits from encouraging participation in a wide range of leisure activities that make few direct contributions to society. The adoption of a system that allows a wider choice of acceptable occupations and encourages pursuit of them would be of special importance to countries like Australia that have seen a high rate of unemployment accompanied by a high rate of suicide. People who might otherwise have achieved psychological satisfaction from work-related endeavours often need help in discovering activities that are suitable for them and which can replace a more normal job. That is, activities they can perform well and which will, therefore, raise their feelings of self-esteem. To spell it out - I believe that everyone should be encouraged to work at and develop knowledge or skills in areas they find interesting and be paid the equivalent of the unemployment benefit for doing so. If this happens to be surfing then so be it. Western society does not seem to need all the workers that are available to survive so why force people into demeaning, unfulfilling roles when they can be entertaining others with their surfing prowess?
Every activity or pastime can be developed and/or studied in depth. Surfers (as they would proudly describe themselves) could master new manoeuvres, learn about designing and manufacturing surfboards, enter competitions, teach surfing to others, and so on. The exact level of involvement would depend on the skills, intellectual ability, and the continuing interest level of the individual surfer but each person should be encouraged to go as far as they possibly can.
My final point is simply to suggest that the above paper be re-read substituting the word 'drive' for 'instinct'. This has the effect of removing any subconscious objection to the use of the word 'instinct' and makes a Freudian view of human motivation seem somehow more acceptable.
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