Week Five Key Takeaways and Notes

PSY121- Personality and Inner Experience.

Understanding Personality and Inner Experience - Two prominent views.

1. Gestalt Psychology - The study of human perception.

Gestalt theory emerged in sympathy with William James's functionalism (which focuses on the usefulness of a house, for instance), and as a reaction against structuralism (what a house is made of). The school of thought is identified essentially with the German psychologists, Wertheimer, Koffka, and Kohler. Gestalt is defined as an integrated whole which is greater than the sum of its parts, drawing form James's stream of consciousness as a whole, and Wundt's creative synthesis (in Wertheimer, p. 175).

What this means is that, for Gestalt theorists, we always strive to perceive reality as a meaningful whole (not as the sum of distinct parts). In other words, as human beings, we have a profound desire to keep chaos at bay.

A holistic stance in psychology began with Ehrenfels and Gestaltqualitat or form quality (in Wertheimer, pp. 175-176, 183). This concept refers to the set of internal relationships of something (a melody, for instance) that makes it a whole. This unified whole was the new focus of the psychological inquiry.

In matters of perception, organizing principles are referred to as laws of Gestalt with, at their center, the law of Pragnanz . In German, the term Pragnanz means clarity. In general terms, when we speak of the law of Pragnanz, we are referring to the law of clarity. This principle identifies how we tend to organize what we see, how our mind determines what things go together (in Wertheimer, pp. 177, 183).

As the study of human perception, Gestalt psychology relies on the phenomenological method, that is to say, it examines immediate experience (perceptions, feelings, behavior), but does not seek to interpret any of it. It makes abstraction of past knowledge or attitudes.

Gestalt psychology is still practiced today.

2. Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis

Freudian Psychoanalysis - A theory based on a mind-body interplay (mental structures-psychosexual stages).

Sigmund Freud's influence on the 20th and 21st century is profound. He is without any doubt one of the most famous psychologists (psychoanalyst, to be precise). His views challenged the vision of man as rational and good. Freud's theory of personality is, first and foremost, a theory of mind. Much like Skinner's modern behaviorism, Freud devised an all encompassing view of just about everything that matters to us--day to day life, childhood development, mental illness, love, war, religion.

Regarding the conception of the mind, Freud proposed that the Id (the essentially biological element), the Ego (the socializing element), and the Superego (the giver of rewards and punishment) interact dynamically. It is the relative strengths of each of these aspects in different people that produce differences in personality. The division is not, however, a separation of the mind into three discrete functions, but separate aspects of a single mind.

Freud saw the central conflict as one between the id and the external world.

At the core of Freud's theory lie two central notions: the existence of an unconscious (of an unconscious motivation), and the notion of an unconscious conflict, which leads to mental illnesses, slips of the tongue, and dreams.

The primary, dualistic motivating forces (or drives) of human behavior are Eros (libido, life instinct) and Thanatos (aggression, death instinct).

For Freud, we experience difficulties differently, and have different ways of handling the pain of anxiety. These different ways of dealing with anxiety are called defense mechanisms (e.g. Repression and sublimation). Defense mechanisms protect us from too much anxiety.

There are five stages of human development (from birth to maturity): at each stage (the oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital stages), we must work through a crisis. At the core of the psychosexual years lie the universal Oedipus and Electra complexes.

Psychoanalysis is also a therapy. It aims to access the unconscious through dream analysis, and word association (examining the first words that came to people’s minds).

Freud's psychoanalytical assessment of the human condition is still relevant today.