Id, Ego and Superego
- 0:10 Freud's Structure of Personality
- 1:38 The Id
- 3:20 The Superego
- 5:09 The Ego
- 6:09 The Reality Principle
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Do you know who is behind the angel and the devil sitting on your shoulders, debating whether you should get up for a jog or hit the snooze button again? This lesson examines this century-long debate by addressing Freud's work on the different sides of our conscious and unconscious selves.
Do you ever feel as though you're stuck in the middle between a shoulder angel and a shoulder devil? One person who is responsible for influential theories about the origins of personality is Sigmund Freud, who thought that this sort of conflict had a lot to do with our individual identities. Freud was from Vienna, but in the 1880s he went to France to study with Jean-Martin Charcot. Charcot is often thought of as the father of modern neurology. Charcot did a lot of important neurological work, but is perhaps best known today for his interest in hypnosis and hysteria. Hysteria is a term that is no longer used as an official diagnosis. In Charcot's time, it was believed to be a woman's affliction, and was characterized by distressed emotions and neurological symptoms such as numbness, blindness, loss of speech and paralysis. The symptoms, significantly, seem to lack a neurological cause. Charcot believed hysteria was a neurological disorder, whereas Freud believed it might have roots in the unconscious mind.
Now, certainly Freud's interest in the unconscious was not unique at the time. Many 19th-century thinkers were interested in the unconscious. Freud did, however, come up with a unique tripartite theory about how our unconscious and conscious minds interact. He called the three parts the id, the ego and the superego. Let's talk about each of these parts.
Freud's id is the unconscious part of the psyche that is filled with primitive instincts and seeks to ensure survival, as well as pleasure instead of pain. So the id would be responsible for things such as our hunger and sex drives. Freud came up with a phrase to explain the principle that guides the id: he called it the pleasure principle, and it refers to the seeking of pleasure and the satisfaction of biological needs.
Freud did not believe that the id made any judgments about right and wrong. Decisions about morality were the domain of the superego. The superego is roughly synonymous with our conscience (not conscious). Freud believed that the superego would often work to counteract the id. For example, if your id is telling you that you're hungry in the middle of a meeting at work, your superego might tell you that it wouldn't be okay to get up and leave the meeting before it was finished merely to satisfy your hunger, even if your unconscious id is telling you to do precisely that.
So, what decides whether the id or the superego wins a conflict such as this? That's the role of the ego. The ego is the mediator between the id and the superego, and also the home of conscious awareness.
Similar to what he did with the id and the pleasure principle, Freud came up with a term to describe the governing force of the ego, called the reality principle. According to the reality principle, the ego seeks to fulfill the desires of the id, except that, rather than giving in to immediate gratification, the ego, operating under the reality principle, seeks to delay gratification in ways that will maximize long-term pleasure. If you were to give in to your id and walk out of a meeting to eat lunch, for example, that might cause long-term grief, because it might result in you getting fired from your job.
So, you've learned that Freud divided the human psyche into three parts. The id is unconscious and operates according to the pleasure principle, or to satisfy primitive impulses immediately to bring pleasure and secure our survival. The superego counteracts the id by housing our conscience, our sense of right and wrong. Finally, the ego mediates these conflicting forces. The ego corresponds to the realm of conscious awareness, and operates according to what Freud called a reality principle, by which the ego seeks to fulfill the drives of the id only if and when doing so is realistic according to social norms, and will promote long-term pleasure.
Chapters in Psychology 101: Intro to Psychology
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