Oral Stage and Freud: Lesson & Quiz

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Chris Clause

In this lesson you will learn about the oral stage of psychosexual personality development as proposed by Sigmund Freud. Following this lesson you will have the opportunity to test your knowledge with a short quiz.

We also recommend watching Freud's Stages of Psychosexual Development and What Is the DSM? - Definition, Lesson & Quiz

Introduction

I'm sure that you are familiar with phrases such as 'he's so anal about things' being used to describe someone who is a little uptight. Or maybe, you've heard a smoker describing his or her habit as being an 'oral fixation'. These are two pretty common ways of describing human behavior that have both worked their way into everyday conversational language. You may even used these phrases without realizing they are actually tied to a highly influential psychodynamic theory of human personality development.

Famed psychodynamic theorist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed that human personality develops via a process he called psychosexual development. According to Freud, sex was the driving force behind our thought processes and also the primary influence behind how we develop our personalities as we grow and develop. Freud's stage theory of personality development proposes that each specific stage focuses on a different area of the body which experiences a heightened sense of sexual pleasure at various periods of time.

Starting from birth and working through adulthood, Freud believed that we pass through six distinct stages; the oral stage (birth to 18 months), the anal stage (18 months to 36 months), the phallic stage (three to six years), a latency period (six years to puberty onset), followed by the genital stage (adolescence into adulthood).

Let's take a closer look at the first stage, which Freud referred to as the oral stage.

Definition

The oral stage of personality development begins at birth and lasts up until around 18 months of age. If you have ever been around babies you know that their mouth is the focus of a lot of attention. From eating, to fingers, to toys, babies are seemingly in almost constant contact with their mouths. Freud's observations led him to believe that this is because the baby is experiencing a high level of pleasure from engaging in activities centered on the mouth. Since it feels good to the baby to put things in her mouth she does it as often as possible. Not only does it feel good, but Freud believed that engaging in activities centered on the mouth is a source of stress relief and comfort for the baby as well.

You might be thinking to yourself that there are several biological reasons for babies engaging in activities centered around their mouth, and you would be correct. But Freud believed that these activities went beyond just biology. He believed that the psychosexual stages had a great impact on how our personality develops, which in turn impacts who we become as adults and how we choose to think and behave.

Fixation

Freud believed that environmental influences, such as parenting styles, could have a tremendous impact on our personality development. Depending on which stage of development a child is in, the resulting impact will be centered on that stage. He called this process of getting stuck in a developmental stage fixation. Too much indulgence in activities involving the mouth, or even too little indulgence for that matter, would result in long-lasting effects by influencing how our personalities develop.

For example, a 12-month-old baby who is either allowed access to too much or too little contact with her mother's breast or a bottle would likely become fixated on this stage of development and grow to experience thoughts and behaviors as an adult centered on the mouth. The subsequent stages would be experienced, but this fixation on the oral stage would remain and be a center of focus for the child as an adult.

Freud would explain habits like smoking, biting your finger nails, or obsessive gum chewing as being the result of an over- or under-emphasis of activities associated with the mouth as an infant.

Summary

The oral stage is the first stage of Freud's stages of psychosexual development. Each of these six stages has an impact on how our personalities develop and can be a way of explaining how we think and behave as adults. Over- or under-emphasis on the parts of the body associated with each stage while a child is going through that stage will result in that person becoming fixated on that stage as an adult. Fixation on any particular stage will result in behaviors associated with that stage of psychosexual development. Not everyone experiences fixation as an adult, but Freud believed that fixation is a powerful phenomena that has a long lasting impact.

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