Was it Freud?

Today I speak of the Psychodynamic approach to psychology. It may not be regarded as empirical, the idea of subconscious drives and the like, but when I hear that being said, I can’t help but feel it has something to it. Do you have full control over your thoughts? Has anything ever ‘just’ popped in to your mind that you did not at all summon? There is definately something beyond our consciousness that has a say in the content of our minds.

So, along came Freud back at the turn of the 19th century, and made some sensational suggestions, to which science gave a tolerant smile before moving on to behaviorism, the cognitive approach and others. But recently, a new approach has been constructed towards these psycho dynamic principles.

The origins of this approach come from Bowlby and Ainsworth, who suggest that instead of subconscious drives, perhaps for food or sex, which become satisfied from contact with the mother, the bonding known as attachment theory, comes from the needs of protection and security (Fonaby, as cited by Shaver & Mikulincer, 2005).

A recent study used modern methods to carry out psychodynamic research, using methods of subliminal unconscious priming, followed by tests in which participants had to discern whether a string of characters formed a word or not, where reaction time was measured. This test found that proximity related words were discerned with a faster reaction time (suggesting higher accessibility) (Mikulincer, Birnbaum, Woddis & Nachmias, 2000, as cited by Shaver & Mikulincer, 2005).

Another method employed to study accessibility, used either a lexical task, or a Stroop colour-naming task, during which a subliminal threat or neural prime was presented. The ability to recall names of people whom participants considered as providing security were recalled quicker during this time (Mikulincer, 2002, as cited by Shaver & Mikulincer, 2005).

Both of these studies suggest the workings of a subconscious thought, and provide evidence in a useful light. Admittedly, the results are by some means vague. At most, they suggest the presence of subconscious activity, and point us in the direction of some of its applications. A report by Shaver and Mikulincer (2005) does say that much of the psychodynamic work is still done through careful and strategic introspection.

I heard it said that if we could develop a computer that could perfectly simulate the brain, we have no further need to study psychology. Indeed, empirical studies readily answer questions based on variables comprehend-able to human-kind. But the reason people have psychological issues is because they don’t quite understand  the brain. Such empirical studies provide essential foundations for psychology, however a lot can be done for applied psychology using psychodynamic paradigms.