Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis

Born Sigismund Schlomo Freud in Freiberg, Moravia, Freud was openly his mother’s favorite child; she called him “Golden Siggie.” When Freud was four years old, the family moved to Vienna and Sigismund became Sigmund. Sigmund completed a medical degree and in 1886 he opened a medical practice specializing in neurology, and married Martha Bernays. Eventually, he developed the “talking cure” that was to become an entirely new psychological approach: psychoanalysis.

In 1908, Freud established the Psychoanalytic Society, which ensured the future of his school of thought. During World War II, the Nazis publicly burned his work, and Freud moved to London. He died by assisted suicide, after enduring mouth cancer.

Key works
1900 The Interpretation of Dreams
1904 The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
1905 Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality
1930 Civilization and Its Discontents”

Francis Galton and the Nature vs. Nurture Debate

Francis Galton counted many gifted individuals among his relatives, including the evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. So it’s not surprising that Galton was interested in the extent to which abilities are either inborn or learned. He was the first person to identify “nature” and “nurture” as two separate influences whose effects could be measured and compared, maintaining that these two elements alone were responsible for determining personality. In 1869 he used his own family tree, as well as those of “judges, statesmen, commanders, scientists, literary men… diviners, oarsmen, and wrestlers,” to research inherited traits for his book Hereditary Genius. As predicted, he found more highly talented individuals in certain families than among the general population. However, he could not safely attribute this to nature alone, as there were also conferred benefits from growing up in a privileged home environment. Galton himself grew up in a wealthy household with access to unusually good educational resources.

Galton proposed a number of other studies, including the first large survey by questionnaire, which was sent out to members of the Royal Society to inquire about their interests and affiliations. Publishing his results in English Men of Science, he claimed that where nature and nurture are forced to compete, nature triumphs. External influences can make an impression, he says, but nothing can “efface the deeper marks of individual character.” However, he insists that both nature and nurture are essential in forming personality, since even the highest natural endowments may be “starved by defective nurture.” Intelligence, he says, is inherited, but must be fostered through education.

In 1875, Galton undertook a study of 159 pairs of twins. He found that they did not follow the “normal” distribution of similarity between siblings, in which they are moderately alike, but were always extremely similar or extremely dissimilar. What really surprised him was that the degree of similarity never changed over time. He had anticipated that a shared upbringing would lessen dissimilarity between twins as they grew up, but found that this was not the case. Nurture seemed to play no role at all.

The “nature—nurture debate” continues to this day. Some people have favored Galton’s theories, including his notion—now known as eugenics—that people could be “bred” like horses to promote certain characteristics. Others have preferred to believe that every baby is a tabula rasa, or “blank slate,” and we are all born equal. Most psychologists today recognize that nature and nurture are both crucially important in human development, and interact in complex ways.

Sources: The Psychology Book (DK)

Humorism and the Four Personality Types

The Roman philosopher and physician Claudius Galen formulated a concept of personality types based on the ancient Greek theory of humorism, which attempted to explain the workings of the human body.

The roots of humorism go back to Empedocles (c.495–435 BCE), a Greek philosopher who suggested that different qualities of the four basic elements—earth (cold and dry), air (warm and wet), fire (warm and dry), and water (cold and wet)—could explain the existence of all known substances. Hippocrates (460–370 BCE), the “Father of Medicine,” developed a medical model based on these elements, attributing their qualities to four fluids within the body. These fluids were called “humors” (from the Latin umor, meaning body fluid).

Two hundred years later, Galen expanded the theory of humorism into one of personality; he saw a direct connection between the levels of the humors in the body and emotional and behavioral inclinations—or “temperaments.”

Galen’s four temperaments—sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic—are based on the balance of humors in the body. If one of the humors develops excessively, the corresponding personality type begins to dominate. A sanguine person has too much blood (sanguis in Latin) and is warm-hearted, cheerful, optimistic, and confident, but can be selfish. A phlegmatic person, suffering from excess phlegm (phlegmatikós in Greek), is quiet, kind, cool, rational, and consistent, but can be slow and shy. The choleric (from the Greek kholé, meaning bile) personality is fiery, suffering from excess yellow bile. Lastly, the melancholic (from the Greek melas kholé), who suffers from an excess of black bile, is recognized by poetic and artistic leanings, which are often also accompanied by sadness and fear.

According to Galen, some people are born predisposed to certain temperaments. However, since temperamental problems are caused by imbalances of the humors, he claimed they can be cured by diet and exercise. In more extreme cases, cures may include purging and blood-letting. For example, a person acting selfishly is overly sanguine, and has too much blood; this is remedied by cutting down on meat, or by making small cuts into the veins to release blood.

Galen’s doctrines dominated medicine until the Renaissance, when they began to decline in the light of better research. In 1543, the physician Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564), practicing in Italy, found more than 200 errors in Galen’s descriptions of anatomy, but although Galen’s medical ideas were discredited, he later influenced 20th-century psychologists. In 1947, Hans Eysenck concluded that temperament is biologically based, and noted that the two personality traits he identified—neuroticism and extraversion—echoed the ancient temperaments.

Sources: The Psychology Book (DK)