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Are Freud's Theories Of The Oral And Anal Personalities Like The Curate's Egg - Good In Parts?

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Are Freud's Theories Of The Oral And Anal Personalities Like The Curate's Egg - Good In Parts? This question immediately raises the problem, "how are we to determine which parts of Freudian theory are 'good'?" Freud may well have argued that the evidence he documented from his psychotherapy sessions was sufficient, whilst behaviourists would demand that the various aspects of a theory could only be recognised as 'good' after being exposed to the full rigours of the scientific method. I personally don't feel that one can hope to design a repeatable experiment that will decisively illustrate the existence of, for example, the Oedipus complex. On the other hand I feel that we cannot simply accept a theory that has been moulded to fit a certain experimenters observations, coloured as they must be by their own personality, prejudices, and society. Therefore in this essay I will examine the empirical evidence from studies conducted on these most controversial of Freud's theories, and where that evidence appears on balance to give support to that particular theory, I will accept it as 'good'. As I said earlier some will regard this measure of worth as too lax to be of any use, whilst others will object to the application of science to the process of personality development, a process that is infinitely complex and unique, and so beyond science.


In my opinion, whilst this criticism may be justified, the positive result is significant, as it provides the only real evidence for a link between weaning and personality traits. However there still remain a number of significant weaknesses in the concept of the oral personality. In all my reading for this essay I have been struck by the lack of consensus about what exactly constitutes an oral personality; Blum and Daniel listed ten traits, Goldman-Eisler nineteen, and Glover (1925), cited by Kline (1971), stated there were only three of any significance; impatience, envy, and ambition. With so many traits being suggested, and with some traits selected by one experimenter being at odds with those selected by another, empirical research has not been, and is never going to be simple or conclusive. As such I think it must be stated that Freud's theory of the oral personality does not appear to have much support from empirical studies, and I would be reluctant to pronounce it 'good'. The anal personality however is well-defined, widely recognised, and relatively simple. It consists primarily of a triad of traits; obstinacy, parsimony and orderliness. These traits were first put forward by Freud in his essay, Character and Anal Eroticism (1908), in which he stated that those with an anal fixation are, "especially orderly, parsimonious, and obstinate...with parsimony and obstinacy being the most constant elements of the whole complex."


"Do you keep careful accounts of the money you spend?", and obstinacy, eg. "Do you easily change your mind once you've made a decision?", should be associated with disturbance at the sight of a defecating dog. There is certainly no obvious, or common sense explanation that can easily explain these results. A more simple experimental design was used by Kline (1981), cited in Kline (1984). In this he reasoned that different toilet training methods, as practiced in different cultures, would logically produce varying numbers of anal personality types. To test this hypothesis he used his Ai3 scale to find the anality of a sample of Ghanaian students and a sample of British students. Contrary to his reasoning Kline did not find a significant difference between the two groups. Therefore, whilst I wouldn't accept all of Freud's theory of the anal personality as good, it is at least more sound than the oral personality. Firstly the anal personality is well-defined, and can be shown to exist in the general, non-neurotic, population. Secondly, whilst there is no direct evidence linking the personality type to toilet-training and the anal-stamp, Kline's experiment does appear to be showing something significant, which despite Eysenck and Wilson's derision, cannot easily be explained. In view of the failure of Kline and others to show consistent and satisfactory evidence of a link between personality and anal fixation, I feel that the term 'anal' is a potentially misleading misnomer for a recognised personality type. A more descriptive term, such as 'authoritarian' would be of more value.

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