Psychological Projection: The Sneaky Devil Within

Psychological projection—you may have heard of it before. Someone, with their self-qualified overconfident wisdom, may have even tried to pin that diagnosis on you. The concept is often used pejoratively. Projection activates itself when the human ego needs a defense against unconscious whims, urges, and compulsions (both positive and negative). When your unconscious feelings try to use your conscious beliefs as a sparring partner, don’t be surprised when you find yourself trying to externalize the issues you know exist within. It’s always society’s fault and never yours that you are who you are. Right? Since projection involves denying certain qualities within yourself by assigning them to others, maybe we can say that blame-shifting is either synonymous or a close relative. [1]

A habitually rude person can also habitually accuse others of being rude. Have you ever witnessed someone like this? That doubles the rudeness, doesn’t it? Hypocrisy might be the first word to come to mind. Even Jesus addressed something like this in Matthew 7:3-5 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

The feeling of “it’s not me, it’s them” can be a very powerful and persuasive feeling that helps you deny and repress your problem instead of directly confronting it. Your friable ego may find projection to be an easy weapon against your internal enemies but will not be quick to recognize dissociation as a cost, especially when dissociative identity disorder is involved. [2] Personal and political calamities are said to incite psychological projection within normal people, but we can expect to witness this phenomenon more often in narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder when they operate at a primitive level. [1]

Projection is a concept that traces back to Sigmund Freud in the 1890s and his discussions on myth, religion, and primitive thinking. I interpret Freud as saying that projection is a regression into savage, primitive, animistic, childlike behavior. Projection is elementary in self-development. Perhaps the best metaphor for describing projection is to say that it is like a piece of technology throwing an image onto a screen. [3]

In the early 1900s, Freud discussed projection in his psychoanalysis lectures that also discussed the nature of neuroses, melancholia, narcissistic identification, delusions, paranoia and obsessions. Now, none of this is meant to imply that if you are inveterately projecting your unwanted parts onto others you must have a mental health disorder. But it seems rather apparent to me that Freud regarded projection as sharing some topography and dynamics with the aforesaid afflictions. I think it was Freud who first informed us that projection exists in connection with the unconscious and sets itself up in the ego. Your ego is treated like the object that you attach yourself to or repudiate. The ego suffers collateral damage as we act upon aggression and vengeance aimed at loved and hated objects. [4]

We have some interesting examples of psychological projection spanning throughout human history. You may remember having read about The Salem Witch Trials in high school; at least I do. Psychological projection of repressed aggression has been asseverated by John Demos as cause for the mental thralldom that the girls suffered in Salem in the Province of Massachusetts Bay of 1962. [5] In case you are unfamiliar with the story, let me express this quick synopsis:

Several girls who were exhibiting bizarre behaviors in Salem in the Province of Massachusetts Bay of 1692 blamed a local slave, Tituba, and two other females of spellbinding them. While being held under duress, Tituba confessed to using witchcraft and knowing of other guilty parties. A massive witch-hunt ensued, which helped the Puritans justify their personal vendetta against the colonists who did not abide by their religious convictions. Many innocent people were imprisoned and killed in that old village. Historians believe the accused “were victims of mob mentality, mass hysteria and scapegoating.” The story has been infamously used as a testament to the consequences of collective frenzied behavior, fearmongering, religious intolerance, and non-evidence-based thinking that can creep into our criminal justice system. [6]

A lot happened in that mishmash, and maybe you can imagine the indignation you probably would have felt while being accused of something you did not do. Imagine being indicted because of the superstitious twaddle people believe in and there was almost nothing you could do to avoid it in the first place. Can you imagine the racing thoughts you would experience? Imagine every eternal moment of helplessness and all the things you would have to say to protect yourself back in the 1600s when people did not operate on the innocent-until-proven-guilty principle? You would need to think quickly and likely could not avoid being clumsy. Not much time would be available for assorting all your arguments that could dissuade your detractors, because your mind would be overwhelmingly clouded, and you would constantly feel tempted to make up lies and believe them yourself, wholeheartedly. All eyes feasting on you would have to be diverted by your blaming others.

In everyday living here in modern America and the Western world, we may not be witnessing witch-hunts, but quite often life can make you feel like there is a witch-hunt against you.

A romantic partner can make you feel like a dozen arrows are pointing at you as he/she bombards you with protests. Maybe she/he is accurate with those accusations, maybe not. To cope with the stress and anxiety caused by invasive or alarming thoughts, feelings, and/or impulses, maybe he/she is vomiting them onto you to feel untrammeled from his/her own mental traps. Maybe you are doing this in response to his/her verifiable criticisms and complaints. Who knows? Just suggesting all the various possibilities makes me think a lot of chatter, garbling and mayhem must be happening. I can imagine that a lot of the fleeting thoughts would occur:

‘I don’t feel that’

‘I don’t think this’

‘I never said that, instead you said that’

‘I am feeling this anger, because you want me to feel angry.’

‘My reckless driving was caused by your provoking it.’

Sometimes, we can be quite unaware of our worst fears about ourselves. We can see them in our partners, and not totally realize why we are seeing them. It becomes especially hard to diagnose the problem when we are struggling to articulate what we are seeing and fearing. The result is oftentimes increased confusion and anger.

As the projector, your accusatory goal can cause you to waste a lot of time as you fixate on the wrong things and refuse to realize what is happening in the moment. Putting your partner in a false role muddies your communication with him/her. Think about how unreasonable you might sound to your partner if your words are a shining example of the load of bosh you blame him/her for. [7]

Infidelity may be a great example. If you are subconsciously attracted to someone else outside of your relationship, and you have refused to admit this to yourself, you may feel paranoid about your partner cheating and so you chide him/her every time they open their text messaging inbox to talk to others. Really, the infidelity is on you, but that seems to be too unacceptable. You see? Trying to externalize what exists on the inside, again.

Psychological projection can be hard to escape when you are facing ambivalent emotions. If you believe that vacationing away from family responsibilities is usually selfish, but the responsibilities of your family life have become almost insufferable, thereby making you want to escape, you might try to cope with this by becoming a nudnik to your partner whenever he/she takes an occasional break. Again, you greatly imperil yourself with projection whenever you try to shake off parts of yourself.

Climbing the mountain to overcome psychological projection may appear to be not for the faint of heart. But I think it is attainable for everyone.

The force of evolution has not been totally kind to humanity. So, have mercy on yourself as you try to manage your imperfections. To demonstrate why, perhaps I can say that the human brain that acts as an information-processor is analogous to the first law of thermodynamics or the conservation of energy (matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed). Nevertheless, information that enters the brain also reduces in quality and disappears. We forget about what we hear, see, taste, smell and touch all the time, though information is always arguably recoverable. [8]

Stimuli from the environment that enters via our senses are energy-based when it is encoded into brain activity. For instance, you have layers of retinal nerve cells that fire in response to the intensity and color of light. Photons hit the back of the eye. And you experience a thought. Perhaps you have never thought of your thoughts as being measurable materials, because you can only feel them and speak and write about them. They are limited in power and scope. [8]

As an organ, the brain’s sole connection with outside reality is through the self’s limited five senses. The brain mostly lives in fantasy, despite how much you probably want to disagree and say you are realistic about nearly everything you say and do. You can only input fragments from your environment. You cannot be the panoramic spectator that you wish to be. And to make matters worse, you are not even aware of all the fragments you are inputting constantly. Most of the information gets drowned out by the noise and registers outside your awareness. Raw sensory data is adulterated by your mind, culture, relationships, tunnel vision, faulty compartmentalization, anxiety, ego, and a smorgasbord of other things. No doubt, you cannot be totally to blame for not seeing everything. The things about “you” that are mistaken for “me” and “others” makes up the defense mechanism against uncomfortable feelings, because the brain cannot afford to have its bandwidth deluged with too much information. [8]

So, do not panic! Psychological projection has preyed on us all at one time or another. No one is immune to it. So, have mercy on yourself and your partner, your family, and friends. Use your projection mistakes as opportunities to grow, to practice more self-awareness, and to strengthen your bond with your loved ones.


[1] Sigmund Freud, Case Histories II (PFL 9) p. 132

[2] Trauma and PTSD: Aftermaths of the WTC Disaster – An Interview With Yael Danieli, Ph.D. Medscape General Medicine. 2001;3(4)

[3] Taylor & Francis Online, Journal of Child Psychotherapy, Anne Hurry, Jack Novick &Kerry Kelly Novick, Published online: 24 Sep 2007

[4] Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, Translated and Edited by James Strachey, With a Biographical Introduction by Peter Gay, Copyright @ 1966 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

[5] Underlying Themes in the Witchcraft of Seventeenth-Century New England, John Demos, The American Historical Review Vol. 75, No. 5 (Jun. 1970), pp. 1311-1326

[6] The Salem Witch Trials Victims: Who Were They? Rebecca Beatrice Brooks, August 19, 2015.

[7] Projection in Relationships: Stop it from ruining your connection, Monika Hoyt, Mar 12, 2016.

[8] Is Projection the Most Powerful Defense Mechanism? Grant Hilary Brenner MD, FAPA, Posted Sep 09, 2018.

Introjection and Its Hidden Effects on the Mind

The ability known as introjection is the mental act of absorbing the expectations and projections (the driving out of unwanted impulses) of others, which is done both verbally or nonverbally. It is a phantasmatic process and an ego-based internalization of objects from the external world, occurring undetected by our acute awareness. Introjection is haphazard and not always a good friend as it can allow insidious things to enter our hearts and minds when we are not careful. I take great interest in introjection during childhood years as they are our most impressionable and formative, and therefore very vulnerable years. [1]

It is introjection that enables you to declare “I am like this” (I have accepted this as part of me) as opposed to projection which is to say, “I am not like this.” Projection can be seeable when you encounter who or what you fear yourself to be and try desperately to deny. The classic example is a son who says, “I am nothing like my father.” Introjection and projection combine a foggy image of the world as it exists inside and outside of your mind. In one aspect, there are the introjected objects and parts of you that you recognize. In another aspect, there are things within that you try to disavow as you are unable tolerate them. And lastly, there is your core that is alien to yourself. “The subject is both inside out, and outside in.” Essentially, everything blurs together so much that you never can get a sweeping view of every part of yourself all at once. [1]

Attitudes, behaviors, emotions, and perceptions are the components of introjection regularly acquired from persuasive or commanding people in your life. No cerebration on these components takes place and they are not consumed slowly; they are quickly ingurgitated into your personality and transmuted into beliefs that you are convinced should be kept and behaviors that you think ought to be followed. I am led to believe that defeatist attitudes that manifest in adulthood could have introjection origins in childhood. And therefore, I think we should beware of the mental courses and predispositions we impose on our children as we endeavor to shape and mold them. [2]

The following scenario was adapted from a 2013 Psychology Today article: [3]

You are having your 7th birthday party. You are quite excited. Your parents have planned the whole event for you, inviting many friends of yours and theirs (adults of course). It is pizza, cake, ice cream, and candy du jour! The party is principally about you, but your parents’ persnickety behaviors about the decorations, attire, and their preferred invitees make it seem they are too concerned about themselves. Their brisk movements while setting everything up means they are self-conscious about how others might judge their party-preparing skills as well as their parenting skills. But that is not obvious to you, because you are 7 years of age and have your action figures, friends, and gifts preoccupying you. In the adult world, there is an unspoken standard of garish looks and appearances that your parents are trying to abide by.

As they are moving about the house you are still undressed for the occasion. So, your parents urge you to get dressed. The attire of Toy Story’s Woody is en vogue for the children among your clique, and you need to enchant your friends, so you grab the costume from your closet and put it on. Suddenly, some of the guests arrive prematurely and your parents have not finished preparing. Exasperated, they scurry even more to put everything together and must improvise to render the half-baked illusion of preparedness and creativity.

They see you proudly displaying your outfit and are rankled by your silly choice that adds to the long list of things gone wrong. Normally, if everything had been going according to plan, your parents would have felt fine about your cute pick, but they cannot withstand demurring, “Oh my! Son! Of all days to wear that silly outfit, today is not the day. You need to look presentable.” Your parents scowl at you even though they never specified what you should wear. They expected you to choose the right outfit and you felt confident that you would choose the right outfit to fit the occasion. But now you have lost your confidence. You wonder if you can pick the right clothing for any party or special occasion in general. You wonder if you are capable of exercising independence in this aspect of your life. What if your friends make fun of you because of your parents’ displeasure with you? Defeated, you feel that choosing clothing for yourself at all would result in rejection, unavoidably. So, why even bother? Later, your parents come to your bedroom and see you are still undressed 30 minutes after the premature arrival of the guests. Now, their exasperation increases.

The feeling predominating in you now is that you are dumb or incompetent. Neither of your parents said you are as such, but you sensed sullenness in their voices, and you saw their cringing facial expressions and their scurrying around to get everything done. Whether they meant it or not, they conveyed the feeling that you are dumb and incompetent.

Situations of this kind are normal. They occur in everyone’s lives. They can occur because of foibles or major flaws in our character or confusing situations, as adults. They can cause maybe a dent in our self-confidence, as adults. But for children the consequences are graver. This is an example of ostensibly mild and routinized household activity involving peevish parents and a young uncertain child. But if similar experiences with reproach and rejection happen too often, this can provoke unwanted thoughts and behavior patterns. [3]

A child can feel defeated even before he/she enters high school. Children are highly intuitive and receptive about nearly everything, whether good or bad. Children are like sponges, soaking everything into their identity that is directed at them. This is how they gain control in their environment while concurrently accepting what they think are their mirrors. Most importantly, those mirrors exist in the faces of their caregivers/parents, and they reflect not only who our children see themselves to be but also involve their fear of abandonment. They feel they must reflect what they see in their mirrors to keep their relationship intact with those they love. [3] If we agree with Hungarian psychoanalyst, Sándor Ferenczi (1909), introjection is an ineffaceable aspect of the whole nature of the act of love because it enables attachment. It also enables one to absorb the object of one’s love into the ego. [4]

Adults become desensitized to this through age, but every negative experience, even those slightly askew, can be devastating for a child as their sense of self is dragged beneath the undercurrent and they are forced to become whoever they think is in the mirror. Remember, whatever you project onto your child, whether you have extinguished the problem or not, gets integrated into the child’s identity while they have the undeveloped ability to abnegate those projections from your lording presence. [3]

Sigmund Freud is said to have discussed introjection and thought of it as a defense mechanism that is commonplace among psychologically healthy people. But it was Ferenczi who coined the term. [1]

Minimal thought is involved with a child’s assuming any aspect of the parents’ personalities or beliefs (e.g. political ideology, concept of right and wrong, or ideas about sex). Some mental health professionals posit that children exert introjection as a defense against the ill-effects of having absent parents or guardians. They unconsciously adopt the idiosyncrasies of a parent to give the illusion that some aspect of the parent is present even as he/she is physically unavailable. Introjection can produce positive or negative effects, determinedly by what attitudes are adopted. [2]

Introjection causes people to become so strappingly attached to a person or object that they cannot declassify themselves from that person or object. Becoming unduly engrossed with the beliefs of others instead of one’s own personal needs can become the cause of introjection. We sometimes find adolescents trying to carry the mantle of persevering their parents’ belief system, traditions, honor, and memory instead of systematizing their own beliefs and decisions about the future. Therefore, victims of abusive relationships are so inclined to internalize their partner’s contemptuous comments about appearance and behavior. So, they act and think accordingly. An abuse victim can introject the abuser’s pathology so intensely that the victim can later become an abuser. [2]

A personal example of introjection is this:

During my upbringing, my father worked in the trucking industry. He would often work long shifts and was not present for evening dinners nor to tuck me into bed. My mother often complained about this and talked about him in such a way that made me think he was a defective father/husband. He made $18+ per hour and I was led to think that is an inadequate wage based on their fear of losing sustenance. Though they never intended to impress it upon me, I was led to believe that a good husband is one who is home every night for his family and makes enough money to keep his family unafraid of losing their provisions.

I did not become fully aware of this belief until sometime during high school. While assessing this belief, I realize it is a good and helpful belief that a man should work and not be slothful, especially for his family. A man should strive to make an adequate wage. However, if I do not have the proper cognitive shema, my introjections can weaken my self-worth and make me feel inferior for not making a lot of money instead of making just enough.

It has been hard for me to accomplish that at my young age and hard to believe that $18 per hour can suffice when my parents repeatedly told me, “Son, make sure you get a good job when you get older and make sure you do better than me (your father).”

It has been hard getting rid of that burden of introjected lust for more wealth.





[4] Sex in Psycho-analysis: Contributions to Psycho-analysis, Sándor Ferenczi, pg. 77,+taken+into+the+ego%22&source=bl&ots=l6RJk6VriT&sig=ACfU3U2FK_NQo2A1hZhqk3VjFnC8bg86ZA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwidvq2X8fbgAhXJ1VkKHd0kD_wQ6AEwAXoECAEQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22The%20loved%20objects%20are%20introjected%2C%20taken%20into%20the%20ego%22&f=false

Pavlovian Conditioning and the Environmental Influences that Shape Us

I have a good hunch that Pavlovian conditioning can provide great insights on domestic violence, sexual deviance, irrational fears, abuse, and post-traumatic disorder. I wish not to be too detail-oriented about each of these things, as they each can be extensively discussed in later posts. Here, I just want to begin the groundwork.

Everything that either attracts or repels you can all boil down to conditioning, through which automatic physiological, psychosocial and psychological activity and sensations are experienced. Your brain and body work together to make associations that give you insight on whether to move toward or away from an object.

Pulling your hand away after touching a hot stove or jumping at the loud sound of a sudden crash are virtually irresistible and unconditioned responses. No one ever needed to tell you to recoil after touching a hot stove or hearing a loud sound. Telling you to produce a particular response would involve learning and learning is defined as behavioral change resulting from experience. You therefore learned to like a song that you heard while driving with your boyfriend/girlfriend in the car. You learned to dislike blue and red colors flashing together because they remind you of the many times you saw police car lights in your rearview mirror before getting pulled over and receiving a hefty fine or arrest.

This is pertinent to classical (Pavlovian) conditioning, which involves a learned response that results from establishing an association between two different stimuli or organ/tissue-evoking events. An unconditioned stimulus provokes a natural reflex or unlearned response, while a neutral stimulus produces no effect, yet, until the neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with the unconditioned stimulus. Then, after the association is made, a conditioned response is felt, and this will occur upon experiencing the previously neutral stimulus, without the unconditioned stimulus. Of course, the conditioned response can be undone, which is technically called extinction, and that usually happens when the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus become unpaired. However, again, there can be a spontaneous recovery, which is the reemergence of a conditioned response following a cessation period. [1]

You may have already heard of the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) with whom the concept originated, following his experiments with dogs and studying how and when they would salivate after hearing a bell and before being given their food. [2]

We do not know exactly what kind of apparatus Pavlov used for studying the dogs, but Stephen L. Franzoi’s 2015 college textbook, titled Psychology: A Discovery Experience, reports that Pavlov probably used a screen for observing the dog, a tube in which to collect saliva, some meat powder, a revolving drum for recording responses, and a device to count saliva drops. Pavlov was able to prompt a conditioned response (salivation) from the dog by having the dog continually hear a ticking sound, followed by receiving food, and then associating the two together. [2]

The story of behaviorism’s founder, John Watson, and his colleague, Rosalie Rayner, helpfully illustrates learned behaviors and conditioning, though it raised inglorious ethical issues. John and Rosalie used a nine-month-old boy as their test subject, named “Little Albert B.” [2]

The infant was presented with a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey, a dog, masks with or without hair, and white cotton wool. The two researchers observed a positive response, at first. Two months later, the infant was given the white rat and Watson pounded a hammer on a four-foot steel bar, observing poor Albert’s discomposure. This continued seven more times with one-week intervals. Pairing the rat with the noise begot the same effect each time until Watson decided to observe the infant with only the rat and no noise. What was the result? The infant reacted with irrepressible fear, learned through classical conditioning. [2]

Albert’s response of fear was also observed when being given a furry white rabbit, a dog, a white fur coat, Watson’s own head of gray hair, and even a Santa Claus mask. This is an example of stimulus generalization, a phenomenon identified by Pavlov. It is the inclination to respond to a stimulus that is similar in touch, sound, taste, smell, or appearance to another stimulus. This perhaps could explain why you are quick to respond warmly to someone who looks or acts like a good friend of yours or why you hesitate to approach someone who looks and acts like someone who has treated you contumeliously. [2]

The opposite is stimulus discrimination, which personal experience affords us. We learn to disassociate certain properties from stimuli to which those properties do not inherently belong. Little Albert could have unprogrammed his fear for rats and anything white if he were enticed to discover that loud noises were not present when the other objects were given to him. This is our mechanism for helping us realize that we can feel insouciant upon seeing a person who looks or acts like the one who did us wrong. We can thereby move on with our lives. [2]

But that mechanism and healing process is not always optimal or easy for victims of domestic violence, sexual deviance, irrational fears, physical and emotional abuse, drug abuse and post-traumatic disorder.

Classical Conditioning and Sexual Deviance

Sexual behaviors that are bizarre, maladaptive, injurious, and compulsive such as paraphilias, fetishes, and sadomasochism have an etiology that is difficult to understand. That difficulty stems from the fact that the potentially relevant empirical research on nonhuman animals, used to obtain important implications about human sexual arousal and deviations, has not been satisfactorily synthesized with clinical literature.

Psychology’s early years on studying human sexuality produced some cockamamie ideas. In 1886 Krafft-Ebing believed that Pavlovian conditioning was perniciously involved in the case of a child developing masochism from his penis rubbing against a parent’s lap during a spanking. French psychologist, Alfred Binet (1888), came up with the idea that children could develop deviant practices from experiencing inadvertent but apparently gratifying deviant acts. Jaspers (1963) and Rachman (1961) pitched the idea that an unintentional coupling of an abnormal stimulus with sexual arousal or ejaculation could put aberrant practices into effect. [3]

Perhaps those men depended too heavily on the premise that most aspects of our sexuality are learned, as do many other theories. Stunningly, few empirical studies have demonstrated that learning plays a huge role in human sexual arousal. Most of the conducted studies have used male rats and birds and some other female species. And so, clarity has been lacking as to how the learning occurs. However, it was still settled “that classical and operant conditioning can produce temporary and lasting changes in appetitive, precopulatory, and consummatory sexual behavior, which suggests that sexual learning can expand upon instinctual responses, allowing for diversity in sexual repertoire.” [4]

Methodological problems impaired evidence for classical conditioning in human sexual arousal for males in reports dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. But results from a 1998 study found genital excitation after using paired images of incompletely naked females with tantalizing recordings of heterosexual contact. Two researchers, Plaud and Martini (1999), found increase in penile circumference after using a penny jar as the neutral stimulus and pairing it with partly or fully naked females. [4]

A 1997 study, the only one to scrutinize the influence of conditioning in women’s sexual excitations, failed to demonstrate conditioned genital or subjective responses to the pairing of a light and an erotic film. It is said that Letourneau and O’Donohue’s methodological flaw was a poor unconditioned stimulus and probably “ineffective conditioning parameters.” [4]

Despite the lack of proper testing, it has been proposed that female sexual arousal involves less learning than male arousal. If conditioned arousal experiments have tended to use visual sexual stimuli, it is expectable that men would report more arousal, and that we would be led to conclude that men are more biologically inclined than women to respond to visual stimuli. Additionally, we are led to conclude that men diversify their sexual practices more than women and male paraphiliacs outnumber female paraphiliacs, despite Baumeister’s argument from 2000 that women, instead of men, are the more “erotically plastic” gender. [4]

Classical Conditioning and Addiction

Based on the basic premise that a specific stimulus causes a specific response, it is obvious as to how classical conditioning and paired associations have relationship with the powerful physiological excitations and cravings of cocaine and opioid addiction. Seeing drug paraphernalia is one important relapse cue. Depression can be another important relapse cue. These relapse cues can be quite potent even after tenaciously holding onto sobriety for so long. The same applies to alcoholism. [5] The key is to stay away from bars, especially during depression episodes, if the alcoholic wants to remain abstinent.

In aversion therapy, a drug is administered for inducing nausea and vomiting upon alcohol ingestion to make a paired association between drinking and unpleasantness. The ideal is to even have unpleasantness follow from just having a thought about alcohol. [6]

Drug-resistance therapy has involved training patients to not respond to cues, using exposure to drug and alcohol related things to abate the connection between cues and urges. The expectation for charming effects fades and a chemical high is no longer predictable as the person is increasingly exposed to sights and smells of a substance without indulging. This allows an individual to gain resilience and say no in the face of jeopardy and temptation. Exposure therapy or drug-resistance therapy has afforded auspicious results in cognitive-behavioral treatment. [7] 1993 and 1999 reports demonstrate this:

“For example, Monti and colleagues (1993) compared two groups of alcohol abusers in an inpatient setting. Both groups engaged in typical inpatient treatment activities; participants in one group also were exposed to the sights and smells of alcohol, and rehearsed coping strategies while imagining themselves in high-risk settings. When outcomes were compared, the patients who received exposure therapy had more days of abstinence and consumed less alcohol on days when they drank. The difference was significant despite evidence that cue-related cravings may affect patients with alcohol abuse disorders relatively less than patients with other substance abuse disorders (Carter and Tiffany, 1999).” [7]

Classical Conditioning and Its Influence on Victim-Sensitivity and Trusting Others

All people have various sensitivity levels to victimization. This makes it quite hard to ascertain the precise causes and cures for each person’s trauma-related anxieties, distrustfulness, and uncooperativeness. However, victim-sensitivity can help predict how someone will act in situations. The nature of exploitation violates the need to trust, which is a very fundamental need; and this is a very defensible premise on which we can build our understanding. [8]

The need to trust is one of the “five core social motives.” It is the emotional investment in the abilities, probity, and generosity of others. It is integral to retaining relationships and contributing to social groups. If trust is the engine for democracies, the center of social capital, a pillar of economic organization, the main determinant of the quality of social interactions, whether bargaining or loving, and helps us become adept in precarious or novel situations, we should not be surprised that victim-sensitivity has the tendency to ossify or become almost permanent in one’s life. When you remove the core of anything, you should expect collapse. That metaphor is quite hard to ignore. [8]

The victim-sensitive individual’s awareness for needing to trust others is always present, but that awareness is eclipsed by the awareness that others are not as trustworthy and reliable as the individual once hoped. This provides a basis for recurring anxieties about emotional or even physical abuse, betrayal, and social rejection. More concretely, it seems plausible to hypothesize that if pivotal life events are generated and shaped by victimization and if improper coping skills are employed to deal with them, victim sensitivity is likely to increase and ossify. All victimization experiences can have many different faces, and this makes the cause and cure less determinable than we would like. [8]

It seems sensible to affirm that people are generally motivated to trust others, since trust is so vastly functional in both interpersonal and intergroup ways. Considering that, it also makes sense to assume that victim-sensitivity is sourced in a definite cognitive dissonance: the dissonance between the need to invest trust in others and to remember that not all are as steadfast and loyal as one must hope for (Gollwitzer and Rothmund, 2009). This is in accord with the Sensitivity to Mean Intentions (SeMI) model. [8]

Betrayal is irrefragably distasteful to everyone, but everyone varies as to what extent they emotionally unravel after the event and ruminate on the injustice. People who ruminate a lot on injustice, whether they were victimized or witnessed the victimization of others, are said to be chronically hypervigilant to cues associated with untrustworthiness. Antisocial, egoistic, and uncooperative behaviors are expectable from them, as they are meant to preempt against possible exploitation. “Victim-sensitive individuals behave uncooperatively toward others because they expect others to behave uncooperatively toward them.” [8]

Health and happiness are demonstrably reliant on acquiring a general sense of trust in one’s social world. German-American developmental psychologist Erik Erikson’s (1950, 1959) theory on psychological stages assumes that a crucial first task in life is to develop trust in a caregiver. A toddler’s deep-seated misgivings and perturbations about life and people will manifest years later as a result of being deprived of basic needs (such as food, warmth, and closeness). Erikson’s attachment theory focused heavily on the infant-caregiver connection and underscored the development of trust that is consequential from that healthy connection and dictates the quality of subsequent intimate relationships. [8]

Representations of oneself, of others, and of relationships in general are reflected in the health of the child’s mental processes that involve his/her anticipations of the quality of future interactions, the basis for which is molded by the infant-caregiver bond during the rudimentary stages of life. Such representations effectuate attachment patterns or styles, which can be qualitatively defined as “secure” vs. “insecure” (e.g., anxious/ambivalent, anxious/avoidant, and disorganized. Curiously, insecure attachment styles symbolize others as undependable and symbolizing of oneself as inept for winning others’ cooperation. [8]

Stated differently, when the caregiver’s dereliction of the infant is the unconditioned stimulus prompting an unconditioned response of ill-health and unhappiness, it is conceivable to say that a lack of curiosity, poor performance in school, and emotional withdrawal will be the conditioned response plaguing the infant during childhood. On the other hand, when the caregiver’s diligent attention to the infant’s needs is the unconditioned stimulus prompting the unconditioned stimulus of good health and happiness, it is conceivable to say that a conditioned response manifests as the infant maturing into a popular, independent, self-assured child.


[1] Kendra Cherry, What Is Classical Conditioning? A Step-by-Step Guide to How Classical Conditioning Really Works, September 28, 2018

[2] Stephen L. Franzoi, Psychology: A Discovery Experience, Marquette University, South-Western Cengage Learning, 2015,+the+dog+learned+to+associate+them+and+produce+a+conditioned+response&source=bl&ots=w66igj9NUs&sig=ACfU3U17vHKewm7w4piMGGdHKTNSixDZBA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjKxNe1r57gAhUvxVkKHceVApMQ6AEwAHoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=By%20repeatedly%20pairing%20a%20ticking%20sound%20with%20receiving%20food%2C%20the%20dog%20learned%20to%20associate%20them%20and%20produce%20a%20conditioned%20response&f=false

[3] Chana K. Akins, The Role of Pavlovian Conditioning in Sexual Behavior: A Comparative Analysis of Human and Nonhuman Animals, International Journal of Comparative Psychology, University of Kentucky, U.S.A., 2004

[4] Heather Hoffmann, Ph.D., Erick Janssen, Ph.D., and Stefanie L. Turner, Classical Conditioning of Sexual Arousal in Women and Men: Effects of Varying Awareness and Biological Relevance of the Conditioned Stimulus, Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 33, No. 1, February 2004, pp. 43–53 (2004)

[5] Chapter 4—Brief Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 34. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 1999.

[6] A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D., Classical Conditioning and Addiction,, 1995-2018

[7] Michael W. Otto, Ph.D., Conall M. O’Cleirigh, Ph.D., and Mark H. Pollack, M.D., Attending to Emotional Cues for Drug Abuse: Bridging the Gap Between Clinic and Home Behaviors, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 2007

[8] Mario Gollwitzer, Philipp Süssenbach, and Marianne Hannuschke, Victimization experiences and the stabilization of victim sensitivity, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Published online 2015 Apr 14.

Ladies, Is Your Man Forgetting Too Often?

“No memory is ever alone; it’s at the end of a trail of memories, a dozen trails that each have their own associations.” ~ Louis L’Amour (1908-1988)

Have you ever pondered the idea that the success of your man’s remembering important details has connection with how he meaningfully relates those details to other things and how his brain reconstructs the past?

I am so far from being an expert on romantic relationships, but I like to take a stab at this topic, periodically.

I know this must make you feel doleful and ill-tempered. “All week, I told him to not forget about my mother’s birthday party and how important it is to her that we be there. He still forgot about it and scheduled a meet-up that night with his friends! Does he not care about my parents? Does he not care about anything I say?” This is just one example of the incalculable things a man could forget. Right?

As a single man who has disappointed a lot of female friends and past girlfriends, I can certainly attest to this. I have often felt deep remorse over my forgetfulness. It is not caused by intentional disregard…at least, I hope. Men can be so forgetful that one should wonder how any of us could remember our heads if they were not attached to our bodies. My mother used to always express this witticism to me when she felt aggravated.

I don’t want to make dumb excuses for carelessness, but I do want to seek a factual explanation as to why my side of the human species is so prone to forgetting. And I hope that more women out there can see us men as redeemable.

First, let’s begin with defining memory:

Memory is the rebuilding of past experiences via the synchronous discharges of many nerve cells corresponding with whatever original experience(s) you are thinking of. This involves encoding, storing, and subsequent retrieval of information that is gathered from things we have seen, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted. However, memory is like a collage or jigsaw puzzle that you must piece together. It is not like books discretely shelved in a library for facile access. Inside your brain are reconstructions using various elements scattered throughout it. [1]

In memory studies, we have come a long way since the days of when behaviorists believed that memory was a “single, simple system.” [2] Though the computer analogy may lack some explanatory power pertaining to human memory, we still have attained great discoveries and new levels of understanding from analogizing that memory is a kind of information-processing system.

Okay. Moving on…

We have short-term and long-term memory. The statement that you and your husband are expected to show up to your mother’s birthday party is stored in the sensory memory before hopefully moving to the short-term memory. Whether it gets transferred to long-term memory depends on several factors. Nevertheless, remembering this will never be akin to the deep-seated memorability of how to ride a bike, or how to use the English language, or stating the name of the president of the United States.

When discussing short-term and long-term memory, Hermann Ebbinghaus is the first to come to mind, because he was a pioneer in memory research. He discovered the forgetting curve (memory is vitiated over time as attempts are not made to strengthen it) and the spacing effect (learning is greatened when you study throughout a span of time instead of cramming it all in at once). [3]

Ebbinghaus experimented with himself, using 2,300 boring, meaningless consonant-vowel-consonant segments such as “WID”, “ZOF” and “KAF.” He tested himself to see what he could remember, looking at each syllable for half a second and pausing for 15 seconds before looking at the list again. He tested his speed of learning and forgetting based on different time intervals and lengths. He delineated his results on a graph. Hence, the forgetting curve. And he discovered that he was more apt to remember meaningful content more than meaningless content, but memorization could increase with repetition of the meaningless content. [4]

Now, Ebbinghaus’ experimental consonant-vowel-consonant content may have been meaningless and that certainly cannot compare to the important things you want your boyfriend/husband to remember. I surely do not want to downplay the significance of what you want to tell your man. But the unfortunate part of mental reality is that things are susceptible to blurring and running together. And the forgetting curve is exponential in nature.

Memory operates optimally at the time of learning new information. And no matter what the content is and its level of importance, the retention decreases rapidly within days. Memory also works best without overexerted mental efforts (overlearning) to remember something. There is such a thing as storing something too strongly “and thus the effects of forgetting curve for overlearned information is shallower.” [3] This could be why the love of your life is extra prone to forgetting if he feels you are nagging him.

Not all forgotten pieces of information follow the forgetting curve due to other factors likely at play. Maybe your beau was having a stressful work week when you discussed with him the upcoming party. Maybe he was sleep-deprived. Maybe a lot of cacophonies or racket (e.g. children, pets, neighbors fighting, working blender, and other distractions) were occurring at the time of your talking. Environment is always a key factor to consider.

Always remember to never project your presumably unimpaired capabilities onto your man. Never assume that his memory strength is parallel to yours. Avoiding this assumption can perhaps enable you to have more empathy and mercy for him.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine published a 2011 report titled “Sex differences in how stress affects brain activity during face viewing.” Here is what I find to be salient from the report: 1) Stress has an important bearing on emotional perception. 2) Stress will cause your man to make an exodus from a social situation whereas the stress will induce you to see social support. 3) fMRI studies revealed that a man’s brain regions (the insula, temporal pole and inferior frontal gyrus) that are responsible for construing others’ emotions had a decreased functional connectivity with the amygdala, whereas that same functional connectivity with the amygdala increased in women. 4) Therefore, a man’s emotional perception is affected by stress differently from a woman’s. Be prepared for his thinking to be off-kilter if he is under stress. [5]

That 2011 report predicated itself on prior findings that a male’s affiliative behavior (the intent of supporting or improving one’s individual relationships with others) decreases in response to stress whereas a female’s will increase. The report’s conclusion was the following:

“This study indicates that experiencing an acute stressor affects subsequent activity and interactions in brain regions involved in decoding and interpreting others’ facial expressions in opposite ways for males and females. These findings contribute to a growing literature showing that stress affects males and females differently.”

Now, you may grouse about some of my source material, but I feel I need to include a source that is more up-to-date than a 2011 report. And I am hard-pressed to find one as prestigious as The U.S. National Library of Medicine.

MedicalNewsToday issued a 2016 report about Boston researchers investigating how menopause and levels of estradiol sex steroids affect memory. Women, aged 45-55, were said to perform better on memory tests despite their hormonal impediments. Premenopausal women performed better than postmenopausal women, though. Women in their early post-puberty stages are said to be able to outperform men in memory tasks, still. [6]

Perhaps we can compare your inamorato’s memory strength to the strength of flashbulb memories, which are vivid and stick out in our minds because of consternating and personally important events. [7] Of course, you want your mother’s birthday party to be one of his top priorities, and thereby, very memorable. But that memorability can’t be as strong as the memorability of things like the September 11th World Trade Center terrorist attacks or Boston bombings, obviously. Those are called flashbulb memories. So, maybe, you want to make a considerable impact on your man’s memory, a bit like how the impact of flashbulb memories make a person suddenly aware, but undoubtedly not as immense and not as traumatic. Flashbulb memories are not exact representations of the past either. So, keep that in mind.

Among all the various things your boyfriend/husband is expected to remember each day, there are many distractions. Since the 1950s, psychologists have known that people forget things within seconds if they are distracted from repeating a small amount of information given to them. [2]

This was demonstrated in Peterson and Peterson’s study (1959) on people who were asked to perform a distracting task (counting backward by threes) after trying to remember a list of three-letter segments. Short-term memory decay was demonstrated here because the information speedily faded within 18 seconds. [8] They say that maintenance rehearsal (mental or verbalized repetition of information) alerts your brain to make it a goal that you remember what has been said, heard, or done. You then might ask, “Why can’t my boyfriend/husband exercise that memory-making trick out of respect for me?” He could, and, again, not to make excuses for negligence, but the brain is more complicated than we want to assume. It is messy and sloppy.

Ebbinghaus’ list of nonsensical syllables, and later measuring how he recalled them, generated the revelation that things at the beginning (primacy effect) and things at the end (recency effect) of a list are more memorable than those in the middle. [3] Did you briefly discuss the obligatory birthday party attendance in the middle of a string of other things you discussed with your beloved man? Perhaps you should discuss the matter with him for a long duration instead of cursorily mentioning it in passing. This way he is alerted to the level of importance of what you want him to remember.

The serial-position effect that came about represented two distinct memory systems at work. As someone reads a list, the first items provoke more thinking than the items later in the list. Hence, they are stored in a repository, meant for Brobdingnagian amounts of information, called long-term memory. And the last items are stored in a repository called short-term memory, with 18 seconds as the maximum time for holding information, as you actively work with the information set before you. A growing list of items and items presented quickly will diminish the primacy effect. Slowly presented items are a booster for the primacy effect. What you are currently conscious of is contained in the short-term memory and will be transitioned to long-term memory depending on how your brain judges its need for being used in the future. Your brain remembers your coworkers’ name maybe because of the intrinsic need to avoid the embarrassment of continually forgetting his/her name. [9]

Sounds (acoustic encoding) and images (visual encoding) are less memorable than words programmed based on their meaning (semantic encoding). [2] This might explain why important things that are expressed with caterwauling and violent gesticulations, and/or any other forms of aggression are often forgotten. Your sweetheart is trying to distance himself from the cringeworthy feeling that is evoked with remembering what you said and how you acted. A gentle, affable tone would do better to produce the strong memory you wish to implant in him.

And if you would let me digress a bit, perhaps the Bible gave us some early insights on the matter:

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” ~ Proverbs 15:1

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18

“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” ~ Proverbs 15:18

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” ~ Proverbs 29:11

Perhaps we can say that what you remember is based on how you remember it and how it made you feel. Your fives senses act as the conduit through which your sensory memory fleetingly keeps enormous amounts of data. To repeat what you already know, memory works in three stages and sensory memory is stage #1. Passing from the sensory stage (stage 1) to the next processing level is determined by how you tend to that information. Incoming sensations need some time for being distributed throughout yourself, so you can view the external world as a seamless stream instead of fragmented pieces. [8]

And your relationship can feel like a seamless stream as well when mercy and empathetic understanding are employed amid the struggles of life.



[2] Stephen L. Franzoi, Psychology: A Discovery Experience, pg. 376, Chp. 13.1, The Nature of Memory








How Does Language Affect Your View of the World?

What is the relationship between language and thought?

Something that is quite vital to this topic is the linguistic relativity hypothesis. It originated with Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1940), which was quite long ago, so I had to question its relevance in today’s scientific world. Do experts and specialists even agree with it, still? Let’s examine what he proposed:

1) Language and its formations dictate thoughts and their formations. 2) If a specific experience cannot be articulated or represented by a word or phrase in your language it is therefore unthinkable for you. 3) Cultures that linguistically differ are disinclined to share the same worldviews. 4) Lastly, this hypothesis, also known as linguistic determinism, states that language and its formations limit and mold how we categorize, cognize, and remember things. [1] Furthermore, this premise makes me think that language limits and molds my experience of the external world. And others have made the same interpretation.

1950s researchers wondered if the quantity of colors in a language would affect people’s episodic memory of those colors. Then, Eleanor Rosch in the 1970s studied the Dani people of Papua, New Guinea—who only use two words (bright and dark) for discriminating colors—and compared them to English-speaking folks (who use multiple terms for discriminating colors). Rosch found no perceptual differences among the two groups, despite their language differences. In fact, Dani speakers and English speakers were equally able to recognize the minute variances among the colors. Specific terms that were unmatched with specific experiences did not inhibit the participants’ thoughts and understandings about those experiences. Shocking! Right? Maybe not. [4]

Berlin and Kay’s 1969 research discovered a spectrum of two to eleven basic color terms existing cross-culturally. Thinking back on how Whorf was accused of being arbitrary, this study was used to say that the language-color relationship has a predictable grading scale, thereby buttressing the opinion that there is one kind of external reality and/or that human language does not interpose between the language-user and external reality as much as we want to suspect. [4]

It was in 1979 when Lucy and Schweder’s work was said to have found a methodological flaw in Rosch’s work and that her chips conditioned the study participants to cater to a bias for a priori colors. Rosch’s results were un-replicated by Lucy and Schweder. It was concluded that “language appears to be a probable vehicle for human color memory, and the views developed by Whorf are not jeopardized by the findings of any color research to date.” [4]

In 1984, Kay and Kempton would conduct experiments establishing further corroboration. They provided chips with three different green-blue hues to one group of English speakers, who lexically discriminate between green and blue, and chips to one group of Tarahumara speakers, who have just one term for the two colors. Their English-speaking participants and Tarahumara-speaking participants performed with a 50% discrepancy. [4]

It seems over-simplistic to assert that science has either unequivocally proven or disproven the premise that language structures determine thought structures and thereby one’s experience of the world. The idea that linguistic determinism has been disgraced among important, influential professionals appears to be only an allegation. However, a radical, rigid form of linguistic determinism has been at least rejected. People have said that we are not certain about what Whorf believed in exactly and that he never directly scrutinized the effects of language on thought. That may be irrelevant as the aforementioned experiments suggest that thought and language employ mutual influence. [2]

It is quite outlandish that anyone would try to deny that language and thought have connection, of course. Consider that individualist languages make people more aware of their personal needs and desires whereas collectivist languages make people more aware of social obligations. Anyone who is bilingual or multilingual can report that their language of choice influences how they think about themselves and others. [1] I think we can say that cultures differ in their worldviews because of language incongruities, and what I instantiated helps to show that. But apparently the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has been misused to exaggerate those incongruities to the extent of overly inspiring the public with the possibility that people such as the Herero of Southwest Africa can’t distinguish between the color of a leaf and the color of the daytime sky merely because they speak the same word for green and blue. Eskimos’ panoply of words for snow, a panoply much larger than yours and mine, does not equip them with a mental apparatus to perceive snow better than you and I. The language of the Hopi people that is not laden with past tense words similar to the English language does not make them less aware of time than English-speakers. [3]

But perhaps language offers implications about the nature and features of whatever we are talking about. Language always offers clues into what a speaker is saying, albeit those clues are not at the forefront of the speaker’s awareness. For instance, language is inextricably bound up with attention to gender. The English-speaking world uses pronouns that specify gender, though masculine pronouns and nouns have been traditionally used in reference to all people irrespective of gender (e.g. mankind, man-made, freshman), and we can see this regarding the gendered pronouns referencing people’s activities and occupations. When talking about a salesman, you are cued with specific expectations of his clothing, stature, physique, physiognomy, hair style, vocal timbre etc. when you go looking for him. The same cannot be said if he is referred to as a salesclerk. In that case, you don’t know what to expect.

Gender-neutral language has been recommended by the American Psychological Association to mitigate gender-biased thinking. And that is not surprising considering all our raucous donnybrooks about how people are rated, judged, and promoted based on their genitalia in the workplace. [1]

More on this topic will be addressed in later posts. Stay tuned.

[1] Psychology: A Discovery Experience, Stephen L. Franzoi, Chapter 14.1, pg. 410, copyright 2015.