Repression Inhibition and Defense Mechanisms

Another core component of Freud's theory involved the defense mechanisms, especially repression. The unconscious actively (dynamically) keeps ideas, feelings, and unpleasant or threatening impulses out of consciousness. Sohns (2004) reports cases from the neuropsychological literature demonstrating repression of unpalatable information when damage occurs to the right hemisphere and if this damaged region becomes artificially sthnulated the repression goes away, that is, awareness returns. Additionally, these patients frequently rationalize away unwelcome facts by fabricating stories. In other words, they employ Freudian wish-fulfilling defense mechanisms. For instance, one patient, when asked about the scar on his head, confabulated a story about its being a result of dental surgery or a coronary bypass, both of which he had had years before. Furthermore, when the doctor asked this patient who he was, the patient would variously respond that he (the doctor) was either a colleague, a drinking partner, or a teammate from college. All of these interpretations were more wish than reality.

One study by Howard Shevrin and colleagues has recently examined the neu-rophysiological underpinnings of repression (Shevrin, Ghannam, & Libet, 2002). More specifically, they addressed the question of whether people with repressive personality styles actually require longer periods of stimulation for a brief stimulus to be consciously perceived. Prior research had established that people hi general vary from 200 ms to 800 ms in how long a stimulus needs to be present before being consciously perceived. The study by Shevrin et al. included six clinical participants between the ages of 51 and 70, all of whom years prior had undergone surgical treatment for motoric problems (mainly parkinsonism). During these surgeries, a procedure had been performed hi which electrodes stimulated parts of the motor cortex, and the length of time it took for the stimulus to be consciously perceived was recorded. The results of this procedure showed that these six participants also ranged from 200 ms to 800 ms hi how long they took to consciously perceive the stimulus.

56 Part II Psychodynamic Theories

For this, four psychological tests were administered at the patients' homes and then scored on then degree of repressive tendencies. These tests were the Rorschach Inkblot Test, the Early Memories Test, the Vocabulary Test of the WAIS (an IQ test), and the Hysteroid-Obsessoid Questionnaire. The first three tests were rated by three "blind" clinical judges on then degree of repression, and the fourth test was scored objectively for its degree of repression.

The results showed that the combined ratmgs from the three judges were significantly and positively associated with the time it took for a stimulus to be consciously perceived. Moreover, the objectively-scored Hysteroid-Obsessoid Questionnaire confirmed the result. In other words, the more repressive style people have, the longer it takes them to consciously perceive a stimulus. Neither age nor IQ was related to the length of time it takes for the stimulus to be perceived. As the authors acknowledge, this finding is but a first step in demonstrating how repression might operate to keep tilings out of conscious awareness, but it is the first study to report the neurophysiological underpinnings of repression.

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