Even if you’re not a fancy psychiatrist, you’ve probably heard (at least in passing) references to what’s colloquially known as a “Freudian slip” — which is basically the pop-culture catchall for when a person says a potentially damning word or phrase in place of another, lending a more loaded meaning that ostensibly intended.
The Freudian slip was not so-called by Freud himself, but the famous shrink did make reference to the psychological quirk that bears his name in a book more than 100 years ago, saying that “the numerous little slips and mistakes which people make — symptomatic actions, as they are called… are not accidental, that they require more than physiological explanations, that they have a meaning and can be interpreted, and that one is justified in inferring from them the presence of restrained or repressed intentions and intentions.”
So essentially, those slapstick moments where you say “if you get a chance, I’d like to sleep with you” instead of “if you get a chance, I’d like to speak to you?” Yeah, about that.
New research concerning the unconscious machinations that lead to such embarrassing gaffes reveals that the simplified concept us laypeople recognize as a Freudian slip may actually essentially be as such. The research presented at the 101st Annual Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association (APSA) indicates that study of 11 patients with diagnosed anxiety disorders and measured brain activity when patients were confronted with conscious versus unconscious stimuli.
Shevrin Howard Shevrin, PhD, presented the research on Freudian slips, and explains:
“Only when the unconscious conflict words were presented unconsciously could the brain see them as connected,” Shevrin notes. “What the analysts put together from the interview session made sense to the brain only unconsciously.”
“These results create a compelling case that unconscious conflicts cause or contribute to the anxiety symptoms the patient is experiencing… These findings and the interdisciplinary methods used — which draw on psychoanalysis, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience — demonstrate that it is possible to develop an interdisciplinary science drawing upon psychoanalytic theory.”
No results were observed when non-triggering words replaced the conflict-linked words, suggesting a measure of repression was at play in prompting the symptoms.