Do we agree today with the psychoanalyst’s ideas?by Peter Kellner / December 14, 2011 / Leave a comment
We know who he was, but we don’t believe what he said. For this month’s Prospect poll, YouGov deserted the familiar terrain of politics, economics and Europe, and explored public attitudes to Sigmund Freud. We measured his recognition factor and tested five of his propositions about what makes humans tick.
First, more than three quarters of our sample correctly identified him as a psychoanalyst. We supplied respondents with ten possible occupations: 84 per cent picked one of these, while 16 per cent said either that they had heard of him but weren’t sure who he was (9 per cent) or had no idea (7 per cent). Of the 84 per cent who did plump for one of the ten options, 77 per cent got him right. Most of the other 7 per cent thought he was an economist.
Nobody thought he is or was a barrister or hedge fund manager, or confused him with his great-grandson, Matthew Freud, by ticking the box marked “public relations executive.” This suggests that few respondents used random guesswork; had they done so, some would have picked these false options. So Freud joins a tiny group of continental thinkers, other than popes and tyrants, whom Britons can readily identify.
However, that doesn’t mean we agree with his ideas. We tested five. In each case we offered a “Freudian” statement and an “anti-Freudian” statement and—without mentioning him—asked respondents which came closer to their views. Not one “Freudian” statement attracts majority agreement, and only one came close: 45 per cent think that “much human behaviour is influenced by thoughts and motives of which people are not consciously aware.”
Around one in three agree with Freud’s views that dreams reveal our secret and suppressed desires, and that childhood experiences lie at the root of most adult psychological problems, though in both cases more disagree.
Freud’s ideas about sex receive the biggest thumbs down. Just 18 per cent believe that “early sexual experiences are crucial factors in the formation of the adult personality,” and a mere 6 per cent think that “most human actions are fundamentally motived by our sex drive.”
On the whole, men and women, rich and poor, northerners and southerners think alike. There are, however, two groups that are more Freudian than the average: younger adults and Liberal Democrats—and it’s not just about sex.
I hesitate to suggest that this finding offers any great clues to…