Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
The concept of projection goes back to Sigmund Freud, who introduced this term to describe certain psychopathological processes. It was described as a defense that permits one to be “unaware of undesirable aspects of one’s personality by attributing aggressive and/or sexual feelings to others or to the outside world.” In that way, one can avoid being aware of those feelings in oneself. Projection is usually described as a defense mechanism whose purpose is to avoid feeling guilty or neurotically anxious. Freud’s theory suggested that it was easier to tolerate punishment from the outside than to accept impulses inconsistent with one’s self-concept and moral principles. Thus, it is simpler to accuse someone else of hating oneself than it is to admit hating the other person. Defense mechanisms are unconscious processes; one is not likely to admit consciously that one hates someone if one is neurotically anxious. In its extreme forms, Freud noted, distortion of reality can be of such major proportions that perception of the judgment of others takes the form of paranoia.
Freud later extended the use of the term “projection” to include times when there is no conflict. He believed that as one goes through life, memories of past events influence the way one sees the present. Early life experiences shape the future so that, for example, the kind of experiences one had with a brother when growing up influences how one sees...
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Projective Hypothesis and Techniques (Psychology and Mental Health)
The projective hypothesis on which projective tests are based states that when one is confronted by an ambiguous stimulus, responses will reflect personal needs, wishes, and overall attitudes toward the outside world. This assumes that all of one’s behavior, even the least significant aspects, is an expression of personality. As Anneliese Korner asserted, individuals who are presented with ambiguous material give responses that they cannot or will not give otherwise. The person who responds to projective techniques does not know what the presenter expects. The resistance to disclosing personal material (including wishes, fears, and aspirations) is diminished. In addition, Korner suggested that what is disclosed in response to projective techniques is not a chance event but is determined by previous life experiences.
Among the most widely known tests that use projective techniques are the Rorschach inkblot test and Henry A. Murray’s Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). The Rorschach technique consists of ten standard inkblots to which a participant is asked to respond by telling the examiner what the blots look like. The TAT consists of twenty pictures designed to elicit stories that can give important clues to a person’s life and personality. The set is sufficiently clear to permit one to tell stories without great difficulty, yet the pictures are ambiguous (unstructured) enough so that individuals...
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Projection Tests and Interpretations (Psychology and Mental Health)
John Exner raised the issue as to whether all responses to a projective technique such as the Rorschach test are necessarily aspects of projection. Is it true, he asked, that more ambiguous stimulus material produces more projection than does less ambiguous material? A simple example may be helpful. An individual might be shown a glass container with sand flowing from one portion of the glass to the other and asked to give this object a name. Most people will call it an egg timer. If, however, a thirty-five-year-old individual embellishes the description of the egg timer by stating that it represents the sands of time and is an indication that life is drawing to a close, that kind of response, in an individual of good health at that age, would seem to be an example of projection. Clearly, however, based on one response, it would be premature to build firm conclusions about this individual’s attitudes toward life and death. Similarly, on the Rorschach test, one response descriptive of aggression may not be particularly diagnostic, but there is evidence that those who give higher frequencies of aggression responses show more aggressive verbal and nonverbal behaviors than those who do not.
Exner, in reporting on other studies, points out that Rorschach interpretations can also be useful with children. He noted that children change over time in their responses to the inkblots and that younger children...
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Application to Personality Traits (Psychology and Mental Health)
Freud also applied the concept of projection to everyday personality traits such as jealousy. He differentiated between normal jealousy, projected jealousy, and delusional jealousy. From a psychoanalytic view, he had little to say about normal jealousy; however, projected jealousy, he stated, came from two sources, either from actual unfaithfulness or from impulses toward unfaithfulness that have been pushed into one’s unconscious. He speculated that married individuals are frequently tempted to be unfaithful. In view of that temptation, it is likely that one’s conscience can be soothed by attributing unfaithfulness to one’s partner. Jealousy arising from such a projection can be so strong as to take on the quality of a delusion. Many people are aware of individuals who incorrectly suspect their committed partner to be unfaithful. Freud would argue that these inaccurate expectations are unconscious fantasies of one’s own infidelities and can be so analyzed in psychoanalytic therapy.
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Evolution of Research (Psychology and Mental Health)
The term “projection” was introduced by Freud in 1894. Initially Freud viewed it as a defensive process, but by 1913 the concept was broadened to refer to a process that may occur even if there is no conflict. Exner believed that Freud’s description of projection is most applicable in the context of projective tests. Exner also suggested that Freud’s concept of projection fits in well with Murray’s discussion of the TAT. Murray’s broadened explanation of projection included the idea that the ambiguity of responding to a social situation (the test materials) provides clues to that individual’s personality makeup and its expression through responses to projective methods. Projective method refers to any task that provides an open-ended response that may reveal aspects of one’s personality; tasks or tests commonly include standard stimuli that are ambiguous in nature. Lawrence Frank further emphasized the connection between projective tests and the unique expression of an individual’s personality by stating the projective hypothesis.
Applied psychology has been heavily involved with the study of intelligence and the development of tests to evaluate achievement, memory, motor skills, and other cognitive aspects of human functioning. The study of personality was more heavily focused on individual traits, such as extroversion versus introversion. Emphasis on test construction focused on group norms, and...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Aiken, Lewis R. Assessment of Adult Personality. New York: Springer, 1997. This textbook is designed to introduce the reader to concepts, methods, and instruments important in personality assessment. It provides a straightforward discussion of psychodynamic theory in the context of projective testing and provides constructive criticisms.
Breakwell, Glynis, Sean Martin Hammond, Chris Fife-Schaw, and Jonathan A. Smith, eds. Research Methods in Psychology. 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2006. With a focus on research methodology, this textbook discusses how to formulate questions and analyze responses. Several case studies are helpful to students.
Cronbach, Lee J. Essentials of Psychological Testing. 5th ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. The measurement of personality traits by projective tests is discussed in chapter 16. Discussion questions are included to assist the reader to understand why projective measures encourage both positive and negative evaluations. This chapter can be understood by high school and college students.
Gacono, Carl B., and Barton Evans. The Handbook of Forensic Rorschach Assessment. New York: Routledge, 2008. This resource describes how the Rorschach test may be used in forensic settings, especially those involving battered women and immigrants.
Leiter, E. “The Role of Projective Testing.” In Clinical and Experimental...
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Projection (World of Earth Science)
Because the earth is a sphere, all flat maps of its surface contain inherent distortions. Map projections represent a curved land surface in two dimensions while minimizing these unavoidable errors of shape, distance, azimuth, scale and area. Most projections accurately portray one type of geographical information at the expense of another type, and cartographers choose a projection based on a map's intended use. A conformal projection, for example, shows relatively undistorted shapes, but inaccurate areas, while an equal-area projection makes the opposite choice. The Mercator projection is accurate at the equator but becomes progressively more distorted toward the poles, while polar stereographic maps preserve high-latitude coordinates at the expense of equatorial regions. The Mercator map of the world is responsible for the mistaken impression that Greenland covers almost as large an area as Africa.
The method of projecting a sphere onto a two-dimensional surface defines three classes of map projections: cylindrical, conic, and azimuthal. The alignment of the projection cylinder, cone, or plane relative to the globe further divides these classes into subtypes. Cylindrical equal-area, Mercator, Miller cylindrical, oblique Mercator, and transverse Mercator are all cylindrical map projections. Mercator maps have straight, evenly spaced lines of latitude and longitude that intersect at right angles, and are undistorted in scale at the equator, or at two lines of latitude equidistant to the equator. Mercator maps are useful for marine navigation because straight lines drawn on the map are true headings. Transverse Mercator maps are created by projecting the global sphere onto a cylinder tangent to a line of longitude, or meridian. The British National Grid System (BNG), used by the British Ordnance Survey, and the Universal Tranverse Mercator projection (UTM) are widelyused transverse Mercator mapping techniques.
Conic and azimuthal projections are less common than cylindrical projections. In a number of specific cases, however, projection of the globe onto a cone or a plane presents the most suitable map scheme. Albers equal area, equidistant conic, Lambert conformal equal area, and polyconic are all conic projections used in maps of North America. Most United States Geographical Survey (USGS) topographic quadrangles use a polyconic projection. Azimuthal projections are variously used for aeronautical navigation (azimuthal equidistant), maps of the ocean basins (Lambert azimuthal equal area), maps of the hemispheres (orthographic), and polar navigation (stereographic).
Projection (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
In a general sense, the term projection refers to the displacement of something from one space to another, or from one part of a single space to another (the Latin word projectio translates as "throw forward"). More specifically, this term denotes an operation that consists of transporting a form, or certain elements of that form, onto a receptive support that may be real (as is the case with cinematographic projection) or imaginary (as is the case in projective geometryor example, the projection of a cube onto a plane, which presupposes laws of transformation). Thus, the concept always involves a distinction between two spaceshe space of origin and the space of destinationhat are complementarily defined by this very operation.
This basic definition is found in the psychoanalytic notion of projection, whose specifics raise difficult problems with regard to the two spaces thus distinguished, their distinction, and their complementarity. The spaces in question are known, following Sigmund Freud, as the space of mental reality and the space of the reality of the outside world, that is, internal and external reality.
From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, projection is an intrapsychic process that creates or shapes a perception (or a collection of perceptions) with reference to an object in the outside world, which, although the subject believes he or she is perceiving it "objectively," is actually being perceived according to the subject's own characteristics; the most interesting case is when this object is a real person (sometimes called an external object). Passing through all possible intermediary cases, this ranges from cases where the perception is entirely invented, in the absence of any concomitant sensory reference (as in hallucinations, but also nighttime dreams), to cases involving the subject's "coloration" of an otherwise objective perception (for example, an unknown person's attitude is perceived as being vaguely hostile by one person, while another perceives it as being fairly friendly).
Freud did not write any text specifically on this notion, although it seems he wrote such a draft in 1915, in the framework of his metapsychological writings of this period. In fact, the idea of projection was already well established in his work. It appeared, still in a very simple form, as early as "On the Grounds for Detaching a Particular Syndrome from Neurasthenia under the Description 'Anxiety Neurosis"' (1895b ): In anxiety neurosis, the psyche, to protect itself from excessive excitation, "behaves as though it were projecting that excitation outwards" (p. 112). What is described is thus a cathartic evacuation of a an overflow of excitation. But it is in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess dated January 24, 1895 (Manuscript H) that the first version of what Freud would subsequently develop under the term projection is found. No longer is it merely this evacuation that is involved, but also the transposition outward toward an exterior support, of representations and affects that are linked to it. Freud defined this process as being characteristic of the paranoid subject: "[T]he purpose of paranoia is thus to fend off an idea that is incompatible with the ego, by projecting its substance onto the external world" (p. 209).
Freud returned several times to the problems raised by the notion of projection, in particular in his "Further Remarks on the Neuro-Psychoses of Defence" (1896b) and, later, in "Totem and Taboo" (1912-1913a). Above all, this notion took on a very special importance in his discussion of his case of Judge Daniel Schreber in "Psycho-Analytical notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)" (1911c ).
From the outset, Freud distinguished two clearly distinct mechanisms in this regard. One corresponds to "normal" projection, defined by the following passage from "Totem and Taboo": "Under conditions whose nature has not yet been sufficiently established, internal perceptions of emotional and thought processes can be projected outwards in the same way as sense perceptions; they are thus employed for building up the external world, although they should by rights remain part of the internal world" (p. 64). Thus, this "normal" projection is a component of perception itself and of construction of the real.
The other mechanism involves a "pathological" projection in which the process gets carried away, so to speak, and results in a construction of the real that is so distorted that mental functioning can indeed be considered pathological. This is seen in the phobias, as Freud noted on several occasions, notably in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" (1915c). But it is above all the workings of projection in the paranoiac, analyzed in connection with the Schreber case, that best illustrate this mechanism. Schreber's initial, homosexual position, as constructed by Freud, is essentially: "I (a man) love him (a man)" (1911c, p. 63); but this basic proposition, actively combated, undergoes a double transformation that is in fact a double reversal. The inversion of subject/object and active/passive (it is not I who love him; it is he who loves me) and inversion of love/hate (I do not love him; I hate him) culminate in a justification: "I hate him because HE PERSECUTES ME" (p. 63). For Freud, Schreber's entire delusion was constructed on the basis of this mechanism, which could be seen to involve denial, and, more generally, the figures of the negative, the workings of which have been thoroughly analyzed by André Green.
Several major problems arise at this point. The notion necessarily presupposes a distinction between "inside" (the intrapsychic) and "outside" (the outside world). Freud pointed out in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" that this distinction is fundamental and necessary from the very beginnings of biological life: The single-celled organism, for example the paramecium, constitutes a functional unit separated from its environment by a membrane; it must import from the environment the nutrients it needs and export the toxic metabolic by-products it produces. This dual, import/export movement, which, in biological terms, involves incorporation/excorporation, is extended and transposed to the level of mental functioning in the form of introjection/projection. Freud in effect deemed it necessary to define introjection notion he borrowed from Sándor Ferenczis the necessary complement of projection. Thus, he wrote in this essay: "In so far as the objects which are presented to [the ego] are sources of pleasure, it takes them into itself, 'introjects' them . . . and, on the other hand, it expels whatever within itself becomes a cause of unpleasure" (p. 136).
From that point, we are led to consider the processes of identification, which have been defined, precisely, in terms of the pair introjection/projection. But if one goes back to the biological model, one observes that the paramecium, taking from its environment the substances it needs, runs the risk of reimporting the harmful metabolites that it itself has rejected. Similarly, the mind runs the risk of reincorporating from the outside the "bad" elements with which it has, in a sense, polluted it. The fantasmatic aspects of this dialectic between good and bad, in this continual coming-and-going between inside and outside, were in particular developed by Melanie Klein and her followers, based on this fundamental biological schema and within the perspective of Freud's second theory of the instincts; the notion of projective identification developed by these authors becomes easier to understand in light of these considerations.
To what extent does this dual, inside/outside movement blur or, on the contrary, confirm, the boundaries between psychic reality perceived as such by the subject himself, and the surrounding world, conceived of as existing as a function of its own existence, beyond any omnipotence of thought? The question is clearly raised in the case of dreams, and more generally, that of the hallucinatory satisfaction of desire of which nighttime dreams are a particular case. Generally, daydreams or reveries maintain a clear distinction between the two, and this is the source of the richness of the imaginary developments in the "transitional space" whose importance was so clearly shown by Donald Winnicott: Here the world is transformed, even created, by psychic reality, but by a psychic reality that is aware of this creative free play. Nighttime dreams thus involve a hallucination through which psychic reality creates illusory perceptions out of whole cloth, in the sense that they do not correspond to any "objective" sensory data. Is it possible, then, following the distinction that Freud consistently sought to maintain, to speak of "pathological" projection? The question arises even more crucially in the case of the hallucinatory satisfaction of desire in the infant, whose disappointment, according to Freud, presides over the birth of the earliest representations, defined, precisely, by the feeling, "This is inside Me, and not currently and really outside of Me." Clearly, in no case can such a foundational process of psychic life itself be considered "pathological."
We are thus led to distinguish two different functions for projection, which, moreover, exist in tight complementarity. On the one hand, a defensive function that involves expelling from the intrapsychic space that which is unpleasurable, threatening, and so forth. On the other hand, an elaborative function in which this expulsion establishes and consolidates the indispensable inside/outside differentiation. From there, many different balances between the two modes of functioning can be established. If the defensive function predominates, projection occurs in the service of misapprehension, and the world thus constructed is inhabited by hostile figures: This is what Freud termed "pathological" projection, from its relatively minor operations in neurotics to the delusional constructions of psychosis. If the elaborative function predominates, this involves, through the extension of the earliest processes of individuation, maintaining and affirming a complementarity between the ego and what is given to it to know.
The notion of projection is among those, which, after Freud, underwent interesting further elaboration, in particular in the British School, in the work of Klein and her successors, with the related notion of projective identification. Wilfred Bion, in particular, distinguished between an excessive form of projective identification that serves the pleasure principle, and which essentially corresponds to what Klein was describing, and a "realistic" projective identification, a primitive mode of communication that serves the reality principle. The latter no longer involves fleeing reality but rather modifying it in order to be able to reintegrate bad projection without being harmed and to better accommodate introjection of good objects.
See also: Externalization-internalization; Introjection.
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. (1896). Further remarks on the neuro-psychoses of defence. SE, 3: 157-185.
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. (1912-1913a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.
. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.
. (1950a [1887-1902]). Extracts from the Fliess papers. SE, 1: 173-280.
Green, André. (1987). On private madness. Guilford, CT: International Universities Press.
Sami, Ali M. (1970). De la projection. Une étude psychanalytique. Paris: Payot.
Feldman, Michael. (1994). Projective identification in fantasy and enactment. Psychoanalytical Inquiry, 14, 423-440.
Loewald, Hans W. (1988). In search of nature: Metapsychology, metaphysics, projection. Annual of Psychoanalysis. 16, 49-54.
Sandler, Joseph (Ed.). (1986). Projection, identification, projective identification. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.
Scharff, Jill S. (1992). Projective and introjective identification and the use of the therapist's self. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.