Sigmund Freud

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Freud and his followers assumed they could derive general principles of personality by studying patients in therapy, that childhood traumas inevitably have lifelong emotional consequences, and that memories are reliable guides to the past. Explain what is wrong with these assumptions.

Each of these assumptions generalizes on the basis of inadequate data, and thus they are all errors in use of induction.

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The attempt to generalize about the nature of personality by studying patients in therapy ignores the question of what makes an adequate sample. Freud's patients were upper and upper middle class Europeans. They were far from a universal sample of the world's population but instead represent a very narrow subset of humanity making it difficult to gauge whether their characteristics were true of people in general or merely represent an expression of a particular culture at a particular time and place. As well a the general demographic issue, there is also the problem that those people who choose to subject themselves to therapy do so for specific reasons and may for those reasons differ from the population as a whole.

Trusting memories is also problematic as objective studies increasingly cast doubt on the accuracy of memories. Many memories are affected by forms of contamination, where people think they remember from direct observation details they actually heard from other people's accounts. For example, a child might claim to remember information she actually encountered in a story told by a parent or relative. People can also take their general beliefs and use them as a basis on which to imagine they remember certain details.

One important study has shown that people who choose to undergo psychotherapy may be prone to false memories. The problem of false memories of childhood trauma which did not actually happen makes theories rooting emotional disturbances in childhood trauma problematic.

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