Letters From the December 19-26, 2016, Issue
Return of the Repressed
I would like to raise the subject of the incalculable damage done to children and women by many of Sigmund Freud’s pronouncements. None of this damage, apparently, was addressed in Élisabeth Roudinesco’s panegyric, In His Time and Ours, nor did Samuel Moyn mention it in his review [“A Whole Climate,” Nov. 21].
The wrongheaded declaration that children who reported being sexually molested and abused by adults were all just expressing wish-fulfillment fantasies has by now been roundly refuted by fact—never more so than in recent years. And describing a woman’s inability to reach orgasm as frigidity born of hysteria reveals Freud’s misogyny.
Though he was undoubtedly a pioneer in many ways, Freud’s own apparent fear and misinterpretation of female sexuality tarnishes his legacy, as does his denial about the sexual abuse of children. We should be thankful that his ideas have fallen out of favor.
Samuel Moyn laments that Freudian psychoanalysis has diminished in popularity among academic social scientists. As a result, he argues, “Rational humanity finds itself once again enthroned…as if the world did not undermine that optimism at every turn.” I am an academic psychologist at the University of Texas, Arlington, who does research on human decision-making, and can attest that rationality is not enthroned among my colleagues or in my own work.
The view of humans as rational political and economic actors dominated the field of decision-making studies from the early to mid-20th century. But starting in the 1970s, the work of Daniel Kahneman (a Nobel laureate in economics) and Amos Tversky (a cognitive psychologist) refuted that notion. Kahneman and Tversky discovered that typical human preferences and numerical judgments deviated from logical consistency in systematic and repeatable ways. Other psychologists discovered that some of these illogical actions could be related to emotions. Neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio mapped out brain pathways for emotional influences on decisions and, using studies of patients with brain damage, showed that decisions without an emotional component were ineffective, being either overly impulsive or overly deliberate. Emotions, and other nonrational influences like the framing of choices and time pressure, are now mainstream subjects at academic decision-making conferences.