Freudian Perspectives On Personal Behavior Psychology Essay

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Behavior can be referred to as the actions or responses of an individual in response to outer or internal stimuli. Psychologists continue to develop conflicting approaches and contradicting theories for explaining behavior alteration. Consequently, some researchers and academicians have come up with different theoretical frameworks and for exploring the concept of personal behavior. One of the areas in psychology that have elicited controversy in psychological research pertains to the analysis of the behavior of smoking on a break from work. As consequence, some theorists have come up with contradicting perspectives on this particular personal behavior. This paper critically examines the behavior of a smoker on a break during work. In doing this, the paper keenly examines different approaches on personal theories propagated by Sigmund Freud and B. F. Skinner, a key behaviorist, on personal behavior. This includes examinations of Freudian psychodynamics and oral fixation approach as well as Freud's psychic structures of the id, the ego and the superego. Additionally, the paper critically analyses Skinner's operant conditioning theory and behavioral reinforcement approach. Moreover, the paper weighs the strengths and weaknesses of the two theories and examines the most adequate theory between the two in explaining the behavior of a smoker on a break during work.

Freud's Theory

One of the psychological researchers who have contributed immensely in the study of personality behavior is Sigmund Freud. He defined the drive theory using psychodynamics and oral fixation approaches. Freud's theory extensively and intensively explored the psychic structure; the id which refers to the instinct-based personality which seeks immediate pleasure. On the other hand, the ego connotes the perceptions of an individual about self which antagonizes the id in delaying gratification until appropriate time. The superego on the other hand, refers to individual conscience and the application of moral control (Ryckman, 2004). However, Freud also came up with another concept of personality behavior, the anxiety approach. Freud duly postulated that anxiety reduction techniques are basically defense mechanisms. In addition, Freud explored the concept of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind and by extension how they influence perceptions, feelings and thoughts among other things. Freudian principles of gratification are actually founded on the need to cater for individual needs and wishes. However, according to Freud, the conscious mind is by far the most significant in exploring human behavior. He does disclose that the unconscious mind influences individual motivation as well as instincts although we may not be aware of it. Further, Yeaton (2007) in his book, A Critique of the Effectiveness of Applied Behavior Analysis Research states that Freud did establish that all individuals act generally to enhance their personal survival and propagation of self. Although human beings do desire for some needs which in this case is referred to as wishes, it is remarkable to note that such wishes are translated in a primary process.

Application of Freud's theory in smoking

In explaining the behavior of smoking by a smoker during work breaks, Freud observed that there are real and powerful unconscious drives which induce individuals to seek this behavioral gratification. Upon this Freud used the concept of psychodynamics to suggest that stimulating memory may also motivate individuals. According to Freud, exciting memory has the capacity to initiate or trigger a behavior and by extension motivate it. These memories and the unconscious factors he says do offer the psychic energy which propels the desire for a smoker to consciously break from work for smoking. Although individuals may break from work and smoke consciously, Freud noted that such behavior could be provoked unconscious psychic energy hence making the individuals left feeling high that they are making rather conscious liberal choices.

In addition, Freud also analyzed childhood behavioral development in examining the behavior of smoking during work breaks. He did observe that babies are normally engaged in orally fixated behaviors of excessiveness such as eating, talking, smoking, putting things into the mouth, biting and chewing. Such behaviors are incessantly repeated even at adult life with quite peculiar similar psych and enthusiasm. More outstandingly, Freud established that the addiction observed in smokers is basically psychological process driven by unconscious fixation experiences during childhood development. However, there are big gaps in the oral fixation approach and its application in describing smoking behavior. A lot of questions go unanswered here. For instance, it has not been scientifically proven that oral fixation and smoking habits are associated with particular childhood developmental experiences. Not all adult smokers for example, once smoked when they were young. Yet proponents of the Freudian approach of oral fixation argue that this behavior is exhibited in either weight loss or gain in those individuals who quit smoking. And yet further, despite these explanations, it is still not clearly established that there are associations between these behaviors. It is important, however, to note that if not all then a majority of adult smokers are most likely to have been exposed to cigarette or smoking environment once when they were young.

It is imperative that Freud's concepts of the id, the ego and the superego get a noticeable role in analyzing personality behavior. Besides, it is also worth noting that the concepts of anxiety, displacement as well as suppression are equally relevant and useful in behaviorism (Michie & Abraham, 2004). Naturally, human beings do seek and welcome pleasure and avoid pain. As a result, smoking during breaks at work develops from the psychic structure, the id which principally forms the primitive part of the personality and behavior by extension. But since such individuals may fail to smoke at the work place they may not have immediate gratification. Instead they by be subjected to condemnation especially by their colleagues who do not smoke. The implication therein is that the smoker realizes via the conscious mind that such gratifications after all may not be granted immediately and worse still, there is a great possibility of receiving criticism.

Ideally, the satisfaction of taking a puff must be delayed until break time. This moves us to the Freud's psychic structure of the ego. With regard to Freud viewpoint, the ego drive is founded on the reality principle which holds that the desired gratification must be delayed till appropriate time. Fundamentally, the ego drive determines the appropriateness of actions and establishes how to satisfy such wishes. In our point case, a smoker will decide through the real power of the ego to wait until break time so as to be able to smoke in order to receive gratification, which Freud will associate not only to injecting nicotine into the blood system, but also social acceptability among other rewards since there is greater likelihood that they will converge as many smokers at the smoking point, when considered at a greater psychic structure. This could be gratifying enough.

However, it is also likely that such a delayed smoking is based on factors that make it inappropriate to smoke during work or in the office. This can be interpreted by use of the concept of superego which according to Freud refers to the individual interpretation of ethics, morals as well as values. Ideally, a smoker's choice of smoking time and how to do it for instance expelling smoke and making ashes is footed on an individual choice and conscience. The smoker is motivated to smoke during break time because at this time there are no inhibiting factors. Likewise, an individual may fail to smoke during working hours in the office because of these less prohibitions or merely that smoking in the office may cause a lot of discomfort to co-workers and thus attract unnecessary condemnation. Nevertheless, it also important to note that if several smokers work in the same office and break at the same time they may often tend to smoke together. This according to Freud is quite rewarding as they enjoy social acceptance.

Then there is the concept of de-individualization theory based on Freud's approaches. The smoker's individualism is substituted by social identity and the normal social approaches are replaced by crowd dynamics. Although the group might comprise of non- smokers, the point is that the smokers seem more at ease in line with Freud's principle of compliance, internalization and identification. Non-smokers on the other hand, will discriminate such behavior and scorn the smoker at the least.

Skinner's theory:

Fredrick Skinner is a behaviorist. He developed the operant conditioning theory in his theoretical framework for radical behaviorism. Operant conditioning describes stimulants and responses that are controlled by reinforcement conditions. Skinner described the associative learning reflecting a contingency of response and presentation of reinforcement (Neuringer, 2004). In this regard, it has been established that learning by conditioning can occur due to responses on some specific stimuli. This has bean described as modeling which is a personal behavioral examination tool. Although trial and error have been shown to induce learning even in animal subjects, it is evident that humans have the same kind of learning through trial and error method of learning.

According to Skinner, behaviorism is an effective tool in understanding the function of environmental factors and the impact of their consequences to an individual (Kirsch et al 2004). More prominently, Skinner established that environmental influence is determined to a greater extent by people's behavior. In this regard, Skinner's approach emphasizes on the observation of individual actions and potential consequences on a persons behavior.

Application of Skinner's theory

For the case of a worker who smokes during work break, it is possible to analyze this kind of behavior using the Skinners approach on personal behavior (Nicholas, 2001). This can be analyzed based on the principles of reacting or responding versus thinking. Skinner believes that a behavior is most likely to be repeated when rewarded and the same behavior when punished it is most likely to be suppressed. This concept explores in detail why individuals often make irrational actions like smoking and repeatedly do it even when they are conscious that it is detrimental to their health.

Based on Skinner's theory, it is possible for conscious and subconscious impulses to manifest concurrently. This means that a smoker may unconsciously or consciously choose to smoke and by extension select an appropriate time for smoking. However, the idea of sacrificing the future for the moment has been described by Skinner as based on instinctual selectivity. This includes an analysis of ignorance of functional awareness which conflict with biological self- interests (Cole, 2008). For instance, it is notable that the worker is aware that smoking is harmful to the body, yet he or she goes ahead to puff. In line with behavioral modification techniques, it is imperative that the Skinner's approach presents an analysis of smoking during work breaks. This is based primarily on the concept of behaviorism and reinforcement strategies. Smoking rewards the smoker by providing soothing and relaxing feelings. Additionally, smoking particularly in a company rewards the smoker by providing social acceptance. These are desired attributes by the smoker. It is due to this that Skinner discovered that punishment was not an effective way of making positive behavior change and reward is instead. As such it is important to take note that punishment is never an effective way of discouraging smoking or break from work to smoke behavior.

However, Skinner's viewpoint is applicable considering the time to break for smoking from work. Since smoking during work break gives pleasure and is a delayed gratification, then it is clear that this is a form of reinforcement as the smoker is not influenced by other events which may discourage him from smoking (Bandura, 2000). In this regard, it is important to note based on Skinner's approach on behavioral psychology; that the worker breaking to take a cigarette during a short interlude may also be conditioned by the break time (Nicholas, 2001). When the break arrives, an individual receives impulses that compel him or her to seek gratifications sometimes even immediately. On that note, it is clear that smoking during break is a behavior that is based on habits and not necessarily on rationale, decision or out choice (Kirsch et al, 2004). It is actually a type of conditioning response founded on Skinners approach of personal behavior. In addition, the pattern of the smoking habit with particular consideration to break time, which is limited only to this particular time during working hours and not in the office is also based on the concept of reinforcement which has been used in exploring the tendency for other recurrent behaviors (Nicholas, 2001). Ideally, smoking at this time gives pleasure and subsequently conditions the individual.

Based on the above discussions on smoking during work break, it is of the essence that although the two theories applied gives a clear theoretical framework for exploring smoking habits, Skinner's conditioning model and reinforcement approach provides a simple and straightforward technique. According to the behavior modification model, it is vital that the tendency to puff during work breaks is a conditioned response. In this regard, the Skinner's theoretical model is more adequate in explaining the behavior of smokers breaking for cigarettes during work break.


The Freudian perspectives on personal behavior have an application in exploring and analyzing the behavior of smoking during work. Based on the concepts of the id, the ego and the superego, it is notable that this habit is based on both conscious and unconscious decision making. However, the Skinners approach on conditioning of personal behavior gives a credible and adequate explanation of smoking at break from work. Most fundamentally, Skinners approach on the habit of breaking for a cigarette gives a comprehensive analysis of this personal behavior based on the concept of operant conditioning and reinforcement.


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