profile: Sigmund Freud - Old School, New School

30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011

profile: Sigmund Freud
Old School, New School

Anyone who says that sex didn’t exist before the 1960s clearly hasn’t read Sigmund Freud. Arguably the most influential psychologist that ever lived, Freud achieved global fame, if not notoriety, for his theories based on the idea that sex is the main driver of human behaviour. Not food. Not money. Not love. But primarily sex.

According to Freud, children go through three distinct phases of sexual development, defined by the body’s erogenous zones: oral, anal and genital. A child as young as three years old, he suggested, has sexual feelings towards the parent of the opposite sex, which translates into jealousy of the parent of the same sex, either as an Oedipus or Electra complex. This is repressed, in the case of boys, by a fear of castration, which leads to him identifying with the father. Any problems along this journey will lead to fixations that will affect the person into adult life. When Freud published his theories of sexuality in 1905, it caused a furore and led to predictable accusations of sexual obsession.

But Freud, of course, wrote about a great deal more than sex. Perhaps his greatest legacy to the field of psychology was his exploration of the unconscious. Although other philosophers and psychologists, including Freud’s mentors Josef Breuer and Jean-Martin Charcot, were investigating the unconscious through hypnosis, it was Freud’s development of his concept of psychoanalysis (the ’talking cure’) that really unlocked the secrets of the unconscious mind. And Freud’s use of dreams to explore these unconscious desires has given rise to a whole genre of dream interpretation. Yet the image of the ’dirty old man of psychology’ lingers on in the public imagination. It’s no coincidence that while Pavlov is remembered for his dogs and Milgram is remembered for his obedience experiments, the inventor of psychoanalysis is remembered for his ’Freudian slip’.


Born Sigismund Freud, Freiberg, Moravia


Family moves to Vienna


M.D. from University of Vienna


Marries Martha Bernays


Publishes The Interpretation of Dreams


Professor of Neuropathology at University of Vienna


Publishes Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality


International Psychoanalytic Association founded


Cancer diagnosed


Receives Goethe Prize


Books burned by the Nazis


Escapes to London


Dies of cancer, London