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Freudian Slip

Abstract: Freudian slips are mistakes in speech, which reveal hidden or subconscious thoughts and feelings.

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Freudian Slip

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Written by: Jacob Palme, professor, Stockholm University
First version: 21 Aug 2008.
Latest revision: 24 Jun 2009.

What is meant by a "Freudian Slip"?


According to the theory of Sigmund Freud, people have many subconscious wishes, feelings and desires, which they have suppressed so that they are not consciously aware of them or are not willing to think of them at the present time. However, people sometimes make mistakes, called "Freudian slips" which reveal their subconscious thoughts. In a wider sense, "Freudian slip" is used to refer to any mistake in speech which reveals feelings or thoughts a person does not want to reveal.

Example 1: A man calls his wife by the name of his mistress.

Example 2: A student and his photography teacher had a mutual crush on each other. His teacher made an embarrassing slip by asking him to step in to the "bed" with her, when she was in fact asking him to step into the hall.

Example 3: A person calls his wife "mom" because he subconsciously thinks of her like his mom.

Example 4: A person expecting a dinner guest with a large nose reminds himself to avoid making any reference to noses at dinner. Then dinner comes and he says "Pass the nose" instead of "Pass the salt".

People on average make such slips about two to three times a week, according to one investigation by Dr.James Reason at the university of Manchester in England.

Male volunteers found to be high in guilt about sex were likely to make a sex-related slip when the experimenter was an attractive woman. Instead of giving the response "lice- legs" for instance, they said "nice- legs".

Warning: All slips are not Freudian, and to interpret all slips as Freudian is not recommended.

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