Encyclopedia of Psychology An encyclopedia of psychology and mental health terms. 2016-06-14T19:46:58Z http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/feed/atom/ Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Reaction Formation]]> http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2008/reaction-formation/ 2016-06-14T19:46:58Z 2016-06-12T16:21:45Z Reaction formation is a type of defense mechanism in which a person acts in the exact opposite manner to his own disturbing or socially unacceptable thoughts or emotions. This behavior is often unconscious and appears exaggerated, perhaps in an effort to overcompensate for the embarrassment, guilt or repulsion the person feels regarding his private thoughts.

By using reaction formation, one’s self-identity remains “safe” as the ego is kept in ignorance of the person’s true motives. For example, a highly religious man with lustful urges toward women might react with exaggerated disgust upon seeing a woman in revealing clothes, or he may go into long lectures about modesty. Or a woman who harbors racist feelings may go out of her way to be overly kind to people of another race. Or a man who fears that he is falling in love with his new girlfriend begins to pick fights and lash out at her in anger.

Behavior due to reaction formation is often extremely exaggerated, compulsive and inflexible. These behaviors don’t vary due to changes in emotion as do natural behaviors. For example, a father who feels guilt at resenting his child may go above and beyond to express showy love to the child under all circumstances. These behaviors based on fake emotions are often easy to spot. Therapists often observe reaction formation in patients who claim to strongly believe in something and become vehemently angry at everyone who disagrees.

Although reaction formation was originally a theory of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, his daughter Anna elaborated on the term, along with many of his other defense mechanism theories. Later, American criminologist Albert K. Cohen further developed the term as he believed that reaction formation was a major factor in gang-related behavior and crime.

Example: A young man who fears he might be gay joins a conservative church and becomes very involved with anti-homosexuality activism.


Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Rationalization]]> http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2008/rationalization/ 2016-06-06T22:35:54Z 2016-06-05T16:12:31Z Rationalization is a defense mechanism that involves the justification of an unacceptable behavior, thought or feeling in a logical manner, avoiding the true reason for the action. This defensive maneuver is often called “making excuses.”

People who rationalize know on some level (conscious or unconscious) that they have done something unwise or ill-advised and therefore concoct a reason (or many reasons) for why they felt or behaved as they did. Quite often, rationalization is used to avoid feelings of anxiety, guilt or other negative emotions. It may also be used to protect one’s self-esteem or self-concept.

For example, a man who had cheated on his wife and doesn’t want to confess may say, “Telling her would hurt her even more” in order to make himself feel less guilty about the dishonesty (while the real reason is that he’s afraid she will leave him). Or a person who applies for a job but doesn’t get it may say, “I didn’t really want that job anyway,” in order to avoid feelings of disappointment and rejection.

People who rationalize their behavior may be conscious that their motivation is to  save themselves from pain or disgrace, or they may be unconscious, meaning that they truly believe or even talk themselves into what they are saying (usually to protect themselves from internal feelings of shame).

The term rationalization was introduced to the field of psychoanalysis by British neurologist and psychoanalyst Ernest Jones in 1908. The word was then adopted by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud to describe the various excuses used by his patients to explain their neuroses.

Example: A person purchases a luxury car and then justifies the purchase by telling people how old and unsafe their old vehicle was.


Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Pseudodementia]]> http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2008/pseudodementia/ 2016-06-02T11:55:14Z 2016-06-02T02:24:20Z Pseudodementia is a condition in which a person experiences temporary dementia-like symptoms due to severe depression. The cognitive disorder may also also appear in mania, schizophrenia, dissociative disorders or psychoactive drug use.

Unlike irreversible dementia which has a slow descent into cognitive impairment, pseudodementia comes on fairly quickly. The symptoms are reversible, however, and typically cease once the underlying disorder is treated.

Research has strongly confirmed that patients with depression often suffer with cognitive problems. Depressed people often report having poor concentration, confused thinking, poor memory and a hard time making decisions. Among older patients with depression, about half do poorly on tests of cognition.

In older patients, determining whether their symptoms are a sign of true dementia or pseudodementia is much more difficult, as what may look like dementia may actually be a side product of depression. However, to make things even more difficult, there is also a high prevalence of depression in patients with true dementia, particularly at the onset of the disease.

There are a few notable differences between the two conditions: First, pseudodementia patients often realize they are having trouble with their memory and become quite frustrated during tests of memory. On the other hand, many people with irreversible dementia do not recognize or acknowledge their memory problems even while struggling to give correct answers.

Also, people with pseudodementia tend to score relatively higher in levels of depression, while patients with dementia often show a wide range of emotions, sometimes responding to situations with an inappropriate emotion (such as laughing when others are grim).

A professional diagnosis should be made as soon as possible to distinguish between dementia and pseudodementia so appropriate treatment can begin.

Example: A college professor becomes unable to recall her daily routines. After treatment for depression, her memory recovers completely.


Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Repression]]> http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/?p=231 2016-05-30T16:48:57Z 2016-05-29T19:48:42Z Repression is a psychological defense mechanism that occurs when a person consistently pushes away a particularly painful or disturbing thought, memory or desire in an attempt to keep his or her mind in a more pleasurable, less anxious state. The phenomenon was first discovered and theorized by the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

The theory holds that although these painful thoughts are out of the conscious mind, they inevitably remain in the unconscious mind and often lead to psychological problems. In fact, Freud would later call his theory of repression the “cornerstone” on which the whole structure of psychoanalysis rests.

According to Freud, neurotic behavior can appear when repression develops under one’s superego (the part of the mind that acts as a self-critical conscience due to learned social standards) along with the accompanying internalized anxiety. This might lead to self-destructive or antisocial behaviors.

During therapy, a psychotherapist might try to curb these behaviors by bringing the patient’s repressed thoughts to the conscious mind, essentially lifting the repression. When people are unaware that they are hiding their memories in their subconscious, it is called suppression.

One particularly problematic issue for Freud regarding repression therapy is that he soon discovered that a majority of his patients’ “repressed memories” from childhood turned out to be completely untrue. In fact, more recently, American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, an expert on human memory, has shown that it is quite possible to implant false memories in people.

Today, most psychiatrists believe that true memory repression is actually quite rare. In fact, there is quite a bit of debate surrounding the possibility of the repression of psychological trauma. Although there is some evidence suggesting that adults who have suffered enormous trauma can experience psychic numbing in which they block out the memory of the event, other research suggests that trauma usually strengthens one’s memory surrounding the painful experience due to the intense emotions.

Example: A child who grew up in an abusive home situation doesn’t remember being beaten but has trouble trusting anyone.

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Confabulation]]> http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2008/confabulation/ 2016-05-30T14:52:47Z 2016-05-29T19:34:47Z Confabulation is a memory disturbance in which a person confuses imagined scenarios with actual memories with no intent to deceive. Most cases of confabulation are the result of dementia, brain damage, aneurism or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (thiamine deficiency due to alcoholism).

People who confabulate stories are often very confident in their memories even after being shown contradicting evidence. These stories can vary from slight truth alterations to completely unbelievable or bizarre tales. Even when the stories are completely false, the person appears coherent, consistent and relatively normal.

Confabulations are classified into one of two categories: provoked and spontaneous. A provoked confabulation is when a patient invents an untrue story in response to a question. These tend to be quite common among patients with amnesia or dementia. A spontaneous confabulation is a more rare occurrence and involves the telling of an untrue story with no apparent motivation.

Confabulations may also be classified as verbal or behavioral. Verbal confabulations are more common and involve only talking about false memories. Behavioral confabulations, on the other hand, occur when the patient acts on these faulty beliefs.

Confabulated memories almost always occur in one’s autobiographical memory — the memory system of an individual’s own life experiences which are brought to awareness in episodes or segments. While there are many hypotheses regarding the origins of confabulation, the most well-received theories point to neurological problems.

Studies have suggested that confabulation is specifically tied to a dysfunction in retrieval from long-term memory. For example, damage to the frontal lobe can cause these issues, making it hard to retrieve and evaluate memories. Ultimately, however, confabulations point to a very complicated memory process that can be thwarted at any point during the encoding, storage or recollection of a memory.

Example: You ask a demented patient if he remembers the last time he saw you, and he earnestly describes an imaginary prior meeting.


Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Regression]]> http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2008/regression/ 2016-05-30T21:04:55Z 2016-05-28T19:25:20Z Regression is a psychological defense mechanism in which a person abandons age-appropriate coping strategies in favor of earlier, more childlike patterns of behavior. This regression is a form of retreat, bringing back a time when the person feels safe and taken care of.

The following scenarios are examples of regressive behavior:

  • After the divorce of his parents, a 10-year-old begins wetting the bed.
  • A college student adjusting to her new stressful life in the dorm may begin sleeping with a childhood stuffed animal.
  • After her first romantic breakup, a teenager may begin sucking her thumb in order to soothe herself.
  • An adult suffering from a mental breakdown may begin to rock back and forth in the fetal position.

To a certain degree, some mild regressive behaviors are considered harmless and do not require therapy. However, people with complex or traumatic childhoods may not have matured properly through all the stages of growth and may continue to act out in destructive ways.

Austrian-British psychoanalyst Anna Freud, the sixth and youngest child of Sigmund Freud, was the first to propose that people tend to act out the stage in which their mind is stuck. A person could be stuck, or “fixated,” she believed, in one of three psychosexual stages: the oral fixation phase, the anal fixation phase and the phallic fixation phase. The phase in which a person is fixated has a great affect on behavior.

When stuck in the oral fixation phase, for example, a person under a lot of stress might begin chain smoking, overeating or become verbally abusive. If someone is stuck in the anal fixation phase, he may become exceptionally or even ruthlessly clean and orderly, or he could go in the opposite direction and become terribly sloppy and messy. A person with a phallic fixation can develop conversion hysteria (when physical symptoms appear from psychological conflict) and act out in sexual impulses.

Example: After a stressful day, a 10-year-old boy reverts to his childhood habit of thumb-sucking.



Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Perception]]> http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2008/perception/ 2016-05-31T00:05:54Z 2016-05-27T20:05:14Z Perception is the processing of information received from the senses. Your complex central nervous system works to identify, organize and interpret sensory information to make sense of the world around you. This will seem effortless, because for the most part, this processing happens outside of your conscious awareness. Since the perceptual process is so individualized, several people may encounter the same situation but will perceive it in a completely different way.

Our brain’s perceptual systems help us see the world as a stable place, even when the sensory information we are receiving is always changing or incomplete. In fact, human and animal brains are structured in such a way that different areas of the brain are simultaneously processing different types of sensory information. All of these different sections are interconnected and affect each another. For example, taste and smell are two senses that strongly influence one another.

Grouping things helps us understand and interpret our world. We perceive things by categorizing them in the following ways: similarity, proximity, continuity, and closure.

  • Similarity: grouping things together because they look like each other.
  • Proximity: grouping things according to how spatially close they are to one another.
  • Continuity: grouping things based on patterns.
  • Closure: Letting our minds fill in missing information such as the side of a circle, so that we can put them in the “circle” category.

American psychologist Jerome Bruner developed a model of perception. According to this model, people go through the following process to form opinions:

  • First, we encounter an unfamiliar target. We are open to different informational cues and want to learn more about the target.
  • Next, we try to collect more information about the target. Gradually, we come across some familiar cues which help us categorize the target.
  • Finally, we look for even more cues that confirm the categorization of the target. We also actively ignore and even distort cues that don’t line up with our initial perceptions. Our perception becomes more selective and we finally paint a consistent picture of the target.

Example: The complex perspectives in M.C. Escher’s artwork are meant to be visually confounding.


Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Depersonalization]]> http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2008/depersonalization/ 2016-05-15T01:59:49Z 2016-05-13T21:35:28Z Depersonalization is a harmless, but often very troubling, mental state characterized by a disruption in one’s self-perception and awareness. The sufferer’s thoughts, emotions and actions feel detached, unreal or foreign, as if they are not a part of oneself.

Depersonalization, as well as derealization (the feeling that the external world is unreal), is the most prominent symptom in dissociative disorders, such as dissociative identity disorder (previously known as multiple personality disorder). Depersonalization may also occur as a result of extreme anxiety, panic, sleep deprivation, other mental disorders and certain types of drug use or withdrawal. In some patients, for example, long-term use of benzodiazepines can induce chronic depersonalization and perceptual disturbances. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can result in the same.

People who are suffering from depersonalization feel separated from their own physicality, meaning that their own feelings, emotions, bodily sensations and movements feel detached from themselves. These symptoms are very disturbing and lead to even higher levels of anxiety, further exacerbating the feelings of detachment.

While anyone experiencing stress or severe insomnia can have short bouts of mild to moderate depersonalization, those who have undergone trauma or prolonged anxiety may begin having more severe, chronic depersonalization/derealization symptoms. When symptoms are long-term, it is known as depersonalization-derealization disorder.

Depersonalization is a fairly common mental state, coming in third only after anxiety and depression. In one study, researchers found that students who scored high on the depersonalization/derealization subscale of the Dissociative Experiences Scale had a more pronounced cortisol response.

When depersonalization sets in, it is often advisable to notice one’s physical surroundings and to purposefully remain in the present moment. For example, it is helpful to name the objects in one’s immediate surroundings — chair, table, phone, cat. Say aloud your name, the date, your address, etc. Stay grounded and present. Depersonalization can be scary, but it is not harmful.

Example: A woman awakens from a frightening dream and feels strangely unlike her usual self. When she gets up to wash her face, she gets the strange feeling that she is outside of her body, watching herself from the bathroom doorway.

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Derealization]]> http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/?p=976 2016-05-08T14:08:07Z 2016-05-08T14:08:07Z Derealization (DR) is a psychiatric condition in which a person’s perception of reality is altered in such a way that everything feels unfamiliar or unreal. DR is typically not a stand-alone disorder, but a side effect of severe anxiety, panic or certain types of drug use or withdrawal. It may also occur with some neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, head injury or migraine.

DR is a dissociative symptom, meaning that it produces feelings of detachment from the self or the environment. The feelings of detachment that come with derealization are said to be like an invisible veil or fog has been placed between oneself and the outside world. Some sufferers say it feels like the external world is just a TV show, as if one is simply an observer of an unfamiliar world. A person who is experiencing derealization will often say there is a lack of emotional connection to familiar people, places and things. Feelings of deja vu are also common.

The symptoms of DR tend to be very frightening and disturbing, and the sufferer often has a hard time believing that they are only the result of anxiety and not something much more serious. This anxiety intensifies the derealization, which in turn intensifies the anxiety, often resulting in a vicious cycle.

Another closely related dissociative disorder is called depersonalization — feelings of unreality in one’s own self rather than the external world. Although derealization and depersonalization often occur together, they are considered distinct symptoms. While most people who experience derealization or depersonalization recover fairly quickly, there are some individuals who continue to have symptoms long-term, typically after a major trauma. When this happens, it is called depersonalization-derealization disorder.

Example: One month after his panic attacks began, Jeff started to have episodes in which he would feel as if nothing was real.

Traci Pedersen <![CDATA[Anorexia Nervosa]]> http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2008/anorexia-nervosa/ 2016-05-15T19:41:45Z 2016-04-28T15:27:31Z Anorexia nervosa, or simply anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by an extremely low body weight, an irrational fear of gaining weight and severe food restrictions. Symptoms of anorexia may include eating tiny amounts of food or only certain foods, weighing oneself incessantly, excessive exercising, forcing oneself to vomit or using laxatives. Even when anorexia patients are severely underweight, they often see themselves as being too heavy.

Diagnosis of anorexia and severity of the disorder is based on a patient’s body mass index (BMI). Adults with with an extreme case of anorexia tend to have a BMI of less than 15. A BMI of 15-16 would indicate a slightly less lethal but still severe case of anorexia. A BMI of 16-17 would indicate a moderate form of the disorder, and a BMI of 17 or slightly higher would indicate a mild form.

Anorexia is more common among females and is estimated to affect about 0.9% to 4.3% of women in Western countries compared to 0.2% to 0.3% of men. However, men are at greater risk of being under referred, underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed. The disorder typically emerges in the teen years or during young adulthood. Long-term complications of anorexia might include menstruation problems, infertility, anemia, kidney and liver damage, osteoporosis and heart problems.

The disorder appears to stem from a mixture of genetic, cultural and environmental factors. The disorder may be triggered by stressful life events. Higher rates of anorexia are seen among groups that value smaller, fat-free frames such as modeling, dancing and some high-intensity sports. Anorexia was directly related to about 600 deaths worldwide in 2013. It is also indirectly linked to other causes of death, including suicide.

Treatment often involves addressing the underlying psychological issues (such as body dysmorphic disorder) and helping the patient return to a healthy weight. Medications may be used to help with anxiety and depression, which are very common in patients with anorexia. In severe cases, patients may need to check in to a hospital in order to gain weight, overcome malnutrition and receive correct behavioral therapy. When a patient is severely underweight, quick weight gain can be dangerous.

Example: Allison was admitted to the hospital for her long-term anorexia when her BMI eventually dipped below 15.