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We really don’t know ourselves

June 9, 2009

One of the primary premises of psychodynamic theory is that we don’t know ourselves, that we are unconscious of many of the traits and drives that shape our decisions and our behaviours. It is this emphasis on the unconscious that sets psychodynamic therapy apart from all other therapeutic approaches.

However, the existence of the unconscious cannot be directly proven, precisely because it is hidden from our conscious minds. It’s existence can only be inferred by inexplicable inconsistencies in conscious thought processes.

Freud suggested that some slips of the tongue demonstrated unconscious desires, and Jung used word association tests to demonstrate the existence of unconscious patterns of thought. Now, 100 years later, a German research team has used video to demonstrate that people are unsconscious of their body language.

A fascinating study has shown that we’re unable to read insights into ourselves from watching a video of our own body language. It’s as if we have an egocentric blind spot. Outside observers, by contrast, can watch the same video and make revealing insights into our personality.

The premise of the new study is the tip-of-the-iceberg idea that what we know about ourselves is fairly limited, with many of our impulses, traits and beliefs residing below the level of conscious access. The researchers wondered whether people would be able to form a truer picture of themselves when presented with a video of their own body language.

BPS RESEARCH DIGEST: We’re unable to read our own body language.

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