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Freud’s Slips

Expert
Expert
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Looking for a great summer read? If you like Nate Silver’s quantitative assessments of politics and sports, you will love Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s new book on big data revelations about our human interests, traits, and behaviors. By drilling down through millions of data points, often from people’s anonymous Google searches, he offers insights into racial prejudice, sexual orientation, child abuse, and even the age at which people’s long-term sports loyalties crystallize.

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With data science he can also test popular ideas. Was Freud right to suppose that phallic symbols in dreams, and innuendos in word slips, reveal our unconscious sexuality? Is the man who dreamed of eating a banana on his wedding day “secretly thinking of a penis”? Is typing “lipsdick” when you meant “lipstick” an eruption of your hidden desire?

 

In search of answers, Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed whether phallic-shaped foods “sneak into our dreams with unexpected frequency.” His answer: They do not. In dreams, bananas are the second most common fruit . . . and they also are the second most consumed fruit. Cucumbers are the seventh most dreamt vegetable, and the seventh most consumed vegetable.

 

In search of Freudian slips, he analyzed 40,000 typing errors collected by Microsoft. A few were sexually tinged—“sexurity” instead of “security,” and “cocks” instead of “rocks.” But then there also were innocent slips such as “pindows,” “fegetables,” and “aftermoons.” After analyzing the frequency of various errors in random typos, Stephens-Davidowitz concludes that “People make lots of mistakes.” And when you make enough, you can expect an occasional and statistically predictable miscue. Searching the quarter million e-mails I’ve received since 2000, for example, I see that friends have written me about their experiences with “Wisconsin Pubic Radio,” with hearing access in “pubic venues” and with “pubic access,” and in their work as a national organization’s “Director of Pubic Policy.”

 

Thus, “Freud’s theory that errors reveal our subconscious wants is indeed falsifiable—and, according to my analysis of the data, false.”

About the Author
David Myers received his psychology Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He has spent his career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has taught dozens of introductory psychology sections. Hope College students have invited him to be their commencement speaker and voted him "outstanding professor." His research and writings have been recognized by the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, by a 2010 Honored Scientist award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, by a 2010 Award for Service on Behalf of Personality and Social Psychology, by a 2013 Presidential Citation from APA Division 2, and by three dozen honorary doctorates. With support from National Science Foundation grants, Myers' scientific articles have appeared in three dozen scientific periodicals, including Science, American Scientist, Psychological Science, and the American Psychologist. In addition to his scholarly writing and his textbooks for introductory and social psychology, he also digests psychological science for the general public. His writings have appeared in four dozen magazines, from Today's Education to Scientific American. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org). For his leadership, he received an American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award in 2011, and the Hearing Loss Association of America Walter T. Ridder Award in 2012. He bikes to work year-round and plays daily pick-up basketball. David and Carol Myers have raised two sons and a daughter, and have one granddaughter to whom he dedicates the Third Edition of Psychology in Everyday Life.