Psychoanalytical View of Freudian Slips

Some would argue that all slips of the tongue are Freudian slips. Indeed Freud and his avid following of psychoanalysts would insist that all slips of the tongue reveal the presence of suppressed impulses or intentions. However, much evidence has been found to refute this psychoanalytical view; and it can be convincingly asserted that all slips of the tongue are not Freudian, and that there are other cognitive reasons to explain these verbal slips.

In Dr. Freud’s own words, “a suppression of a previous intention to say something is the indispensable condition for the occurrence of slips of the tongue” ( ). He would argue that slips of the tongue were never accidents, that they always revealed some underlying unconscious or repressed need or impulse. For instance, Freud once set up the scenario of a professor of anatomy who was lecturing on the female genitalia and was heard to declare “In the case of the female genitals, in spite of many temptations (Versuchungen)— I beg your pardon, experiments (Versuche)” ( ). Freud’s theory suggests that this professor’s slip of the tongue arouse because of some suppressed impulse or intention on the part of the professor. In Freud’s mind, this verbal slip could not have been accidental or based on any explanation other than the “indispensable condition” of suppression he had proposed.

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Furthermore, Freud and his psychoanalysts would assert that this suppression of intent or impulse, which they made the cornerstone of all slips of the tongue, could operate at three different levels. On one level the suppression could be conscious and deliberate, on another the suppression can be identified afterward by the person who made the slip but was not intended beforehand, and at the deepest level the person absolutely denies the suppression. For Freudians, it really doesn’t matter what level the person who has made a slip of the tongue is operating at. For them “in all cases the slip is the result of the conflict between two forces— the underlying, unacceptable need and the tendency to keep it hidden” ( ). Therefore if there was no other evidence or authority on the subject, it might seem that all slips of the tongue were Freudian, that they all happened due to some suppressed impulse or intention. However there is much evidence to rival Freud’s theory; while some slips may be Freudian, this is certainly not always the case.

Modern cognitive psychology offers more convincing evidence for the occurrence of slips of the tongue. First and foremost, slips of the tongue can occur due to strong habit intrusions(banalizations). “Forms which have a more archaic, more high-flown, more unusually stylistic expression, and which are therefore removed from the cultural-linguistic heritage of the person, tend to be replaced by forms in more common use” ( ). This basically means that people may make slips of the tongue accidentally, due to habit. So some slips of the tongue could happen merely because the person is so used to expressing a word in a different way. For instance, many people misquote Shakespeare’s line “All that glisters is not gold” as “All that glitters is not gold” ( ). Since “glitters” is more familiar to us than “glisters” we might switch the more common for the less common. Certainly this slip of the tongue is not due to some suppressed impulse or intention as Freud would suggest, but instead occurs as the result of a banalization or strong habit intrusion.Therefore, it is not wise to suggest that all slips of the tongue are Freudian.

Furthermore, contemporary cognitive psychology disputes the psychoanalytical idea that all slips of the tongue are Freudian by exploring the idea of the Need System and the Intention System. Precisely with regard to slips of the tongue, the Need System is able to function independently of the Intention System through the Word Store. This means that………(a person may say something solely based on a need with or without having an intent???)…… For example, a person expecting a dinner guest with a large nose briefs himself to avoid making any reference to nose at dinner. Then dinner comes and he says “Pass the nose” instead of “Pass the salt” ( ). While Freudians would argue that the slip had to occur due to a repressed intent to say “nose,” this is not necessarily the case. First, the host could have slipped and said “nose” because of his need to avoid embarrassment and not because of some suppressed intent to say the word, as Freud would believe. Cognitive psychologists could therefore argue that the slip occurred because the word nose was primed in the host’s brain through “need priming.” In other words, the host attached an importance to the word nose in his mind, not because he was suppressing an intent or desire to say it, but because of the fear and worries he needed to avoid. In addition to this explanation, it could also be argued that the host said the word nose because of strong habit intrusion. He had simply rehearsed the word so much in his head to avoid saying it, that it slipped out as a result. This accidental slip was not due to suppressed intent or impulse, which would constitute a Freudian slip. Thus Freud and the psychoanalysts most definitely do not offer the last word on all slips of the tongue.

Moreover, though some slips of the tongue may in fact be Freudian, not all of them are. Some slips of the tongue may simply be due to strong habit intrusions and not due to the suppressed intent and impulse which characterize a Freudian slip. And, while Freud’s theories on slips may be more interesting(and certainly more sexual), they are not always correct. Modern cognitive psychology offers much more solid, straightforward, scientific evidence for the occurrence of slips of the tongue and proves once again that Mr. Freud, perhaps much to his dismay, is not the be-all, end-all authority in this realm of psychology.


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Psychoanalytical View of Freudian Slips. (2018, Jun 27). Retrieved from