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As they contemplate the meaningful vote on December 11, MPs would do well to remember Freud’s famous saying that “where Id was there Ego shall be”. The Brexit debate is, of course, about the future of Britain but it is also a farrago of ego. The Remainers are better at masking their egos than the Leavers, but that does not mean they are lacking it.
While there are many lawyers, some doctors and some with a background in finance, there are no psychologists in either House of Parliament, I think. So I feel it is my duty as a psychologist to offer a brief outline of what we have learned about changing attitudes over the last 75 years. If MPs stick to their professed positions, it is likely we shall end up in a constitutional muddle. The three votes the government lost on December 4 suggest we are heading that way.
And here’s the psych. The brain interprets information in ways that confirm existing beliefs. This is called confirmation bias and means the cortex spends less time considering alternatives. Psychoanalytic history has plenty of very personal examples. Jung never forgave Freud because Freud refused to tell him his dreams. One encounter that lingers with me still was interviewing Melitta Schmideberg, Melanie Klein’s daughter. She did not speak to her mother for 20 years, and wore red shoes to celebrate her death.
My first book Psychologists on Psychology consisted of interviews with great psychologists – I nearly wrote psychos. One of those I interviewed was Harold Leupold Loewenthal; he was outraged I was also going to interview Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a charlatan.
When I went to see Frankl, he showed me into his study and explained he was a much better mountain climber than Freud, who only got to the top of the 9000 ft Dachstein. Frankl had gone much higher, he boasted. He added that when he was eighteen, he had sent Freud a paper and asked for his comments. Freud never replied. Frankl was offended and set out to invent a rival approach to classic psychoanalysis.
All this suggests psychologists often lack psychological maturity, so they would fit nicely into the House of Commons.
Persuading other people to change their minds (which is what must happen on December 11thif the Prime Minister is to win the vote) is hard – but not impossible. One essential is to get people to listen to what they find uncomfortable, as happened in the historic Norway debate in June 1940 which forced Chamberlain to resign. More surprising there is evidence from the University of Georgia that speaking quickly can be persuasive. Fast talkers don’t allow the person whose views differ time to think critically and work out why your arguments are ‘drek’, a word Freud liked. Drek is four letters in German – and four letters in English, ie. shit.
Like the rest of us, psychologists will see much of the Brexit debate. But we can watch with a critical eye. So look for signs of attentive listening and fast talking during the meaningful debate.
And since blogs should be interactive, do post your responses on our website or to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This post has been submitted by David Cohen.
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