Freudian Defense Mechanisms and Empirical Findings in Modern Social Psychology: Reaction Formation, Projection, Displacement, Undoing, Isolation, Sublimation, and Denial



Recent studies in social psychology are reviewed for evidence relevant to seven Freudian defense mechanisms. This work emphasizes normal populations, moderate rather than extreme forms of defense, and protection of self-esteem against threat. Reaction formation, isolation, and denial have been amply shown in studies, and they do seem to serve defensive functions. Undoing, in the sense of counterfactual thinking, is also well documented but does not serve to defend against the threat. Projection is evident, but the projection itself may be aby-product of defense rather than part of the defensive response itself. Displacement is not well supported in any meaningful sense, although emotions and physical arousal states do carry over from one situation to the next. No evidence of sublimation was found.