Tag Archives: psychology

Meaning of the Question – Consensus?


It is assumed that when providing an answer to a question, that the respondent understands the question being asked of them. Throughout the “Forced Decision Questionnaire,” there are a few vague questions that are open to interpretation.

A non-uniform understanding of these statements among group members stood in the way of quickly forming a group consensus. 

These communication barriers were the result of difficulty in parsing the phrasing for all involved.  Some of the statements, as read, differed from our though process, especially in matters of strong personal opinion; or, as was the case with some, a lack of the general knowledge necessary to take a stance.

Members of my group had a hard time with the question “We have more to fear from a revolution from the right than a revolution from the left.”  The younger members of our group were confused as to how to define “left” and “right” in the context of the question, and why or what exactly either would have a “revolution” about.  By explaining the nature of the question, “politics,” and putting value to the left/right terms, group members were more or less able to form a decision.  The problem in this case seems to be one of familiarity with the political process.  In explaining the terms, according to my understanding, and providing my interpretation and answer to the question, I feel that the group made their choices based on my reasoning.  Unfortunately, the group could be misinformed, either from my oversight or intentional deceit.  I suppose that we place a level of trust in one another when we learn something new; other groups, with other “teachers,” likely spawned different ideologies, based on how the unfamiliar students came to understand the question.

Familiarity with an issue helps when attempting to understand a question, but sometimes there are other hindrances to effective communication.  The entire group shared a similar opinion of the statement, “Civil marriages between same-sex partners should be legalized.” But, the choice of words used made all of us determine our answers based on different understandings of the semantics of the question.  While none of us were against homosexual relationships and benefit entitlement, some of us were against the idea of traditional marriage.  A common question asked many times within the group was “Is this about civil ‘unions’ or ‘marriage’?”  Agreement could only be reached by deciding upon a common interpretation of the question.  Whether or not this adequately answered what was asked of us is uncertain, but we did reach a group consensus on one fact:  This question appeared intentionally vague, as if to provoke debate.

For the statement “Organized teacher led-prayer in public school classrooms should be allowed by law,” most in the group looked past the words of the question and statements such as “Why not, if it is a religious school?” or “What if the teacher was fine and comfortable with it?” were posited.  These and other profound statements “I would take my kids out in a heartbeat” and “No way, separation of church and state!” did not answer the question.  Strong opinions on the matter, which would ultimately help in our decision making, clouded our initial reactions to the question we had to answer.  All sides were able to understand each other’s point of view, and through discussion, respectfully agree to disagree on our interpretations, but form a group decision in answering the question.

The wording of a question or statement, when left vague, is open to many interpretations. Intentionally provocative statements, in the absence of discourse, stand in the way of effective communication.  Persons unfamiliar with certain terminologies need definition and context to understand what is asked of them.  Fortunately, we were able to discuss these statements, first in groups and later with the class.  Effective and clear communication, essential to understanding, was aided by this time and effort spent. While each group had different opinions (much like the group members, initially), a class consensus could likely be reached given appropriate time to articulate individual opinions.

(September 2008)

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Strangers Set An Agenda: Group Work

Governance-chart-1It’s not an easy task to get five strangers to agree on anything, but by following a classical agenda setting strategy, anything is possible.

In a lesson on group decision making, me and my fellow “committee” members were asked to set criteria for the awarding of a fictional scholarship.


First, we identified the problem by discussing the parameters of the assignment as a team and as a result, we were able narrow down some of our own ideas.  The objective of the assignment seemed pretty clear, and we all proposed not to make it any more complicated than it had to be.  We decided to limit ourselves to just a few (or at the very most, several) core principles from which we would adhere to.

In analyzing the problem, we reviewed our own principles to determine what we felt was most important to include based on the assignment parameters. Each member also considered what was least important in determining our group criteria.  Above all we wanted to ensure that every group member theft their own “stamp” on the process.  It was our singular aim for this to be a completely democratic process.  To determine our solution criteria, we explored our own philosophies and formed opinions on the subject at hand; we each offered our own suggestions as to what to include.  We went around the entire group listing every idea, including ones we were strongly against.  We would continue to brainstorm in order to narrow all of this to form our group criteria.

After forming our initial list, we went around the group again.  Now, each member had the opportunity to discuss their proposal.  When stating their case, everyone was encouraged to explain exactly why they thought their idea deserved inclusion. Simple “because” type answers led to prodding from other members, who asked intelligent questions help the respondent focus their argument.    Some ideas, we felt, over complicated the assignment, and each member who thought so explained diplomatically, why it shouldn’t be included.  Our group kept a very pragmatic approach, and in the interests of simplicity, we kept our list of core principles short. We strived to have our criteria be fairly open-ended, as to not delve too much into details.  If something couldn’t be agreed upon by all, it was left out.

We felt that if we made specific requirements, that that would unfairly exclude applicants before the review process.  All of our members did agree that the person worthy of our scholarship should show academic potential, and this could be measured by predictive scores.  However, we weren’t strict with potential grades as a requirement.  We also wanted someone with clear life goals, as this helps show a sense of purpose.  We decided that our applicant should be able to articulate themselves, as well as do so formally/professionally, considering the seriousness of the scholarship selection.  We figured we would be able to gauge all of this from the Personal Statements, which we had yet to receive.

The solution we selected involved placing less emphasis on all the superfluous elements of the application (such as need, jobs, age, etc.), and make our selection based solely upon how the applicant presented themselves in the Personal Statement.  In implementing our criteria, we chose an applicant who articulated themselves far beyond all the others.  It so happened, that the same applicant had the highest predictive scores.  Her statement was much more formal than the others, who used inappropriate language or “too much information.”  If we were to hold steadfastly to a particular requirement, such as civic engagement, the applicant may have been excluded.  By maintaining a narrow and simple criteria, we avoided a “-by numbers” selection, and awarded our scholarship to someone overlooked by other groups.

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Age. Race. We’re All Just People.

tumblr_m09m1lgYrV1qmnzaxo1_500Many people ask me my age, and when I tell them that I’m almost thirty-five, they were very surprised; saying that I looked no older than twenty-five, which was, coincidentally, the age assumed by all of them. I look younger than my physical age, but I don’t know how people come to that assumption, considering I have a beard and fairly visible gray hairs.  I think it’s more a matter of how they perceive me in the context of how we met. As a college student, I associate with mostly college-aged people. But I talk to everyone; perhaps this geniality “tricks” people into assuming I am younger.

I’ve had a few jobs where I was the only white person.  The black folks I worked with were standoffish at first, assuming I would be.  I stuck out like a sore thumb, so to speak.  I appreciated the situation, however, because it forced me to approach as many people as I could, to “make friends.” The end result was a change in mindset to the idea that (at risk of sounding corny) “we’re all just people.”  I am glad I was able to defy any preconceived low expectations that may have been placed on me; it helped me immensely, teaching me to not see race as an issue. The experience widened my circle of friends and introduced me to lots of good food and music.

I was born in south Florida, and my neighborhood and school was mostly black, Cuban, or immigrant (foreign language speaking) white.  It forced me, once again, to “make friends,” otherwise I’d be one lonely kid.  And race was never an issue; cultures were shared with every invitation to a friend’s house, and all of us kids were better for it.  Eventually, I’d move to Connecticut to live with my father, who didn’t share a similar attitude towards diversity.  The language he would use and the way he would talk about people was atrocious.  It reaffirmed my juvenile beliefs that behavior like that was not to be repeated.  It helped me realize the importance of treating people with respect, regardless of color; and that respect is reciprocated more often than not.

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Relationships Hold Power Over You


& The Power They Hold In Your Life

Every relationship or encounter involves a balance of power of one individual over another.  Sometimes it can be benign and to the extreme, malicious; regardless, there are a near infinite amount of intentions that can be displayed (or masked) that represent one persons control over the other.  “Types” of power are more narrowly defined, and are the result of our roles in a relationship, relative to the other person.  Sometimes we may have more power with certain individuals, and other times, we are powerless.  This is the result of our standing in a relationship and what level of control, be it from expertise, reverence, reward capability, coercive skill, or legitimacy of position.  I will discuss three experiences in my life someone clearly held power over me, their possible intent, and how that power affected the situation.

The Genius

Very often we come across someone whose knowledge is superior to ours, and because of this, they hold some power over us (at the very least, at the conversational level).  As the less informed individual in the relationship, we grant that person more power because we trust in their skill or expertise.  This was the case for me in a discussion I had with a physicist.  Because that field is beyond my ability to grasp and well beyond what I have learned in school, I had to trust this person that I was getting an objective (and presupposed) expert analysis of the Electron Particle Collider.  It was my fear when they turned it on, a black hole would form and destroy the Earth.  Through explanation, the physicist did little to quell my fears because the subject was still beyond my grasp, but, in trusting his confidence about the subject, I was able to sleep that night.  The fact that the world is still here, six months later, continues to justify my faith in what he had to say.

The Interviewer

Sometimes, one person has the power to reward us with what we want or need.  In my recent hunt for a job, I can’t help but notice the peculiar dynamic of a job interview that I was subjected to.  In my instance, the interviewer was less educated than me, yet the key to my employment rested on his shoulders.  The situation, for me, was humbling; for him, likely empowering. I submitted to the fact that if I were to get a job with this company, it would be in part, based on his decision.  So instead of rolling my eyes, I tried to conduct myself as I had originally planned, and put on a good interview.  I start in my new position Saturday.

A Man with a Gun

Finally, there are some situations we face in which we have very little choice in our actions; our actions are ordered to us by a person holding a gun.  Sometimes, it is a person with a legitimate reason, like a National Guardsman or Police Officer, in my experiences during Hurricane Katrina.  They were there to keep civility, and by my compliance, I was protected.  Other times, a different level control where life and death are your options, is displayed.  On a bad street in New Orleans, when approached by a man with demands for my wallet, granting his request was my safest option.  Compliance and trust that the decision I make satisfies the other party was all I was afforded. Fortunately, the outcome was agreeable, considering.  The particular nature of that situation provided the robber with opportunity, and I was nearly powerless.  I likely would have not given him my wallet if it was daylight, or if I was on a crowded block.   This level of power displayed, like every other, was dependent on time, place, situation, and the relationship.

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Primed To Understand: Psychoanalysis

This paper discusses the Freudian definition of narcissism, and the idea that this is a normal behavior in childhood which the adult ego reverts back to following trauma.  Viewed as an act of recovery by Freud, this regression, when used in conjunction with psychoanalytic priming, can help those affected to work through their mental disorders by allowing the patient to realize their condition.  


Narcissism, as defined by Freud, is “the attitude of a person who treats his own body in the same way…a sexual object is ordinarily treated.” Narcissists typically lack empathy, generally showing concern for just themselves.  However, this may be a part of “the regular course of human sexual development,” as Freud suggests that there is a period of narcissism that is normal in early childhood.  This early child hood narcissism develops into the “real ego” and the “ego ideal,” which he regards as an attempt to maintain the “narcissistic perfection of one’s childhood.”  When this perfection can no long be retained, one may unconsciously seek “to recover it in the new form of an ego ideal.”  This new ego ideal is a delusion in a sense, and “the substitute for the lost narcissism of (one’s) childhood.”  According to Freud, these delusions can be “part of an attempt at recovery” (Freud, 1914/1986).  Along with self-introspection and psychoanalytic technique, they can help to assist in recovery by drawing the malignant behaviors to the surface; where, no longer part of the unconscious, they can be ‘worked on’ proactively instead of continually ignored, repressed or ruminated upon.

Donald Capps, in his work “John Nash’s Post-delusional Period: A Case of Transformed Narcissism,” suggests that delusion, narcissism, and other correlative disorders can be overcome by actualization or mentalizing, much like the case of the Nobel Prizewinning mathematical genius he has studied.  Capps hypothesizes the root of Nash’s dysfunction as being from many possible traumas, including inconsistency in parenting, denial as a family habit, a childhood accident in which a friend was killed, awkwardness as a “bookish” young boy, and apathetic behavior towards school in his teenage years.  Nash’s adult trauma’s are also detailed, which included ridicule from colleagues and failure to live up to his (and his mothers) expectations of brilliance.  Capps believed that the delusional state that Nash went into, which included bouts of extreme paranoia, alcoholism, and a dangerous obsession with numerology, signified an unconscious attempt at recovery, much along the line of Freud’s belief.  Although Nash was forced to leave his career for some time, he was able to overcome his delusions.  Capps believes that “the process by which Nash was able to liberate himself from the control of his delusions was the transformation of his narcissistic self” (Capps, 2004).  By using creativity, humor and wisdom on top of his ability to think abstractly about his condition, Nash was able to self-actualize his way to controlling his disorder.

Dr. Michael Ermann also believes that narcissism stems from an unsatisfied ego-state, based an ideal-self created by perceptions made in childhood.   He finds that “archaic” feelings can be “activated,” and ultimately worked through, using psychoanalysis.  Much like the case of John Nash, Ermann believes that patients can be primed to achieve ‘mentalization,’ or the ability to understand one’s own mental state.  He suggests that this activity could prove therapeutic in allowing patients to move beyond the issues they face.  During a specific analytic encounter with ‘Paul,’ who he describes as narcissistic, he attempts to awaken buried “feelings of not being wanted, not being welcome, not being loved, not being cared for, of being abandoned and being done harm.” Ermann describes Paul as outwardly “successful,” but also as someone dealing with “diverse identity problems…associated with depressive feelings.” Paul suffered from persistent dreams and waking ideation regarding the safety of his son in fanciful situations in which, contrary to his idealized protective role as a father, he was unable to save or rescue him.  By priming him on these issues, Dr. Ermann was able to coax further information about Paul’s father’s infidelity, and abandonment of him as a child.  Ermann also found that Paul cheated on his wife and had unresolved parental distrust, believing that his mother risked his life during her pregnancy “because of her hate for her husband.”  Eventually, Paul learns that he was born seven weeks premature; that his mother didn’t risk his life out of spite.  Paul was able to mentalize this and overcome his own infidelities and patterns of indignation.  Ermann believes that by “going through the preverbal states of (Paul’s) earliest existence where he had the unconscious feeling of not being born into his own life,” Paul was able to find peace (Ermann, 2007).

A study by Hunyady, Joesephs and Jost also uses psychoanalytic priming techniques to understand narcissism in their patients.  The three researchers share the Freudian belief “that reminders of…the child’s real or imagined perception of the parents’ sexual relationship—as well as the child’s knowledge of their parents’ own sexual infidelity—can activate unconscious conflict around sexual infidelity in adulthood.”   In their study of 316 people, Hunyady et al. asked primed questions in an attempt to activate “the Oedipal situation.”  They hoped to lead these people, who they described as having narcissistic traits, “to become more prohibitive towards sexual infidelity.”  The researchers conducted their study in three parts, first with questionnaires to measure the degree of narcissism in each individual.  The participants then “read a paragraph that contained the priming manipulation,” which asked them to “identify with the protagonist of the story by writing down what that person may have been feeling or thinking.”  The participants were then asked about their attitudes towards relationships and infidelity, as well as other demographic information and further questions regarding behavioral history.  The evidence the researchers gathered confirmed a correlation between narcissism, infidelity, and parental infidelity.  Hunyady et al. felt that “narcissistic people defend against painful and angry feelings by disidentifying with the victim.” They did find a positive outcome in that when participants were “led to identify and empathize with the victim of betrayal, they became disapproving” of their patterns of behavior (Hunyady, Josephs & Jost, 2008).

The analysis of how primed, but self guided treatment for issues such as narcissism must be explored further.  Successful examples of narcissistic regression, mentalization, and disorder transformation such as that of ‘Paul’ or John Nash’s should be analyzed for the benefit brought to both the patient and scientific community.  The techniques used in the study by Hunyady et al. provide a reasonable ground in which to start from.  Participants were asked to self-rate themselves on 29 different items, and then asked to respond to primed paragraphs, crafted to explore the depths of the respondents’ attitudes towards infidelity (Hunyady, Josephs & Jost, 2008).  This type of questioning could be useful far beyond the just study of the correlation of narcissism to infidelity.

An appropriate size gender segregated sampling of more than 100 people would be ideal to test.  The ideal age group would be individuals aged 28-45, because of the increased likelihood of post childhood traumas in which to study.  Ethnicities, though not outwardly important, should be catalogued, in case surprising data is revealed upon that basis.  The first part of the study should be a self-response questionnaire to gauge personality traits.  The Millon Multi-Axis Personality Measure should be used in which respondents will be asked questions and instructed to offer their level of disagreement (1) or agreement (6) on a number scale.  The participants will then be asked primed paragraph length sample stories with clear victims and villains; afterwards they shall discuss the characters they associated with positively and for what reasons.  The primed questions should reveal the participants’ attitudes about the types of narratives presented (benevolence, infidelity, etc.).  The final part of the study should include other data to assist in the analytic process, such as, but not limited to: history of sleep disturbances, indignation or spite, co-dependency, heightened self awareness, protective instincts, indecisiveness, fixation on past relationships, depression, body image, outlook on relationships, addiction, family history of mental disorders, sexual history, academic performance, recollection of childhood, living situation, socioeconomic circumstances; all based on short answer response or satisfaction indices.  It is likely that a number of these factors correlate, as witnessed in the case of John Nash or ‘Paul.’  As an extension of this project, hormone levels can also be monitored to determine the physiological impact of age.

The development of a narcissistic personality may come as compensation for a shattered self image, but channeled positively, those afflicted can (and do) go on to live healthy lives.  The psychological scar can be worked though with self reporting, testing, primed questioning, and psychoanalytic analysis. Whereby previously, “the frequent causation of paranoia by an injury to the ego, by frustration of satisfaction” could once lead to “the possible transformation of ideals in paraphrenic (schizophrenic) disorders,” (Freud, 1914/1986) many individuals may be able to come out of the psychoanalytic process with a healthy realization of self worth.   Knowing and understanding oneself could possibly be the best treatment for those with these types of mental disorders.


Capps, D. (2004). John Nash’s Postdelusional Period: A Case of Transformed Narcissism. Pastoral Psychology, 52(4), 289-313. Retrieved from Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection database.

Ermann, M. (2007). “You touched my heart”: Modes of memory and psychoanalytic technique. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 16(4), 222-227. Retrieved from Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection database.

Freud, S. (1914/1986). On narcissism: An introduction. In Morrison, A. P. (Ed.). Essential papers on

narcissism (pp. 17–43). New York: New York University Press.

Hunyady, O., Josephs, L., & Jost, J. (2008). Priming the Primal Scene: Betrayal Trauma, Narcissism, and Attitudes Toward Sexual Infidelity. Self & Identity, 7(3), 278-294. Retrieved from Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection database.

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