Research Summary: Psychodynamic Experience Enhances Recognition of Hidden Childhood Trauma



Experimental psychology has only recently provided supporting evidence for Freud’s and Janet’s description of unconscious phenomena. Here, we aimed to assess whether specific abilities, such as personal psychodynamic experience, enhance the ability to recognize unconscious phenomena in peers – in other words, to better detect implicit knowledge related to individual self-experience.

Methodology and Principal Findings

First, we collected 14 videos from seven healthy adults who had experienced a sibling’s cancer during childhood and seven matched controls. Subjects and controls were asked to give a 5-minute spontaneous free-associating speech following specific instructions created in order to activate a buffer zone between fantasy and reality. Then, 18 raters (three psychoanalysts, six medical students, three oncologists, three cognitive behavioral therapists and three individuals with the same experience of trauma) were randomly shown the videos and asked to blindly classify them according to whether the speaker had a sibling with cancer using a Likert scale. Using a permutation test, we found a significant association between group and recognition score (ANOVA: p = .0006). Psychoanalysts were able to recognize, above chance levels, healthy adults who had experienced sibling cancer during childhood without explicit knowledge of this history (Power = 88%; p = .002). In contrast, medical students, oncologists, cognitive behavioral therapists and individuals who had the same history of a sibling’s cancer were unable to do so.


This experiment supports the view that implicit recognition of a subject’s history depends on the rater’s specific abilities. In the case of subjects who did have a sibling with cancer during childhood, psychoanalysts appear better able to recognize this particular history.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 7-April-2011

Author(s): Cohen D., Milman D., Venturyera V., Falissard B.


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