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The oedipus complex

February 1, 1997

Michelle Bauknecht


Definition of the Oedipus Complex:

The positive libidinal feelings of a child to the parent of the opposite sex and hostile or jealous feelings toward the parent of the same sex that may be a source of adult personality disorder when unresolved. It is a pattern of profound emotional ambivalence, a troublesome mixture of love and hate.

The Oedipus Complex occurs during the phallic stage, from roughly ages 3-6 years. Freud believed that during this stage boys seek genital stimulation and develop both unconscious desires for their mother and jealousy and hatred for their father, whom they consider a rival. It was said that boys felt guilt and lurking fear that their father would punish them, such as by castration. Freud also believed that conscience and gender identity form as the child resolved the Oedipus Complex at age 5 or 6, but this actually happens earlier. A child tends to become strongly masculine or feminine without even having the same sex parent present.

Freud argues that all sons unconsciously desire to kill, even if they love, their fathers. He found his own unconscious wish to murder his father in his intensive self analysis in 1897, shortly after the death of his father.

Freud says it is only the male child that we find the fateful combination of love for the one parent and simultaneous hatred for the other as a rival. Freud believed Oedipal was a normal part of human psychological growth and it is during this stage children produce emotional conflicts.

Other psychoanalysts believed that girls experience a parallel called the "Electra Complex". This comes from a Greek legend of a women named Electra who helped plan the murder of her mother.

The Oedipus Complex originates from a myth about a Greek hero named Oedipus, written by Sophocles. Oedipus was the son of Laius and Jocasta who in the fulfillment of an oracle unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. When Oedipus and Jocasta realize what has happened, Jocasta hangs herself and he rips the golden brooches from his dead mothers gown and plunges them deep into his eyes. Now blinded, he finally sees the truth and banishes himself to a distant land. The fact that Oedipus kills his father and sleeps with his mother without knowing that he has done either shows that it was done---unconsciously.


If a subject in the experimental group shows more aggressive behavior toward his father and increased affectionate behavior toward their mother after receiving the subliminal messages and the control group shows no increase when shown neutral messages, then it will be proven that the Oedipus Complex does in fact exist in the unconscious. To prove this we bring the behavior out from the unconscious to the sub conscious through the subliminal messages. These boys have repressed these feelings for so long because it is too painful for them to deal with.


Ho: Boys in the experimental group will not increase their aggression to their fathers or more affection for their mothers after receiving subliminal messages. (no change)

Hi: Boys in the experimental group receiving subliminal messages will show more aggression toward their father and demonstrate more affection for their mother's. The control group will not demonstrate a changed behavior (Change in behavior)


Independent Variable: Experimental group receiving subliminal messages, either aggressive, affectionate or neutral.

Dependent Variable: The change in behavior observed from before the subliminal messages to after.


I evaluated 10 heterosexual boys from the Winnipeg area, all who were between the ages of 15 and 18 and still living at home with both parents. As the head psychologist in the experiment I entered into an agreement w/ the participants that clarified the nature of the research and the responsibilities for both them and myself. The participants were informed that they could withdraw from the experiment at anytime. Questions about the study were asked (participants were told the experiment was a visual test of some sort), therefore deception was being used. After obtaining informed consent to participate (those under age had a consent signed by their guardian) we randomly broke the boys and their families into two groups. One became the control group and the other the experimental group. I then proceeded to observe the families interaction with each other, particularily between the son and his mother and the son and his father. Observations were made through hidden cameras in the house (field research) for the first week (Monday to Friday). This was to provide a baseline measure. I was looking specifically for any type of rivalry between the sons and fathers and affection towards the mothers. Observations were made on behaviors demonstrated and recorded into categories. These categories are :

Positive affection toward the mother

Negative behavior toward the father

Positive = hugs, compliments, gazing & I love you's

Negative = swearing, hitting, rolling of eyes & glaring

On the Saturday and Sunday the boys were brought into the laboratory (laboratory research in order to control the confines) where they were shown either aggressive & affectionate or neutral messages. Examples of these messages are listed below:

Aggressive & Affectionate Neutral

Beating dad is fun Trees have leaves

Destroy father Mars is a planet

I love mom The grass is green

I am going to have mom Clouds in the sky

Mom is sexy People are human

The boys were shown a series of these messages using a tachistoscope which flashes the visual stimuli on a screen to measure unconscious perception. Note: The control group only received neutral messages. In week two (Monday to Friday) the subjects were again observed through the same methods and the data were recorded.

Data were reviewed for patterns in increased aggressive behavior towards the father & increased affection for the mother after receiving the aggressive & affectionate stimuli Data from the control group were also reviewed for any correlations.



Reject the Ho because these calculations indicate a change in behavior after receiving aggressive & affectionate messages and no change after the neutral messages.


The Oedipus Complex appears to be a common feeling among young boys. Studies have indicated boys between the ages of 3-6 have strong feelings of desire to their mothers and hostile feelings of jealousy to their fathers. These studies have found that the boys repress these memories because they are so painful. It looks like subliminal messages cause the Oedipal Complex to come out from the unconscious by bringing it to the sub-conscious where the boys know what they are feeling but can't understand why they are having these feelings. Because we could not control all the variables we could not make a positive identity that the subliminal messages actually cause the Oedipal Complex. All though we can now assume, that from these findings boys do repress their feelings in the unconscious until they are somehow brought into the sub-conscious.

Means and standard deviations were used (which are the descriptive statistics most frequently encountered in psychological research) to describe my set of scores adequately. These calculations indicate the control group to have no significant difference from week one to week two and the experimental group a significant difference between week one and week two.

There was of course some flaws with the experiment. Having such a small sample could have lead to misleading results or a biased sample (a sample that doesn't reflect the population as a whole). A simple random sample was not used and therefore each member of the population did not have an equal chance of being selected as a member of the sample. The hidden cameras were completely unethical, the families were unaware that any taping was occurring. I may have also missed interactions that were not caught on tape and therefore not recording accurate data, this could lead to distorted data sets and calculations.

It was felt that deception had to be used, because it was believed we could not do the procedure and get accurate results without the use of it. All participants were debriefed at the conclusion of the experiment. I revealed the true purpose of the experiment and reduced any stress or other feelings that the participants expressed as experiencing. At the completion of the study I provided all the participants information about the experiment and results of the research. Any misconceptions they may have had were lifted and they were reassured that no harm was done or risks taken. Complete confidentiality was maintained throughout the experiment.

By being able to reject the Ho, there by supporting the Hi hypothesis (that is ever so close to my heart) I have proven that the Oedipus Complex exists too some degree in males. So basically (and hypothetically) I have performed this entire study, went through all the proper analyses, and the difference came out to be significant at the .05 level. So now I consider my life to have immense meaning and I am sure I will impress all my friends at parties with my statistics and new found knowledge on the Oedipus Complex. I am absolutely positive that I have also impressed you with all the work I have put into this cooked experiment. :)


Laboratory Research: research that occurs within the controlled confines of a scientific laboratory.

Field Research: research settings more closely match the situation we encounter in daily living & results of these studies might generalize more easily than lab studies.

Basic Research: most research is about psychological concerns, describing and predicting and explaining fundamental principles of behavior.

Applied Research: has direct and immediate relevance to the solution of a real world problem.

Mundane Realism: refers to how closely the experiment mirrors real life experiences.

Experimental Realism: concerns the extent to which an experiment has an impact on the subjects, forces them to take the matter seriously and involves them in the procedures.

Operational Definitions: science must be objective and precise, that all concepts should be defined in terms of a set of operations to be performed.

Converging Operations: psychology uses this --->the idea that our understanding of some behavioral phenomena is increased when a series of investigations, all using slightly different operational definitions & experimental procedures is performed.

Serendipity: used to refer to the kind of accidental observation that lead to creative ideas for research.

Theory: a set of statements about some behavioral phenomena.

Construct: a hypothetical factor that can not be observed directly but is inferred from certain behaviors and assumed to follow from certain circumstances. e.g.] expectation--> why a behavior occurred? because of ABC

Deduction: reasoning from a set of general statements toward the prediction of some event.

Hypothesis: an educated guess about what should happen under certain circumstances.

Induction: the logical process of reasoning from the specific (individual exp. outcome) to the general, used when the results of specific research studies are used to support or refute a theory.

Falsification: emphasizes putting theories to the test by trying too disprove or falsify them.

Parsimony: includes the minimum number of constructs & assumptions in order to adequately explain & predict.

Programs of research: a series of interrelated studies.

Replication: study that duplicates some or all of the procedures of some prior study.

Extension: this resembles a prior study and usually replicates part of it, but goes further and adds at least one additional feature.

Partial Replication: part of the study which replicates some earlier work.

Valid: if a behavioral measure, measures what is has been designed to measure.

Face Validity: granted when a measure appears on the surface to be a reasonable measure of some trait.

Predictive Validity: concerns whether the measure can accurately forecast some future event.

Construct Validity: 2 issues: whether the construct being measured by a particular tool is a valid construct and whether the particular tool is the best one measuring the construct.

Population: a group.

Sample: any sub-group of the population.

Biased Sample: a sample that doesn't reflect the population as a whole.

Simple random sample: a probability sample--> each member of the population has equal chance of being selected as a member of the sample.

Descriptive Statistics: summarize the data collected from the sample of subjects participating in your study.

Inferential Statistics: allow you to draw conclusions about your data that can be applied to broaden the population.

Frequency Distribution: way to organize a set of scores by creating a picture of them (graph).

Null Hypothesis: there is no difference in performance between the different conditions that you are studying.

Alternative Hypothesis: Ho= research hypothesis, the outcome you are hoping to find. (therefore in my study I am hoping to disprove or reject the Ho, thereby supporting the Hi, the hypothesis close to my heart)

Type I Error: rejecting the null when null is in fact true.

Type II Error: fail to reject null, but you are wrong. You didn't find a significant effect in your study, naturally feel depressed about it, but are in error.

Oedipal: resulting from or relating to the Oedipus Complex.

Source: Essay UK -

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