INHIBITION

The process of restraining one’s impulses or desires.Inhibition may take place on either a conscious or unconscious level, or on both at once. An individual might deliberately inhibit, or suppress, his urge to strike out or speak out against other people for reasons of expediency. In such cases the reaction is primarily conscious and essentially normal. However, if he is totally unable to stand his own ground or enter into conflict of any kind, the tendency probably stems from unconscious forces and tends to be pathological. The same applies to people who are chronically unable to give vent to their feelings or to express themselves with any degree of freedom.Psychoanalytic theory stresses the unconscious roots of inhibition and views it as a mechanism by which the superego controls instinctual or id impulses that would threaten the ego if allowed conscious expression. An example is the neurotic patient who feels no sexual desire whatsoever as a result of unconscious feelings of guilt due to an over- severe conscience acquired in the course of a rigid upbringing. See SUPEREGO.Inhibition must be distinguished from repression. According to the psychoanalytic interpretation, inhibition serves a preventive function, since it obviates possible conflict between the ego and id by keeping the impulses from being expressed in the first place. Repression, on the other hand, is called into play after the dangerous impulses have been expressed, and consists in forcing them out of consciousness. Hinsie and Campbell (1960) put the difference in these words: “The two processes may be illustrated in a homely way: the locking up (inhibition) of the most rabid or fire-spitting leaders in times of civil strife, in order to anticipate, forestall, or prevent bloodshed and mob violence that will have to be combatted (repression) by armed forces a day or two later.” See REPRESSION.A reasonable amount of conscious restraint is required of everyone who lives in society. We cannot express all our impulses and desires with complete freedom and with total disregard of consequences. But too much inhibition is as unhealthy as too little. The compulsive, rigid individual finds it hard to be “human” and give in to normal impulses; the impulsive, disinhibited person, on the other hand, is lacking in self-control and frequently finds himself in trouble with others.Disorders characterized by an extreme lack of inhibition, or inner control, are sometimes termed “impulse disorders.” Two general types are particlarly common. One is a behavior disorder that sometimes occurs among brain-injured children, though it is not confined to this category. These children tend to be highly impulsive, overactive, unpredictable, and often aggressive and destructive. The other is a character disorder known as psychopathic or so- ciopathic personality and found in adolescents and adults. These individuals “act-out” any impulse whatsoever without thought, restraint or feelings of guilt. In addition, the behavior of alcoholics is also characterized by absence of inhibition. In this case the tendency may have a double source: the individual may have a basically impulsive personality; and his lack of inner control may be accentuated by the alcohol itself, since it reduces the inhibitory function of the brain. See BEHAVIOR DISORDERS, ANTISOCIAL REACTION, ACTING-OUT.On a different level, inhibition plays a major role in the theory of conditioning. Here it refers to the fact that a response may be actively blocked or restrained by the subject. In a typical experiment, a dog is trained to delay his conditioned response (salivation) to the stimulus (bell) by withholding the reward or reinforcement (food) for a given length of time—that is, he learns to salivate only after the bell has rung for several seconds. This period of delay has been shown to involve active inhibition rather than passive waiting, for it has been found that the dog remains tense during the entire interval. Probably as a result of this tension it will respond by salivating to practically any extraneous stimulation before the bell is sounded—even a buzzing fly or a strong odor. Such a stimulus is said to “inhibit the inhibition”-—that is, it releases the response from its original inhibition, a process that is termed dis- inhibition.INSIGHT. An apparently sudden grasp of relationships that leads to the solution of a problem or the achievement of understanding. In psychotherapy, it is the awareness of underlying motives and unconscious sources of personal problems. The therapist gains insight into his patient but, more important, the patient attains insight into himself.When undertaking a new job or trying to learn a new sport we are faced with novel problems and situations. We usually struggle through the early steps of these activities, trying out first one way to meet the situation and then another. This trial and error process may go on a long time without apparent results—then suddenly, and often dramatically, we “get the hang of it” or “see the point.” This abrupt perception, sometimes described as the “aha experience,” is termed insight.Insight is experienced as a completely new event, a novel solution that abruptly dawns on us. In cartoons it is represented by a bulb that suddenly lights up. After it occurs, the problem we are tackling can usually be handled with a minimum of errors. Moreover, we can often transfer our knowledge of the relationships we have learned through insight to other tasks of a similar nature.Not all problems can be solved by insight. This process would be of little or no use in memorizing a telephone or social security number. The multiplication table, on the other hand, can be learned either by rote or by insight, but insight is superior since it reveals conceptual relationships. Mathematical problems, problems involving the use of tools, and practical problems in general are often efficiently and productively solved through insight. We even apply it in moderate and undramatic degrees to common operations such as filling a pen or putting a battery in a flashlight. It is also helpful in understanding the point of a play, the relevance of a scientific theory, or the structure of an individual’s personality.Much of our knowledge about insight stems from the animal studies of Wolfgang Kohler. In one celebrated experiment he placed a banana outside the cage of a group of chimpanzees, well beyond their reach. A hoe was put inside the cage. After handling the hoe for some time, one of the chimps suddenly seemed to “get an idea” and quickly used it to rake the banana into reach (Kohler, 1925). In other experiments some of the chimps performed even more remarkable feats of insight. They succeeded in reaching a banana by putting a jointed stick together, and they piled up scattered boxes so that they could climb up and get a piece of fruit hanging from the ceiling.Two facts about these experiments were particularly significant. First, Kohler noted that there was a time lapse between their unsuccessful attempts to reach the prize with their hands alone and their successful use of objects to extend their reach. During this period they usually walked around, looked about, or manipulated the objects, as if searching for a solution. When the “idea” came to them, it probably arose at least in part from this exploratory process. Second, past experience also seemed to contribute to the solution, for it was found that only the chimps that had previously been in contact with sticks or boxes succeeded in solving the problems. In other words, the insight did not simply come “out of the blue.”These facts remove much of the mystery that seems to surround insight. They suggest that it actually consists of applying past knowledge to the requirements of the present situation. In fact, some investigators view insight as coming about through “symbolic trial and error,” a process in which one possibility after another is tested internally until one of them “clicks.”These interpretations have been found to apply to insight in human beings as well as animals. Experiments have shown that children go through the same steps as chimpanzees in solving insight problems, but they cannot solve them as early in life as the chimpanzees because they know less about their environment and therefore have less experience to draw on. Richardson (1934) found that children begin to use insight at about two and a half years of age, and the percentage of correct solutions increases with age and contact with the world. Most adults use this process successfully because they have learned that facts and principles they have already mastered can usually be applied to new problems. Moreover, they are highly motivated to develop insight into relationships because they have found it to be the most efficient and least time-consuming method of solving problems.Insight is one of the keys to effective psychotherapy because it opens the door to self-understanding. This occurs when the patient becomes aware of a relationship between his disturbance and motives or memories that had long been buried in his unconscious. The new insight is usually accompanied by physical signs—a release of body tension, a deep breath, a sigh of relief, an exclamation. Psychiatrists regard these reactions as evidence of progress toward recovery, since they indicate that the patient has become aware of a general principle or a childhood event that brings together and explains various fragments of behavior that have hitherto appeared unrelated.Can insight be developed or facilitated? The answer appears to be yes, and a number of techniques have been suggested. First, this ability can be improved through practice. Tackling practical as well as theoretical problems— even puzzles and brain-teasers—gets us in the habit of looking for patterns, constructing hypotheses, and observing relationships. It also gets us in the habit of trying different combinations— and the more combinations we try, the more solutions we find. Finally, the value of practice is enhanced by the fact that solving problems in one area frequently helps us solve problems in another, for the same type of approach, or the same type of solution, often applies to different problems.Second, an accumulation of knowledge and experience facilitates insight. It gives us a larger reservoir of ideas to draw upon. Most educators, scientists, and businessmen believe this reservoir should be as rich and diverse as possible, since insight often arises from information or experience that does not appear to be relevant to the problem at hand.Third, insight can often be stimulated either by getting away from the problem or by “sleeping on it,” since we tend to fall into a rut when we think too persistently or continuously. Some psychologists believe a “vacation” of this kind gives our unconscious a chance to work on the problem; others contend that we merely approach it from a new and fresh angle when we return to it. Either or both of these ideas can be used to explain the fact that flashes of insight frequently occur when they are least expected or when we stop concentrating and indulge in a period of “free association.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "INHIBITION," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/inhibition/ (accessed October 15, 2019).
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