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Description: Even if you have not taken a single Psychology course you certainly have heard of Freudian slips. A Freudian slip is where someone misspeaks, and the “error” actually exposes a deeper meaning or intention buried somewhere in the speaker’s unconscious that they themselves may be trying to remain unaware of. For example, if you bump into your workplace manager who you seriously dislike, while out on the weekend and, somewhat startled say something like “So sad (glad) to see you”.  Now, if you HAVE had a psychology course you likely recall seeing or hearing some version of a statement to the effect that Freud’s view of the unconscious has no empirical support which may have included or implied the conclusion that Freudian slips are like Freud’s general theory, without empirical support. All well and good except that Parapraxis is still discussed today in reference to situations where intensely emotional events in someone’s past can give rise to errors or slips in speech or to selective memory loss. After all, while we do not see Freud as a contemporary theorist, we do remain interested in motivated forgetting, Fugue states and memory processing issues in cases of PTSD. If you are interested in hearing an analysis of why it might have been that Elvis Presley, in the latter part of his career had significant difficulty with the words in the spoken bridge in his hits song Are You Lonesome Tonight listen to the podcast (by Malcom Gladwell) that can be found at the link below. It is fascinating stuff.

Source: Analysis, Parapraxis, Elvis, Revisionist History Season 3, Episode 10, Malcolm Gladwell.

Date: Nov 2, 2019


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There are many areas where Psychology is developing deeper understanding of the role of emotions in cognition and memory processing. Emotionally charged life events can lead both to flashbulb memories (that we feel like we will never forget – though our memories there may not be as veridical as we believe – see the second Gladwell podcast linked in the reference section below) and to trauma induced forgetting. There WAS a lot going on in Elvis` life but the analytic hypothesis about his consistent difficulties with the spoken portion of Are You Lonesome Tonight seems to clearly point to the impact of strongly felt emotions on memory.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is Parapraxis?
  2. How might the concept of Parapraxis make sense out of the consistent errors Elvis made when performing Are You Lonesome Tonight?
  3. Can you think of any other ‘old’ psychological concepts that still bear investigation today even if their original theoretic contexts are disproved or otherwise out of favor?

References (Read Further):

Malcolm Gladwell, Free Brian Williams, Revisionist History Podcast Season 3 #4

Elms, A. C., & Heller, B. (2005). Twelve Ways to Say” Lonesome”: Assessing Error and Control in the Music of Elvis Presley.

Steven Wright (2012) A short violent history of parapraxis, Overland,

Anderson, M. C., & Hanslmayr, S. (2014). Neural mechanisms of motivated forgetting. Trends in cognitive sciences, 18(6), 279-292.

Anderson, M. C., & Huddleston, E. (2012). Towards a cognitive and neurobiological model of motivated forgetting. In True and false recovered memories (pp. 53-120). Springer, New York, NY.

Nijdam, M. J., Martens, I. J., Reitsma, J. B., Gersons, B. P., & Olff, M. (2018). Neurocognitive functioning over the course of trauma‐focused psychotherapy for PTSD: Changes in verbal memory and executive functioning. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57(4), 436-452.

Rubin, D. C. (2005). A basic-systems approach to autobiographical memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(2), 79-83.