Inferiority Complex

When individuals have feelings of inadequacy that are so intense that daily living is impaired, they are said to have an inferiority complex.

The term inferiority complex was coined in the 1920s by French psychologist Alfred Adler (1870– 1937), a one-time follower of Sigmund Freud who became disenchanted with Freud's theory of unconscious drives. Although Adler believed that underlying motivations help create personality, he introduced the concept of ego psychology. His theory of personality changed the focus to the role of conscious factors in determining behavior. According to Adler, all humans experience feelings of inferiority as children; people spend the rest of their lives trying to compensate for those feelings. As people replace the utter dependence of childhood with the progressive independence of adulthood, feelings of inferiority persist in varying intensity. For some people, the sense of inferiority serves as a positive motivating factor; these people strive to improve themselves in an effort to neutralize their feelings of inferiority. However, some people become dominated and, as a result, crippled by an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. These people, tortured by self-doubt, are said to have an inferiority complex. Adler believed that the opposite of an inferiority complex, a superiority complex, can also result from early feelings of inferiority. A superiority complex is the result of striving for perfection in order to master feelings of inferiority.

See also Adler, Alfred; Ego ; Motivation ; Personality .



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The phenomenon in which misleading information changes or influences an individual's memory is known as the misinformation effect. Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus is one of the most influential researchers into the phenomenon. Loftus and colleagues performed the highly influential original case study on the misinformation effect in 1978, and this has been followed by a series of similar case studies demonstrating the malleability of memory. These findings have great implications for the criminal justice system and the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

In the original 1978 study, Loftus et al. presented subjects with slides depicting an automobile accident. One group of subjects was shown an image of a red Datsun stopping at a “STOP” sign, while another group was shown the car at a “YIELD” sign. Afterwards, the subjects were given written descriptions of what they saw. Some of these descriptions contained misleading questions. For example, some of the individuals who had been shown images with a “YIELD” sign were asked questions about details related to a “STOP” sign. After this questioning, they were shown both photos and asked which one they had seen before. Less than half of the individuals who had been given misleading questions were able to pick out the correct photo which they had originally viewed. This demonstrated how misleading information can actually alter an individual's memory, and that rather than being static, unchanging and reliable, memory is highly malleable and suggestible.

This suggestibility may lead to inaccuracy in eyewitness testimony, and the findings of Loftus and others are very important in the legal system. For instance, suggestive interviews may influence a eyewitness's memory and may lead them to report having seen events or items they never actually saw. Psychologists such as Loftus often serve as expert witnesses in court cases, testifying about whether a witness's testimony is likely to be accurate or how likely it is to have been influenced by misinformation.

Although the misinformation effect has been shown to affect individuals of all ages and backgrounds, studies have shown that some groups of people may be more susceptible than others. In general, young children are more susceptible to the misinformation effect than older children and adults. Elderly individuals are also more susceptible than younger adults. This may be due to decreased attentional resources.

Certain conditions may also make the misinformation effect more likely to occur. For instance, the passage of time has a direct correlation with the likelihood of the misinformation effect. The more time has passed since the initial event, the more likely the misinformation effectwill occur. This may be due to a fading or weakening of the event memory, making it harder for the individual to notice a discrepancy between the memory and subsequent misinformation.

Conversely, researchers have shown that if individuals are warned prior to being given misleading information, they are less likely to be influenced by the misinformation. However, this does not seem to work if the warning is given after the misleading information has been presented.

Studies of the misinformation effect demonstrate the relative ease with which individuals’ memories may be influenced by later information. The findings of Loftus and others have called into question the reliability of eyewitness testimony and continue to be important in the field of criminal justice.