Imagining Parental Sexuality: The Experimental Study of Freud’s Primal Scene

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The results of 3 studies are reported designed to test the hypothesis that priming identification with the oedipal “winner” or “loser” in the Oedipal situation will unconsciously bias conscious sexual morality in predictable ways. These studies extend research by Hunyady, Josephs, and Jost (2008) that demonstrated that priming oedipal defeat led men to endorse significantly more prohibitive attitudes toward infidelity. Study 1 demonstrated that priming identification with the injured third party in both the primal scene and an adult infidelity scenario significantly decreased male participants’ permissive attitudes toward pornography. Study 2 demonstrated that priming identification with the victim of oedipal betrayal in the primal scene increased the accessibility to consciousness of sexually derogatory words such as “whore” or “prick” as assessed through a word completion task. Study 3 demonstrated that priming oedipal victory had the opposite effect of priming oedipal defeat. Priming oedipal victory in the primal scene made attitudes toward infidelity significantly more permissive. In sum, priming oedipal defeat or victory by having participants imagine scenes of parental sexuality unconsciously biases conscious sexual morality in predictable ways in line with Freudian theory of the impact of primal scene observation on the child’s state of mind.

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