Freudianism, on the other hand, was very different from behaviorism, though Sigmund Freud shared Watson’s skepticism concerning people’s ability to exercise effective conscious or rational control over their actions. Freud spent considerable time counseling middle-class women who suffered from hysteria. During hysterical fits, seemingly ordinary individuals would suddenly “break down” and display uncontrolled and highly emotional behavior. It was not uncommon for quiet and passive women to “break down” in public places. They would scream, have fits of crying, or become violent. Often these outbursts occurred at times when the likelihood of embarrassment and trouble for themselves and others was at its highest. What could be causing this irrational behavior?
To explain hysteria, Freud reasoned that the self that guides action must be fragmented into conflicting parts. Normally one part, the rational mind, or Ego, is in control, but sometimes other parts become dominant. Freud speculated that human action is often the product of another, darker side of the self—the Id. This is the egocentric pleasure-seeking part of ourselves that the Ego must struggle to keep under control. The Ego relies on an internalized set of cultural rules (the Superego) for guidance. Caught between the primitive Id and the overly restrictive Superego, the Ego fights a losing battle. When the Ego loses control to the Id, hysteria or worse results. When the Superego becomes dominant and the Id is completely suppressed, people turn into unemotional, depressed social automatons who simply do what others demand.
Propaganda theorists used Freudian notions to develop very pessimistic interpretations of media influence. For example, propaganda would be most effective if it could appeal directly to the Id and short-circuit or bypass the Ego. Alternatively, if through effective propaganda efforts the cultural rules (the Superego) moved the self in the direction of the Id, people’s darker impulses would become normal—a strategy that some propaganda theorists believe was skillfully used by the Nazis. Behaviorism and Freudianism were combined to create propaganda theories that viewed the average individual as incapable of rational self-control. These theories saw people as highly vulnerable to media manipulation using propaganda; media stimuli and the Id could trigger actions that the Ego and the Superego were
powerless to stop. Afterward, the Ego merely rationalizes actions that it couldn’t control and experiences guilt about them. Accordingly, media could have instantaneous society-wide influence on even the most educated, thoughtful people.