Transference in Everyday Life Biases Memory, Emotions

-*Ever catch yourself in what feels like an irrational re-enactment of well-practiced scenarios from your past, but recreated in the present with someone entirely different?

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

 Sigmund Freud described this experience as “transference,” redirecting feelings applicable to one person, often an important figure in one’s childhood, onto a different individual in the present.

Though the current recipient of feelings may have different characteristics, motivations, and behaviors than the original person, something about the present individual triggered unconscious reenactment of earlier feelings.

Susan Andersen

Susan Andersen

NYU’s Susan Andersen and Alana Baum demonstrated transference in lab studies when they asked volunteers for descriptions of important people in their lives for whom they had positive feelings or negative feelings.
To contrast the results, Andersen and Baum also presented descriptions of other people’s significant others.

Later, Anderson and Baum described an unknown person seated next door, using either the emotionally-positive or emotionally-negative descriptions of someone from the volunteer’s life or someone else’s life.

Participants demonstrated transference when they more completely recalled the stranger next door’s description when it resembled their own significant other rather than someone else’s.

Recall was enhanced because the salient features of the significant other’s description were memorable when assigned to a new person.
This demonstrated biased inference and memory based on “accessibility” and distinctiveness of the earlier triggering memory, according to Anderson’s collaborators Steve W. Cole and Noah Glassman.

Transference is an outgrowth of attachment to others in the past, according to Queens College’s Claudia Chloe Brumbaugh and R. Chris Fraley University of Illinois.

R. Chris Fraley

R. Chris Fraley

In their research , participants learned about two potential dating partners:  One description resembled a romantic partner from the past whereas another description matched another participant’s former partner.

These volunteers reported feeling both less avoidant and more anxious toward potential dating partners described as similar to previous significant others.
Brumbaugh and Fraley noted that participants “applied attachment representations of past partners” to any potential future partner, but to a greater extent when the new partner was described as resembling an important past partner.

Susan Fiske

Susan Fiske

Earlier, Princeton’s Susan Fiske described this transfer of affective responses to a new individual, as schema-triggered affect and Andersen teamed with Berkeley’s Serena Chen to summarize the socio-cognitive explanation for transference.

People modify views of themselves and others in transference situations.

Serena Chen

Serena Chen

Katrina Hinkley and Andersen demonstrated that volunteers modified their working self-concept and biased recall of details about the new person when a representation of an earlier significant other was “activated.”

 In their study, participants learned about the new person.
When re-evaluated, participants’ list of the new person’s attributes changed to include elements of the self when with the former significant person.

Michael Kraus

Michael Kraus

Transference occurs even when a target person possesses an attribute incompatible with the significant other’s characteristics, found University of Illinois’s Michael W. Kraus with Berkeley’s Chen, Victoria A. Lee, and Laura D. Straus.

Participants demonstrated transference in biased memories and judgments about a person they perceived as similar to a former significant other.

This effect was manipulated to elicit positive impressions even when the target was from an ethnic out-group, suggesting ways to reduce stigma and discrimination by evoking positive transference from past experiences to present actors.

Baum and Anderson demonstrated that transient mood during a current transference experience is related to one’s positive or negative interpersonal role with the significant other, and whether this role is consistent with the new person’s role.

They observed that participants’ transient mood was more positive when the target of their transference resembled their own significant other and occupied a similar role to the original person.

This suggests that transference in the workplace can be most problematic when current people seem similar to others from the past, including their work roles, and evoke negative emotions associated with earlier interactions.

-*How do you manage transference reactions in work and social situations?

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One thought on “Transference in Everyday Life Biases Memory, Emotions

  1. Pingback: Emotional Music Can Lead to Biased Judgments | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

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