In the area of psychoanalysis, Miller examined Freudian concepts from a learning perspective, specifically stimulus-response theory. Notions including frustration and aggression, approach-avoidance conflict behavior and displacement were meticulously investigated and finally explained via learning terminology.
The current section provides a detailed description of Miller’s foray in to psychoanalysis and reveals the process used in his attempt to integrate psychoanalysis and learning theory. In addition, a list of published works related to this content is featured.
In his Ph.D. dissertation in 1935 Miller demonstrated that mental acts such as thoughts are themselves responses that function as response-produced cues to which other responses can be associated, as in mental counting when thinking one number is the cue to thinking the next. Miller noted that anything which inhibits a thought (such as anxiety) can therefore block the next thought to which it is a cue from occurring – shades of Freud’s theory of repression and, in fact, the impetus for Miller doing a post-doc at Freud’s Psychoanalytic Institute. Later investigations of Freudian concepts led to Miller’s work on frustration and aggression, approach-avoidance conflict behavior, displacement and a collaboration with John Dollard producing two important books, “Social Learning and Imitation” and “Personality and Psychotherapy.” The latter was very important in training the first post-World-War-II generation of clinical psychologists in the treatment of neuroses. It emphasized the importance in therapy of the verbal use of response-produced cues to establish generalizations that should be perceived in one’s life but aren’t, or distinctions between difference, which, likewise, should be perceived but, again, aren’t.