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Comparative Study
, 17 (6), 723-34

Lay Understandings of Defence Mechanisms: The Role of Personality Traits and Gender

Comparative Study

Lay Understandings of Defence Mechanisms: The Role of Personality Traits and Gender

Adrian Furnham. Psychol Health Med.


This study looks at lay people's knowledge and use of the defence mechanisms. It focused on 21 of the better known "Freudian" defence mechanisms. A total of 208 participants (73 males and 135 females) completed a questionnaire regarding their knowledge and reported personal use of 21 defence mechanisms and a short personality test. Participants were required to state (1) whether they had heard of each mechanism, (2) how common they believed it to be and (3) whether they themselves used each of them. The defences were categorised into four levels: Pathological, immature, neurotic and mature. Two personality traits (Openness and Neuroticism) positively correlated with two of the levels but few gender or age correlations were identified. Regression analysis showed that Neuroticism predicted the three less mature defence levels; Gender was a contributing predictor of a pathological defence style and Openness and religiosity combined with Neuroticism predicted an immature defence style. Participants admitted using the more socially acceptable (mature) defences (i.e. humour, intellectualisation) than the less acceptable (pathological) defences (i.e. distortion, hypochondriasis). Implications for psychotherapy are discussed and the limitations of the study considered.

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