unconscious, in psychology, that aspect of mental life that is separate from immediate consciousness and is not subject to recall at will. Sigmund Freud regarded the unconscious as a submerged but vast portion of the mind. In his view, the unconscious was composed of the id, which accounts for instinctual drives, acts as the motivating force in human behavior, and contains desires and wishes that the individual hides—or represses—from conscious recognition; and part of the superego, the system that acts to restrain and control id impulses. Conscious cognitive processes, such as thinking, are performed by the ego and part of the superego (see psychoanalysis). Conflict between conscious and unconscious impulses are said to give rise to anxiety, then to defense mechanisms, which counteract this anxiety. To tap the unconscious, Freud used a variety of techniques, including hypnosis, free association, and dream interpretation. C. G. Jung expanded on the Freudian concept, adding the idea of an inherited unconscious, known as the collective unconscious. The idea of the unconscious has been rejected by some psychological schools, although it is still used by many psychoanalysts. The term unconscious is also used to describe latent, or unretrieved, memories, or to describe stimuli too weak to enter an individual's conscious awareness.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.