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Josephs, L. (2010). The Evolved Function of the Oedipal Conflict. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 91(4):937-958.

(2010). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 91(4):937-958

The Evolved Function of the Oedipal Conflict

Lawrence Josephs

(Final version accepted 7 November 2009)

Freud based his oedipal theory on three clinical observations of adult romantic relationships: (1) Adults tend to split love and lust; (2) There tend to be sex differences in the ways that men and women split love and lust; (3) Adult romantic relationships are unconsciously structured by the dynamics of love triangles in which dramas of seduction and betrayal unfold. Freud believed that these aspects of adult romantic relationships were derivative expressions of a childhood oedipal conflict that has been repressed. Recent research conducted by evolutionary psychologists supports many of Freud's original observations and suggests that Freuds oedipal conflict may have evolved as a sexually selected adaptation for reproductive advantage. The evolution of bi-parental care based on sexually exclusive romantic bonds made humans vulnerable to the costs of sexual infidelity, a situation of danger that seriously threatens monogamous bonds. A childhood oedipal conflict enables humans to better adapt to this longstanding evolutionary problem by providing the child with an opportunity to develop working models of love triangles. On the one hand, the oedipal conflict facilitates monogamous resolutions by creating intense anxiety about the dangers of sexual infidelity and mate poaching. On the other hand, the oedipal conflict in humans may facilitate successful cheating and mate poaching by cultivating a talent for hiding our true sexual intentions from others and even from ourselves. The oedipal conflict in humans may be disguised by evolutionary design in order to facilitate tactical deception in adult romantic relationships.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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