The Ego: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition of the Ego
  • 0:50 Characteristics of the Ego
  • 2:10 Relationship Between…
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

The ego is one of the three components of personality in Freud's psychoanalytic theory. Learn the characteristics of the ego in this lesson, and discover how it interacts with the other components of personality.

Definition of the Ego

Imagine yourself in the middle of an argument between two of your friends. One friend wants you to go to a party. The other friend thinks that you should stay home and study for a test you have coming up. You want to find a way to keep both of your friends happy, so you come up with a compromise. You will study for an hour and then go to the party later.

In this example, your actions are similar to the ego. According to Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory, there are three parts to the personality: the ego, the id and the superego. The ego is the psychological component of the personality that is represented by our conscious decision-making process. The id is the instinctual, biological component , and the superego is the social component of our personality and conscience . Our behavior is determined by the interaction of these three components.

Characteristics of the Ego

The ego is the second component of personality to develop, usually around the ages of two to three years old. The ego is responsible for sorting out what is real . It helps us make sense of our thoughts and the world around us. It is the component of our personality we are aware of the most. This is because the ego is the part that controls our consciousness.

We experience three levels of consciousness according to Freud. These three levels are unconsciousness, outside of our awareness at all times ; pre-consciousness, knowledge and memories we can retrieve; and consciousness, our current awareness . The ego exists in all three levels, but is the main component of our current awareness.

The ego is controlled by what is called the reality principle. This is the idea that the desires of the id must be satisfied in a method that is both socially appropriate and realistic . The reality principle causes the ego to consider the pros and cons of a desire before deciding to act on it. The ego does not try to stop these desires, but tries to achieve them in realistic and acceptable ways.

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