The collective unconscious is a term coined by psychoanalyst Carl Jung and refers to the unconscious mind shared by all of humanity. It is composed of archetypes, which are simple representations of universal figures and relationships. Examples of archetypes include the mother-child relationship and the father-child relationship.
Development of the Collective Unconscious
Jung believed that the collective unconscious was an inherited collection of knowledge and images that every human being has at birth. People are unaware of the items contained in their collective unconscious. However, at times of personal crisis, the psyche may open a door to the collective unconscious. The images contained in the unconscious are frequently manifested in dreams, and Jungian psychologists were particularly interested in dream analysis. Jung believed that dreams provided an important window into the collective unconsciousness and that many symbols contained in dreams had a universal, uniform meaning. Dreams of birth, for example, might represent the birth of a new idea or development of a new part of oneself.
There has been some debate about whether the collective unconscious is mean to be interpreted literally or symbolically. A symbolic interpretation equates to little more than a belief that all humans share certain behavioral dispositions, while a literal interpretation indicates that the images of mythology and other cultural symbols are the inheritance of each person at birth. The former has some scientific grounded, while the latter is a pseudoscientific theory.
The Collective Unconscious in Contemporary Psychology
The concept of the collective unconscious is not commonly used in most contemporary psychotherapy. However, dream analysis continues to be an important part of some psychotherapy, and there is widespread popular interest in the meaning of dreams. For example, hundreds of websites provide lists of the meaning of dream symbols. Many of these meanings are based upon Jung’s original interpretations.
While not a Jungian field, the field of contemporary evolutionary psychology has sought to uncover allegedly innate behavior dispositions of all humans, and some of the field’s claims have been widely accepted. For example, the claim that altruism is more likely to occur if two people are related has been heavily studied. In modern times, then, Jung might claim that altruism is one of the archetypes of the collective unconscious.
- Carl Jung – Collective unconscious. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.carl-jung.net/collective_unconscious.html
- Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Last Updated: 08-4-2015
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DesiApril 7th, 2019 at 1:17 PM
I majored in Psychology in the late ’70’s/early ’80’s and of course, I studied Jungian theory amongst others. I also minored in Dance, since I started at 5 years of age. But it was during my dance experience during college that I began to experience chills when watching certain formal dancers but especially African Dancers and Drummers. I started seeking information about my physical reaction to something visual, and I remembered my studies regarding the Collective Unconscious. Jung’s theory about that made perfect sense to me as to why I continue to have physiological responses to African performers in particular, and formal dancers in general. Oh, by the way, I am an African American female.
alanApril 7th, 2019 at 2:09 PM
How is collective unconscious inherited?
EllaNovember 3rd, 2019 at 1:09 PM
Hi Alan , we are all one small part of a greater whole , we have direct access to that whole when we believe that separation is illusion and Oneness is reality . Ask your question to your inner self ? Then listen watch and expect an answer . Be ready and open to receive. Ask and you will receive, Seek and you will find . Access to the collective is within you , as is everything 🙏
VioletJuly 14th, 2020 at 10:51 AM
Alan, it’s generally thought that the collective unconscious is inherited through DNA, much like temperament or susceptibility to addiction.
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