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The Collective Unconscious

The Jungian concept of the collective unconscious is a feature that most distinguishes Jung's theory from others (Sharf, 2008). Before Freud, the prevailing theories for human development perceived children as emerging as a blank slate (the tabula rasa). Freud introduced the revolutionary concept of infant biological and sexual drives. Jung was a disciple of Freud but separated from Freudian theory by introducing the concept that humans inherit unconscious memories from their ancestors' experiences. The collective unconscious material is common to all humans. It is "an inherited tendency of the human mind to form representations of mythological motifs – representations that vary a great deal without losing their basic pattern" (Jung, 1959/1970, p. 228). Jung likened the collective unconscious to animal instincts that cause species to respond in prescribed ways when presented with triggering "sign stimuli" (Stevens, 1990). For example, it would explain how weaverbirds know how to build their nests (Evans, 1976) or how a first-time mother dog knows to lick her newborn puppy, open the amniotic sack, and chew through the umbilical cord without harming the slippery and squirming puppy. Although people react to the environment in many unique ways, they are evolved from similar roots and share the experience of the world, culture, and environment. As Jung explained, it is an inherited way (scheme) of functioning (Evans, 1976). He believed that the archetypal experiences were engraved on the psyche from the experiences of ancestors over the previous millennia. Because of evolution, people are predisposed to interpret experiences according to archetypes. Although the archetypes represent typical ways of interacting with the world, they are not prescriptive. This is because there are numerous archetypes influencing behavior (Stevens, 1990).

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