What Is the Pleasure Principle?

Young child eating cake
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In Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality, the pleasure principle is the driving force of the id that seeks immediate gratification of all needs, wants, and urges. In other words, the pleasure principle strives to fulfill our most basic and primitive urges, including hunger, thirst, anger, and sex. When these needs are not met, the result is a state of anxiety or tension.

How Does the Pleasure Principle Work?

Recall that the id is the most basic and animalistic part of personality.

It is also the only part of personality that Freud believed was present from birth. The id is one of the strongest motivating forces, but it is the part of personality that also tends to be buried at the deepest, unconscious level. It consists of all of our most basic urges and desires.

During early childhood, the id controls the majority of behavior. Children act on their urges for food, water, and various forms of pleasure. The pleasure principle guides the id to fulfill these basic needs to help ensure survival.  Freud noticed that very young children often try to satisfy these often biological needs as quickly as possible, with little or no thought given whether or not the behavior is considered acceptable.

The Development of the Ego

As children mature, the ego develops to help control the urges of the id. The ego is concerned with reality. The ego helps ensure that the id's needs are met, but in ways that are acceptable in the real-world.

The ego operates through what Freud referred to as the reality principle. This reality principle is the opposing force to the instinctual urges of the pleasure principle. Instead of seeking immediate gratification for urges, the reality principle guides the ego to seek avenues to fulfill these needs that are both realistic and socially appropriate.

Imagine that a very young child is thirsty. They might simply grab a glass of water out of another person's hands and begin guzzling it down. The pleasure principle dictates that the id will seek out the most immediate way to gratify this need. Once the ego has developed, however, the reality principle will push the ego to look for more realistic and acceptable ways to fill these needs. Instead of simply grabbing someone else's water, the child will ask if they can also have a glass.

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

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