I am not well read in psychology, but when I dealt with Sigmund Freud and his Psychodynamic Theories, I couldn't answer a question by myself. Or maybe I don't understand it that much.

My question is based on the definition of superego: "Superego is one outcome of adaptation to the social environment, a product of continuing ego development." (https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/superego)

what if I am a human being with no morals? I understand, that humans act according to these 3 principles in Freud's theory. But imagine someone who knows that he has no moral standards. Someone who doesn't bind himself to the social morals, rules, and obligations. Who just doesn't give a ****. Who is being immoral (from the society perspective). Doing the things as he likes and wishes. So in that case, this person doesn't adapt himself to the social environment. Does that mean that this human being has no superego?

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    $\begingroup$ This question, although showing prior research regarding the superego, very much depends on your definition of "being with no morals". Do you mean someone who has an understanding of moral right and wrong but chooses to act immorally or does this include those who have not concept of moral right and wrong. And, with that, who is setting the moral standards? If it is only a certain political/religious group, how is that more moral than the standards set by another group of people in society? $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2021 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ I did upvote initially but after considering these points, they need addressing to keep the upvote so I retracted it. Sorry. Maybe if you could edit to reflect these points, maybe I will upvote again. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2021 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Psychology.SE by the way and please feel free to visit our site tour. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2021 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ According to Freudian theory, an individual with low morality should have a weak superego. The superego is the internalised rules of society (via your parents). This is learned cultural norms (eg don't kill). Superego is not an empirical concept, as mentioned before. $\endgroup$
    – Dirk N
    Mar 27, 2021 at 11:44

1 Answer 1


The Superego is a fairly flimsy concept under empirical scrutiny and is typically measured only in clinical settings. Arlow (1982), notes that the way it is measured or appears is often unreliable and that the structure by no means has the same effect on everyone.

When looking at issues that go against a societal or personal "superego", one would probably do better to study guilt or shame as mechanisms that regulate moral behavior.

There is a distinction between guilt and shame, with one being more internal and the other external, for the most part (Smith, 2014). These are better indicators as to why someone would act without conscience, at least than using the concept of the superego.

References: Arlow, J. A. (1982). Problems of the Superego Concept. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 37(1), 229–244. doi:10.1080/00797308.1982.11823365

Smith, R. (2014, June 2014). What is the difference between guilt and shame? Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/joy-and-pain/201406/what-is-the-difference-between-guilt-and-shame


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