The cover of Mankind Quarterly, Vol. 60, Nos. 1 & 2, Fall and Winter, 2014, in which Sheppard’s paper ‘Neurosis and Neurotic Transfer’ appeared

Neurosis and Neurotic Transfer

Simon G. Sheppard
Independent Researcher
Published in Mankind Quarterly, Vol. 55, Nos. 1&2, Fall/Winter 2014, pp. 81-100

Abstract: Procedural Analysis is a novel psychological approach based on evolutionary precepts in which male and female are held to employ opposing strategies. The approach is applied in a theoretical exploration of neurosis, and a return to an elementary Pavlovian definition of neurosis is proposed. Several concepts within PA are mentioned such as compound benefit and neurotic suspension. Neurotic transfer is defined and five commonplace examples are given: a male made neurotic by female non-attendance; a prospective partner derogating herself; the nervous public speaker; dispelling a temptation to steal; and the well known but poorly understood phenomena of exaggerated and voluntary false confessions.

Keywords: Neurosis; Evolutionary psychology; Human behavioral model; Sex differences; Voluntary false confessions

A new approach, Procedural Analysis, describes human behavior according to a male-female dichotomy. In this model, men and women play a ‘game of opposites,’ employing antipodal strategies. These strategies ultimately derive from the scarce resource of the egg and the considerable investment required for its gestation on the one hand, and the abundance of sperm and the ability of the male to simply walk away on the other (Trivers, 1972). Only when progeny are to be produced in the near future, or are actually being reared, do the sexes approach symbiosis. The rest of the time males and females are opponents in a game of conflicting interests.

For example, the optimal gene-proliferation policy for the male is to impregnate as many reproductive females as possible – polygyny. Conversely the female prefers the sole attention of a male of superior fitness for long-term support, particularly through the critical period of gestation and child infancy – monogamy. These trends appear to be consistent across many cultures (Schmitt, 2003).

Accordingly males seek to lower the cost of sex, females seek to raise it; males take risk, females avoid it; males innovate and females imitate; males compete and females conspire (act together), and so on. A decade after the author postulated this model the first in this list was explored as ‘Sexual economics’ (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004). We deal here with evolutionary strategies, not individuals, and of course in real life there is much overlap between the sexes.

Rather than attempt to summarize PA in its entirety, this treatise will concentrate on a feature of the Occidental character, the capacity for neurosis. Neurosis (as here defined) is not unique to Western males, but to him it is both a virtue, motivating progress, and a vulnerability, employed by his competitors to exploit him. If this is not evident, it is certainly feasible, given the rich variety of genetic expression in the brain. Concerning this, Trivers’ recent summary cannot be improved: “The brain is unique both in the total number of genes expressed and in the number of genes expressed there and nowhere else. By some estimates, more than half of all genes express themselves in the brain: that is, more than ten thousand genes. This means that genetic variation for mental and behavioral traits should be especially extensive and fine-grained in our species – contra decades of social science dogma” (Trivers, 2011, p. 123). The wide variation in behavioral traits is reflected in the ongoing debate about independent and interdependent cultures (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Support for this view can be drawn from various perspectives (Heine & Lehman, 1997; Iyengar & Lepper, 1999; Risch et al., 2002; Kanazawa, 2006; Taylor et al., 2007; Heine, 2010).

Procedural Analysis is presented as a theoretical model, and no claim of scientific rigor is made save that the author lived for several years in Amsterdam, where behavior was less reserved and many psychological mechanisms were evident, often at their extremes. It was in this environment that PA was developed. The approach has the important advantages of being internally consistent, testable and capable of general comprehension. While workers in various psychological disciplines garner valuable knowledge, much of it is of only marginal utility to ordinary people, who struggle to understand the events and problems of their everyday lives.

Here an attempt is made to analyze at the most fundamental level, the basic psychological mechanisms. This, after all, is the true object of scientific endeavor, to identify the essential variables and simplify.


Nowadays the term neurosis has come to mean a generalized state of anxiety, “a mild mental illness, not attributable to organic disease, characterized by symptoms of stress” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 2002). The hope is to reclaim the term for a specific psychological reaction: the mental condition which arises when one stimulus evokes two or more responses. This accords with Pavlov’s definition, and is consistent with his experimental observations, where in each case we can envisage an internal conflict being produced:

‘This [insufficient balance between the excitatory and inhibitory processes] happens mainly under three conditions, three circumstances. Either extremely strong stimuli in the nature of conditioned stimuli are used in the place of those that are only weak or moderately strong and which ordinarily determine the animal’s activity; i.e., its excitatory processes are overstrained. Or the animal is required to exert a very strong or a very protracted inhibition; i.e., its inhibitory processes are overstrained. Or, finally, a conflict between both these processes is produced; i.e., conditioned positive and negative stimuli are applied one right after the other. In all these cases with the proper animal there develops a chronic disturbance of the higher nervous activity, a neurosis (Pavlov 1941, p. 84).

Incidentally, immediately after giving this definition Pavlov commented that his dogs found their experimental sessions to be a trial. If those dogs which had become ill could have spoken, he wrote, “all would declare that on every one of the occasions mentioned they were put through a difficult test, a hard situation. Some would report that they felt frequently unable to refrain from doing that which was forbidden and then they felt punished for doing it one way or another, while others would say that they were totally, or just passively, unable to do what they usually had to do.” Undergoing the stress of conflicting and ambiguous stimuli was clearly an ordeal for the animal.

Following a career experimenting with dogs, Pavlov shifted his attention to psychiatry. His ideas about human neurosis found application in treating the ‘war neuroses’ which were common during the Second World War (Sargant, 1942; Sargant, 1959, pp. 37-53). However Pavlov seems doomed to being overshadowed, first by Freud and then by Festinger. Applying Pavlovian principles can lead not only to an understanding of neurosis but also to its effective treatment (Plaud, 2003).

Skirting the definition

Before going further, it may be helpful to explore this definition of neurosis, clearing away some incidental matters. This will be worthwhile, because the exploration culminates in the identification of an important new procedure, one which promises to have wide application.

The following illustration is not of neurosis but of an analogous process. We imagine an old man becoming bewildered when the telephone rings and someone knocks at the door at the same time. A state of internal conflict is established, because he cannot decide how to prioritize the two demands. Both are urgent: if he answers the telephone the visitor may go away, but if he answers the door the person on the other end of the telephone may abandon the call. The conflict established in the mind of the old man can be so paralyzing that neither the telephone nor the door is answered. Although there are two stimuli in this case, the scenario illustrates firstly, the internal conflict which characterizes neurosis, and secondly, a distinct phenomenon called neurotic suspension – to be frozen in a state of neurosis. Putatively, neurotic suspension is the general effect of which ‘bystander apathy’ is a particular case.

Positive and negative neurosis?

Sometimes an individual exposes himself to conflict by his own volition. Risks are intentionally taken and excitement is experienced. The stimulus can be exhilarating, distinguishing it from neurosis in its common, dictionary sense, or perhaps this is a special case of it, because neurosis is generally understood to be depressive. It might be termed ‘positive neurosis’ or ‘voluntary neurosis’ because the exposure is actively sought.

Small monkeys race across the path of trucks, competing as to how finely they can time their run under the vehicle’s wheels, and status in the troop is acquired this way. I have observed children doing the same. A punter in a betting shop or casino finds gambling exciting and sometimes ruinously addictive. Conflicting impulses of fear and greed are common to both the financial speculator and the criminal: the former fears ruin while the latter fears capture, and both activities can be exhilarating and rewarding. There are two potential outcomes: profit or devastating failure, but the danger only adds to the thrill.

Things get even murkier if we consider lap-dancing clubs, which for some men can be stimulating, yet others find depressive. Indeed men can be drawn into a form of addiction, compulsively visiting a particular dancer and showering her with money and other gifts (Egan, 2005). Sensation-seekers scoring high in extroversion may enjoy being made fearful by a good horror film, though here we touch upon personality types, a theme which is beyond the scope of this paper. Nevertheless while men particularly can become ruinously addicted to gambling and lap-dancers, addiction to horror films is practically unheard of. It is conceivable that the brain incorporates a kind of ‘look-up table’ which determines whether a particular dichotomous stimulus will engender pleasurable excitement or a sense of unease.

Cognitive dissonance, neurotic stress

Here, neurosis is said to be induced when one stimulus evokes two (or more) responses. Normally the stimulus is external and beyond the individual’s direct control. This is ‘negative’ neurosis, and it is not a pleasant sensation.

The relation, if any, between this definition of neurosis and the personality dimension of neuroticism has not been explored. Similarly, no association exists with any psychoanalytic concept such as ‘transference neurosis.’ Neurotic transfer as described below is, to the best of the author’s knowledge, a novel concept, although it does derive from an old way of looking at neurosis.

Obvious comparisons can be made with cognitive dissonance. This was defined as the psychological discomfort which occurs when an individual has “any knowledge, opinion or belief” which is inconsistent with another (Festinger, 1957, p. 3). Numerous studies have confirmed the predictive value of Festinger’s model and the locus of attitudinal conflict in the brain appears to have been identified (van Veen, Krug, Schooler & Carter, 2009). In that study, subjects were instructed to report enjoyment from the uncomfortable confines of an MRI scanner.

The cognitive dissonance model seems appropriate for situations like this actual case of the parsimonious prisoner. A person with a strong aversion to spending money was briefly imprisoned. His incarceration was beyond his control; he had no choice in the matter. His circumstances were unsatisfactory, so he reduced the inconsistency between ‘what should be’ and ‘what is’ by accentuating the positive aspects of his situation. He said that his imprisonment was a boon because it prevented him from spending money. Since our parsimonious prisoner could not change his situation, the only avenue for reducing his internal conflict was by altering his cognition. He ‘put a brave face on the situation,’ ‘put a gloss on it’ finding, dwelling on and exaggerating the positive aspects of his circumstances to offset his sense of calamity. This rationalization is of course a very common process, and long-recognized. The term “sour grapes” derives from Aesop’s ancient fable, where a fox, unable to reach some grapes, argues to himself that they are probably sour.

In applying the original, Pavlovian model of neurosis we return to first principles and examine when a stimulus produces internal conflict. That is, the circumstances in which a single event can generate a neurotic reaction: mutually conflicting responses.

Besides the dogs which were the subjects of Pavlov’s experiments, doves, cats, rats, sheep, goats, pigs, a chimpanzee, children and men have been the subjects of trials, some of which produced violent indications of neurosis (Wolpe, 1952). What was perhaps most noteworthy in Wolpe’s review was the remarkable persistence of neurotic symptoms, these sometimes being observed for the subsequent life of the animal. Wolpe defined experimental neurosis as “unadaptive responses that are characterized by anxiety, that are persistent, and that have been produced experimentally by behavioral means.”

I have even observed neurotic behavior in a spider. Spiders are largely binary creatures, approaching another creature of similar size as either a potential enemy or a mate. A spider was seen repeatedly advancing on and retreating from an object in the grass, apparently torn between its two options and unable to resolve its internal conflict. Several times I have seen something akin to an erroneous signal in the cat, whereby the animal initially expressed fear, checked itself and then settled back. This can remind the passer-by of the cat’s vulnerability, and his ability to harm the cat. Showing fear of harm can inspire it.

This evidence of mental conflict in animals and even the spider suggests that a more elementary mechanism than cognitive dissonance exists. We do not usually associate “knowledge, opinion, or belief” with animals, still less arachnids. Can we say that a dog, simultaneously cringing in fear and wagging its tail, or rapidly alternating between the two, is suffering from a cognitive dissonance? In an extreme example, five men were administered Scoline (Campbell, Sanderson & Laverty, 1964). The substance induced respiratory paralysis lasting approximately 100 seconds, leading the men to believe they were suffocating and dying. The resulting conditioned response was rapidly acquired, strong, and resistant to extinction. Quite the contrary: attempts at extinguishing the CR amplified it, an effect Eysenck called incubation.

In some contexts the terms ‘cognitive dissonance’ and ‘neurotic stress’ are synonymous. It might be said that the subjects in the Scoline trial had a cognition of impending death. Had they been given time, a change in attitude might have taken place to reduce that dissonance: ‘Well, I’ve had a good innings, goodbye world’ or their conflict might have been rationalized some other way. However I propose that the subjects were abruptly confronted with the most fundamental neurosis of all, the conflict between ‘I am going to die’ and ‘I want to live.’

According to Eysenck, incubation is also associated with sexual neurosis and employing a sexual model could allow us to strike at the rudiments of neurosis without having to administer Scoline. The compulsive, involuntary nature of much neurotic behavior suggests more than mere cognition, and hormones and other neurobiological agents have been shown to modulate extinction (Eysenck, 1987, pp. 16-23). This emphasizes the essentially physiological nature of neurosis, while the focus of cognitive dissonance is alterations of attitude to alleviate more mundane conflicts. Neurosis with this precise definition is a more powerful concept because it is capable of incorporating other behaviors which have hitherto either been separately treated or unacknowledged.

In summary, an attempt is made to reclaim the term ‘neurosis’ to describe a process which is evident in animals and which is an elementary component of human psychology. It is a general model of internal conflict. When a neurosis-inducing event (NIE) occurs, neurotic stress ensues. This revised, or rather restored, definition is more fundamental and wide-ranging. Moreover, the model leads to the identification of other, commonplace human mechanisms.

Inducing neurosis

We now turn to an obvious source of male neurosis, certainly in European societies. Darwin (following John Hunter) differentiated primary sexual characters, those features which are directly connected with reproduction, from secondary sexual characters, which are unique to one sex but not concerned with reproduction (Darwin, 1859, p. 188; Clutton-Brock, 2009). A human male secondary sexual character is the beard: it is particular to one sex but has no direct role in reproduction. It does, however, help to distinguish the male from the female.

Here an analogous distinction is made between sexual and non-sexual signals. Sexual signals are primary sexual characters in behavior. Such signals have an obvious role in reproduction, and the policy of signaling is plainly advantageous for the female. When a female uses this strategy to secure a mate she firstly, maintains control, by exploiting the ambiguity of a signal, and secondly she secures a mate of her choosing (Grammer et al., 2000). Thirdly, the mechanism is clearly capable of being passed to her female progeny, so that they express the same trait, that is, a propensity to signal. In other words, the signaling strategy confers heritable advantage.

Just as signals are primary sexual characters in behavior, many procedures – certainly the elementary mechanisms, which are so easily taken for granted – are likely to have their origin in the reproductive advantage they confer. It is proposed that all procedures ultimately derive from sexual processes.

The female signals, the male responds. A signal is called discriminate if it is directed to a particular person and indiscriminate if it is not. A female dressing provocatively is indiscriminately signaling. Sexual signals tend to be more effective when subliminally perceived, yet females tend to increase the intensity of their signals. Indeed, the observation was made that the less likely the male is to respond, the more likely the female is to signal. Fashions change and the areas being exposed are varied to maintain male attention by “shifting erogenous zones.” In this view, complete nudity is anti-erotic, for the novelty soon wears off; our “permanent eroticism” is kept alive by the shifting, semi-concealment of clothes (Laver, 1969, pp. 36-37).

In light of his biological imperative to procreate, the male is understandably sensitive to advertisements for sex. The mere fact that each of us is here is evidence of an unbroken lineage going back many thousands of generations (Buss, 2000, p. 1). Every single one of our ancestors must have successfully paired with a mate otherwise we simply would not exist. It is no wonder then that the sex drive in males, and equivalently, the female need to form relationships, is so strong.

A signal is always capable of multiple interpretation. It may be emitted as a result of imitation, in jest, due to malfunction of equipment (as in the case of a traffic signal) or otherwise invalid. Inappropriate signals may be emitted as a defense mechanism against a source of neurosis (as when smiling incongruously). The ambiguity of a signal induces neurotic stress (or, with a nod to Festinger, neurotic dissonance) before, or until, interpretation of the signal is firmly established or a decision is made on how to react to it. The ardor of the male and the intense pleasure he receives from physical sex, serving as a reinforcer of that drive, makes him extraordinarily sensitive to sexual signals. This is the model for signaling and neurosis, because it is a primary sexual character of behavior.

When a female signals a male, he is faced with two options, to approach or to desist. If he were unconditioned, his immediate response would be to approach, in expectation of sexual pleasure and to add another conquest to his tally. However, previous experience has taught him that things are rarely that simple: being (as in the usual case) only dimly aware that he has been signaled, he may fear rejection. Or that the female will use him as a trophy, that is to demonstrate her attractive ability to others, to make another jealous, to be flattered and entertained, or has some other motive. If he approaches he must endure an elevation of neurosis, since a blunt proposition, capable of quickly resolving the matter, is the one class of approach statement which is practically guaranteed to fail.

During the signal the female becomes more attractive (by definition); especially if the signaling is elevated in intensity or duration it becomes impossible for the male to gauge the female’s comeliness objectively. Then almost a blackout state can be induced in which perception of the event and its surroundings can be considerably altered. For the duration that a sexual signal is being emitted, a particular state arises in the mind of the receiver. It is likely that a specific area of the male brain will be identified when cerebral activity is monitored during reception of a female signal (Rupp, 2009).

The archetype of neurotic transfer

If neurosis-inducing stimuli are repeated, or forceful, a persistent neurotic state can be established with long-term, detrimental effects. A neurotic individual might emit invalid signals, unwittingly say the opposite of what he means, or inadvertently express fear. This, as we have seen in the simple example of the cat, can lead to the thing feared actually taking place.

Neurotic transfer is transferring power to an opponent, motivated by neurosis. In game-theoretic terms, a Protagonist induces neurosis in an Opponent, and the Opponent responds, not by retaliating, but by transferring power to the Protagonist. The Opponent’s reaction strengthens the Protagonist (or a subsequent, similar neurosis-inducer, another member of the population).

Equivalently, the Opponent may disarm himself in some manner. Either way, following a neurosis-inducing event created by the Protagonist, the Protagonist’s position is fortified.

Sometimes the action which leads to the persistent neurotic state is obvious, and can be readily identified as the neurosis-inducing event. Consider the following sequence, a ‘boy meets girl in the city’ story if you will. A male meets a female, somehow, among the crowds. They share a coffee, or a drink, and get on. He asks her to meet him for an outing in a few days time, and a place and time of meeting are agreed. He is greatly attracted to her, in fact he has hidden the extent of it from her (males bond to females more quickly than vice versa, for obvious evolutionary reasons).

The time of the appointment arrives and with it comes a bombshell, for she does not show up. He has looked forward to their meeting: he has made plans and perhaps even bought tickets. He waited nervously but the climax of the appointed time passes without any sign of her. This, patently obvious in this example, is the NIE, the neurosis-inducing event.

The reason for her non-attendance is irrelevant, certainly to the male, for it will probably never be known. She has been economical with information so he cannot contact her. The city center serves thousands of people from outlying areas, visitors and tourists and meeting her again by chance, and paying enough attention to recognize her, is quite unlikely. She is forever lost.

Sometime later he meets another girl. Again the male is attracted to her and again a rendezvous is arranged. By now however, a persistent neurotic state has been established. He fears that, like last time, she will not turn up. His conflict is between his pleasurable anticipation of meeting her again, and his fear that he will again be let down. He expresses his fear by seeking affirmation: “You will turn up, won’t you?” and this is neurotic transfer, for in his neurotic state he has made his position worse.

Due to his neurotic state – persistent from the previous occasion when a girl he desired did not show up – he has transferred power to the female. By expressing his fear he has conveyed significant information. His neurotic utterance tells the female at least three things. First, that he has been let down before, maybe several times. Second, he is evidently anxious that she will attend, counteracting any pretense of nonchalance he has made; this enhances her, increasing her confidence and power. Third, at some point between now and the rendezvous the possibility of not attending will occur to her, and she may surmise that it is common practice in this environment for females not to turn up to meetings with males. The probability that she will not attend is increased.

The neurotic male further empowers the female. By the neurotic transfer of power he has strengthened his opponent, and she is his opponent, because although there is potential for symbiosis between the players in this game, it is still a long way off. Moreover, as is common to many female procedures, action towards a single male is of benefit to females generally. The failure of the first female to attend has induced a persistent neurotic state, and by neurotically expressing his fear of its repetition he has empowered a subsequent one.

This dual benefit combination is an example of compound benefit. This occurs when a procedure confers multiple benefits, not necessarily confined to the individual performing the action. In this example the first female player has acted both as an individual and in some degree as a member of a population. Her actions have raised the cost of sex in both ways.

Further examples of neurotic transfer

A number of other scenarios can be described in which neurotic transfer occurs. In a similar context to the sequence above is the instance of self-derogation to a potential partner. A couple meet at an early stage of their relationship (perhaps it is a ‘first date’) and the female diminishes herself by mentioning her unattractive features or habits. The likely neurosis-inducing event is being examined as a prospective partner. She responds by revealing her flaws and transferring power to the male, making her rejection more likely.

If, as in this scenario, it is the female diminishing herself, then her self-derogation operates as a test of the male, establishing his commitment and preparedness to remain with her during a lengthy period of pregnancy and child-rearing. This is evolutionarily advantageous for the female, and hence this is a possible evolutionary origin of neurotic transfer.

A nervous and unimpressive public speaker may lapse to neurotic transfer. He may have the misfortune to follow a previous speaker who has successfully amused and entertained his audience, and he is unable to fill the void. Even so, the individuals making up the audience have hardly formed an opinion, especially since the speaker is still in mid-flow. Or, to the degree that an appraisal of his speech has been formed, there may be pluralistic ignorance, in that each audience member believes that his opinion is his alone.

This all changes when the speaker himself comments on the lukewarm reception to his speech. His nervousness has inspired his remark, and that arousal is at least partly the product of internal conflict (he has imagined himself giving a successful talk). His observation makes the audience’s inchoate appraisal conscious, solidifying it in their minds. He has empowered them to confidently criticize his performance since what was before a disputable opinion has now been confirmed by the very person delivering the address.

Neurotic transfer may be employed to dispel a temptation to steal. A person might see something he desires, perhaps some small trinket or useful item left outside, and be tempted to take it. The NIE is sight of the object, with conflicting drives of wanting it and unwillingness to steal it. Neurotic transfer can take place when the individual reveals his desire to the owner. As in the previous examples, he empowers the other player with information: if the object subsequently goes missing the owner now knows who has likely taken it. The one who was tempted has resolved (or at least reduced) his neurotic conflict by surrendering his ability to take it without attracting suspicion on himself.

Exaggerated confessions and voluntary false confessions

Another expression of neurotic transfer is the damning confessions suspects sometimes make under police interrogation. That a suspect confesses his crime is not surprising, but what is notable is that in certain circumstances he actually exaggerates his crime, increasing his own culpability and making his prosecution even easier. He may exaggerate his actions or ascribe to himself the blackest motives and intentions.

Incidents have occurred in Britain in which individuals with illegal substances have revealed the drugs they were carrying immediately on encountering a police officer, who would otherwise not have become aware of them. One walked up to a police officer with some cannabis in the palm of his hand. Another, subjected to a mundane traffic stop, revealed the presence of a kilogram of cocaine in his van before the officer had said a word.

Even more remarkable is the phenomenon of people confessing to crimes they have not committed at all. Especially for a highly publicized crime, people can walk into a police station insisting they are the perpetrator. The phenomenon came to notice with the 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping, to which 250 people confessed, but the record for false confessions is held by the 1947 Black Dahlia murder, for which there have reportedly been more than 500 voluntary confessions (Corwin, 1996). As far as the author is aware, this behavior is unexplained hitherto. In Catholic orthodoxy a scrupulous conscience is “an habitual state of mind” that is “often afraid that sin lies where it really does not” (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912). Neurotic transfer, perhaps combined with this kind of conscience, can account for such spurious confessions.

Further, miscellaneous examples of neurotic transfer are when, especially at a low point in their relationship, one of a couple asks the other “What don’t you like about me?” The answer, if full and frank, can permanently seal the fate of the relationship; it may never recover from a brutally honest reply. This is a specific instance of asking a loaded question at exactly the wrong moment. Or when a person lets slip the very thing they had intended not to reveal. These are neurotic responses which likely involve neurotic transfer. Similarities exist with “ironic processes” (Wegner, 2009) but that model is considerably more complex, while the objective here is to make maximum use of Occam’s razor.

Neurotic suspension. Societal neurosis

Inducing neurosis is a non-physical device the female has evolved to prevent exploitation by her more aggressive, physically stronger opponent. Females abhor violence because their handicap means that in any physical contest they invariably lose. Applying our evolutionary model, even if she were to prevail against an exceptionally weak or retiring male, another stronger one would shortly come along to overpower her. A major cause of male death in prehistory was fights over females (Darwin, 1874, pp. 854-7; Chagnon, 1968, p. 141).

Sexual signaling induces neurosis in males, and this serves to limit sex. Neurosis imposes cost on the male, confuses him and makes him easier to manipulate. It is of benefit to females to maintain males in a state of neurosis, especially if females are under pressure to provide physical sex. During my primary investigations in Amsterdam, neurotic suspension was manifest by males staring fixedly at females, locked in that state. The male could become transfixed and unable to break his gaze, and this behavior became the subject of public complaint by females.

Sexual signals may also distribute neurosis. Females are more “neurotic” than males; diagnosis rates reported in 1974 were 75.5 per 1000 p.a. for males and 162.9 per 1000 p.a. for females, from a British sample of 300,000 attending general practice (Eysenck, 1987, p. 6). Females may employ signaling as a mechanism by which their neurotic load is transferred onto males, and this would be consistent with the general female policy. By creating an adverse environment for males, females can use this mechanism as a trial of determination and psychological stamina (i.e. fitness) of the male. The male instinct is to preserve the integrity of signals, that is, to reduce their ambiguity.

A background of false, erroneous or dysfunctional signaling would increase the level of societal neurosis and engender neurosis in males generally. In his persistent neurotic state the male engages in neurotic transfer, empowering subsequent neurosis-inducers, and females may use this power to further elevate the level of neurosis. Thus a reinforcing cycle is established. That such a cycle exists is certainly a theoretical possibility, obvious from game-theoretic analysis. Given the practically exponential increase in benefit neurotic transfer confers to a population exploiting the mechanism, we would be wise to look out for it.

Neurosis, I contend, is a major driver of innovation and progress. Male sexual drives are sublimated, because his physical method involves less neurosis than the female, social mode – the male flies from ambiguity and irrationality to logical pursuits. Populations with the greatest susceptibility to neurosis are precisely those which are most likely to engage in neurotic transfer.


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