Wikipedia defines psychological projection as:

a psychological defense mechanism where a person unconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people. Thus, projection involves imagining or projecting the belief that others originate those feelings.

It ascribes the theory to Sigmund and Anna Freud. My limited understanding of the field is that Sigmund Freud was both the father of psychotherapy with many genius ideas and also a poor scientist who did not robustly test his own hypotheses.

So my question is: Is psychological projection a hypothesis that is accepted in modern psychology, presumably as part of a model that makes testable predictions? Or is it an old pseudo-scientific idea that is no longer accepted by scientists? Or has it a different status again.

(Wikipedia provides references, but to papers written by (for example) Freud and Jung, many of them dated around 30-70 years ago. The more modern references (such as this one) didn't seem to have much empirical evidence.)

  • A very apt description of Sigmund Freud. Jun 21, 2011 at 10:38

1 Answer 1


According to "Freudian Defense Mechanisms and Empirical Findings in Modern Social Psychology ..."

The simpler, more loosely defined version of projection is fairly well documented. The false consensus effect, first described by Ross, Greene, and House (1977), is probably the best-known form of this, insofar as it is a broad tendency to assume that others are similar to oneself.


None of these findings links seeing the trait in others to denying it in oneself, and so they fall short of the more rigorous definition of projection. Given the failure to show that projective responses can function to conceal one’s own bad traits, Holmes (1968, 1978, 1981) concluded that defensive projection should be regarded as a myth. In retrospect, it was never clear how seeing another person as dishonest (for example) would enable the individual to avoid recognizing his or her own dishonesty. The notion that projection would effectively mask one’s own bad traits was perhaps incoherent.


Conclusion. Considerable evidence indicates that people’s conceptions of themselves shape their perceptions of other people. The tendency to see others as having one’s own traits has limitations and is found with good traits along with bad ones. The view that people defensively project specific bad traits of their own onto others as a means of denying that they have them is not well supported.

The paper has a great chapter about projection and more modern theories, with many more sources.

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