Displacement Phenomena, Questions and Problems

Even decades ago, researchers faced many potential complications in their quest to pin down the notion of displacement and designate what they were talking about. To anyone who knows a lot about any subject, the urge to formulate rules is irresistible.

Already there is a problem, because “rule” can mean different things. “As a rule” means it happens most of the time, or it means it is legally required and there will be painful consequences for ignoring it. There are always rule-breakers, and the fact that they often succeed in breaking a rule is a clue that “rule” does not imply “ironclad.”

For scientific purposes, and certainly for publication in journals, accuracy is highly prized. Yet, the speed of light has been recalibrated several times. The farther away from that old faithful standard a work reaches, the more complicated it gets.

Back to Dr. Bindra

In the 1950s, displacement activity was seen as an outlet for thwarted drives. Dr. Dalbir Bindra said of the displacement mechanism,

[I]t is thought that, when an animal is prevented from engaging in an activity (or “expressing a drive”), the particular response tendency or its accompanying “energy” remains active until it can be dissipated either by “displacing” it on to an irrelevant object or into an irrelevant activity.

Bindra characterized this as “quite inadequate.” A much more nuanced explanation was needed, for why a particular animal might do a certain thing, and for whether the action was appropriate to the situation, and so forth. But as for the activity itself, he saw only two possibilities. It might resemble the prevented activity, or it might be different. Some of his words were quite brisk, and he asserted that…

In order to formulate a meaningful and experimentally fruitful hypothesis, the exact empirical variables that control the occurrence of displacement activities must be stated explicitly.

Dr. Bindra also saw only two basic questions:

First, how did the particular activity develop in the organism’s repertoire?

We can assume that the activities usually described as displacement activities (preening in birds, grazing in sheep, grooming in chimpanzees. thumbsucking in the human infant, and so on) have already developed in the organism’s repertoire.

He placed much more emphasis on the other question:

Secondly, what factors determine that this activity, rather than any other activity of which the organism is capable, will occur at a given time and place, and the details (e.g. latency, duration, errors) of the way in which the activity occurs?

Dr. Bindra proposed that all displacement phenomena depended on three general types of variables: “level of arousal, habit strength and sensory cues.” He considered this not an explanation, but a guideline to more fully exploiting the benefits of research in order to reach an explanation. Figuring out how various animal responses fitted into the three categories could be accomplished by pinpointing the appropriate experimental frameworks to demonstrate the differences.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “History of the Speed of Light ( c ),” OU.edu, 1996, 2002
Source: “An interpretation of the “displacement phenomenon,” Baillement.com, 1959
Image by various brennemans/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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