Displacement Mechanism Posts

Addiction and Displacement Theory Presentation 1-8

An eight-post series that takes a deep dive into one of Dr. Pretlow’s writings.

Addiction and Displacement

It’s not the food that is addictive, it’s the eating. This offers hope that the displacement mechanism may be useful in the treatment of eating addiction.

Displacement Behavior in the Animal Kingdom

Displacement activity, universal in the animal kingdom, stems from situations of major opposing or thwarted behavioral drives, e.g. fight or flight. However, some researchers have said that in regard to many animals, we simply do not know enough about their natural behavior to make unwarranted assumptions about deviant or out-of-context behavior.

Some Thoughts on Displacement Behavior

Displacement behavior in animals may become compulsive and destructive, like the excessive grooming of the fur in response to stress or social isolation.

Laughter As Displacement Behavior

In addition to the half dozen or so recognized types of displacement behavior, zoologist Basil Hugh Hall proposes that laughter, as an effective stress alleviator, is a legit displacement response. He also suggests that the notion of laughing “with” and “at” individual people or groups is a flawed concept. This quotation is interesting:

I do not believe we laugh at, or laugh with, anyone, as the disinhibition of laughter is an involuntary response to conflict during event processing on a neurological level.

More About Laughter As a Displacement Behavior

Laughter could serve as a displacement activity, with the same function as several other behavioral alternatives, including fight, flee, freeze, and feed. This piece discussed the ability to provoke laughter which, even for children, can be an effective defense against bullying. It works for grownups too, where a rough crowd will tolerate someone for her or his ability to make others laugh.

It also works for children, to disarm classroom teachers, who are not even trying to bully anyone, but merely to maintain order and teach the kids something. Authority figures who permit humor every so often have to walk a fine line between tolerance and permissiveness. Humor can get people out of threatening situations, and that alone would seem to qualify it as an effective displacement mechanism.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Laughter as an exapted displacement activity: the implications for humor theory,” ResearchGate.net, June 2009
Image by Scouse Smurf/CC BY-ND 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

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.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


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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