Displacement Mechanism Has Two Aspects

Every time somebody publishes a paper, it creates fertile ground for thoughts to sprout in other brains, whether those brains are academic, professional, journalistic, etc., or whether they belong to ordinary casual readers. And, as previously suggested, some might have a problem with defining displacement behavior as out of context.

The last post considered a hypothetical situation where a father, who happens to be an addict, quits his job even though his daughter needs corrective eye surgery. Onlookers would say, “How shockingly callous and irresponsible!” and they would be correct. Still, no matter how many labels might be attached to that neglectful parent’s decision, “out of context” probably should not be one of them.

The choice might be out of character, something the dad would never have done before he started messing around with the nose candy. It might cause horrendous negative consequences, along with massive regret. But if it happened at a certain time and location, and in a certain crucial situation, that’s the very definition of context.

They’re like zombies

It may be a non-optimal choice, a wildly destructive folly, and even a disastrous action. It might be one of several events that cause friends and family members to think, “I don’t even know this person anymore.” And yet the behavior is ultimately within context — the context of being an addict. Dr. Pretlow wrote “The displacement mechanism: a new explanation and treatment for obesity,” that it is…

[…] like a switch being pulled in the brain, or a tape playing, and the individual must go along with the tape until it’s done.

Exactly. And no matter how negative, the consequences also are in context, the context of the addict’s life. But enough of that. Let’s move on to the whole other side of displacement behavior — the reparative, healing side, the side illustrated by the post titled “The Profound Healing of Serenity” and its predecessors.

These describe how a large number of people have discovered a displacement behavior that fulfills enough of their needs and occupies enough of their consciousness that it enables them to abandon their substance addictions. In this case, the activity is fly fishing, and perhaps more important, the development of a worldview that includes the importance of helping other people escape their addictions, and even the necessity of saving rivers from ruination.

While animals and humans share many similarities, and much can be learned by observing animal behavior and then extrapolating that knowledge to humans, those comparisons stretch only so far. Humans have additional drives, like the need to make a difference, and the desire to enjoy the approval and esteem of others. Dr. Pretlow has written,

The displacement mechanism is thought to stem from opposing brain drives in equilibrium, such as fight or flight, that build up energy in the brain to commit to one or the other drives, which then overflows and is displaced to another drive, such as the grooming drive or the feeding drive.

And now we see that the energy can be displaced to even more diverse drives, perhaps even drives of a different order, and dare we say a higher order — such as the drive to leave the world in better condition than we found it, and the drive to be a good and positive influence on other humans, rather than a bad and negative one.

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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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