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In psychoanalytic theory, the part of the human personality that represents a person's inner values and morals; also known as conscience.

The superego is one of three basic components of human personality, according to Sigmund Freud. The id is the most primitive, consisting of largely unconscious biological impulses. The ego uses reality and its consequences to modify the behavior being urged by the id. The superego judges actions as right or wrong based on the person's internal value system.

Freud believed that a child develops the superego by storing up the moral standards learned from experience in society and from parents and other adults. When a parent scolds a child for hitting another child, for example, the child learns that such aggression is unacceptable. Stored in that child's superego, or conscience, is that moral judgment which will be used in determining future behavior. Another component of the superego is a person's own concept of perfect behavior, which presents a second standard used to govern actions.

The complex interaction among the id, the ego, and the superego is what determines human behavior, according to Freud. A healthy balance between the more instinctual demands of the id and the moral demands of the superego, as negotiated by the ego, results in a "normal" or healthy personality.

Further Reading

Atkinson, Rita L.; Richard C. Atkinson; Edward E. Smith; and Ernest R. Hilgard. Introduction to Psychology. 9th ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.

Zimbardo, Philip G. Psychology and Life. 12th ed. Glenview, IL.: Scott, Foresman, 1988.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Perception: early Greek theories to Zombie