The use of the word "energy" in psychological studies is comparatively new, although it was in use in psychological thought long before the modern physical concept of energy was fully developed, as a general descriptor of the forces that powered mental processes. The term thus retains its energy as a force or potential for work. Historical psychological thought and modern thought obviously have different uses of the word "energy," according to changes in scientific knowledge and philosophy.


The concept of psychic energy, or psychological energy, was developed in the field of psychodynamics, which is the thermodynamic study of mental systems. In 1874, German scientist Ernst von Brucke proposed that all living organisms are energy-systems governed by the principle of the conservation of energy. Brucke was also coincidentally the supervisor at the University of Vienna for first-year medical student Sigmund Freud who adopted this new paradigm. Freud argued that both the first law of thermodynamics and the second law of thermodynamics apply to mental processes, and posited the existence of a mental energy set to function according to these laws. In The Ego and the Id, Freud argued that the id was the source of the personality's desires, and therefore of the psychic energy that powered the mind .

In 1928, Carl Jung published a seminal essay entitled "On Psychic Energy." Later, the theory of psychodynamics and the concept of "psychic energy" was developed further by those such as Alfred Adler and Melanie Klein.

Popular Culture

Psychodynamic concepts have been applied to folk theories about ghosts and souls as the assumption that the energy animating humans and other living things is measurable and external to the body.


Further reading

  • Benton, D., Parker, P. Y., & Donohoe, R. T. (1996). The supply of glucose to the brain and cognitive functioning. Journal of Biosocial Science, 28, 463–479.
  • Fairclough, S. H., & Houston, K. (2004). A metabolic measure of mental effort. Biological Psychology, 66, 177-190.
  • Gailliot, M.T., Baumeister, R.F., et al. (in press). Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • Jung, C.G. (1960). On the Nature of the Psyche. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01751-4.
  • Laplanche, J.|Jean Laplanche and Pontalis, J.B. (1974). The Language of Psycho-Analysis. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1974.

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