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The Quest for Today's Totemic Psychology: A New Look at Wundt, Freud and Other Scientists

  • Yueh-Ting Lee (a1), Xiangyang Chen (a2), Yongping Zhao (a3) and Wenting Chen (a4)

Totems are symbols or representations of human's affiliations with, and/or categorizations of, animals, plants and inanimate objects. Totemism is related to fundamental human belief systems based on totems. Investigating totems and totemism psychologically is a unique way to explore human minds. We have critically examined Wundt, Freud and many other scholars and scientists who made distinguished contributions to scientific research on totems and totemism almost in the past two centuries –i.e., totemic psychology, which is the study of our mind's categorization and affiliation in the human and natural world today. Understanding and appreciating their totemic psychology can help psychologists today enhance their understanding in other fields—e.g., ecological and environmental psychology, biological psychology, cognitive psychology, personality, social and ethnic psychology, clinical and counseling psychology, cultural psychology, and religious or spiritual psychology. Unfortunately, recent data from a content analysis via PsycInfo and a cross-cultural survey study (N=273) showed that well-trained psychologists around the world and psychology students in the United States and in China are unfamiliar with Wundt and Freud's totemic contributions to psychology today. The implications, benefits, and lessons of totems and today's totemic psychology are discussed here.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Yueh-Ting Lee, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale IL62901, USA (email: or
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We appreciate the following colleagues for their valuable comments and other help– Stanley Krippner, Jeanne Brockmyer, Stephanie Flower, Joni Mihura, Harry Triandis, Steven Pinker, Alan Fiske, Susan Fiske, Clark McCauley, Craig Palmer, Jon Elhai, Jason Rose, Jim Nemeth, Barbara Mann, Jessica Meissner, Eugeniette Lee, Eric Atkinson, Jennifer Lee, and Michelle Beddow, and several students in Dr Lee's research laboratory. We are also grateful to Rogene Kohler for helping to translate several pages of Wundt's original German writing into English. We are responsible for any weakness or limitation in the paper.

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