Individual Differences


Topography of Mind:
Freud's Iceberg Model for Unconscious, Pre-conscious, & Conscious

Last updated:
22 Sep 2003

Freud’s topographical model represents his “configuration” of the mind

According to Freud, there are three levels of consciousness:

  • conscious (small): this is the part of the mind that holds what you’re aware of. You can verablize about your conscious experience and you can think about it in a logical fashion.

  • preconscious (small-medium): this is ordinary memory. So although things stored here aren’t in the conscious, they can be readily brought into conscious.

  • unconscious (enormous): Freud felt that this part of the mind was not directly accessible to awareness. In part, he saw it as a dump box for urges, feelings and ideas  that are tied to anxiety, conflict and pain. These feelings and thoughts have not disappeared and according to Freud, they are there, exerting influence on our actions and our conscious awareness.  This is where most of the work of the Id, Ego, and Superego take place.

Material passes easily back and forth between the conscious and the preconscious. Material from these two areas can slip into the unconscious. Truly unconscious material cant’ be made available voluntarily, according to Freud. You need a psychoanalyst to do this!

Iceberg metaphor for the mind’s layout:

We can use the metaphor of an iceberg to help us in understanding Freud's topographical theory.

  • Only 10% of an iceberg is visible (conscious) whereas the other 90% is beneath the water (preconscious and unconscious).

  • The Preconscious is allotted approximately 10% -15% whereas the Unconscious is allotted an overwhelming 75%-80%.