What Is Continuity Psychology?

Updated January 9, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Personal identity, according to John Locke (1632-1704), is related to the survival of our awareness or consciousness after we die. Locke believed that a person's identity is a matter of psychological continuity. His theory was that our sense of self or identity has nothing to do with the body or soul but is only based on memory and awareness.

For centuries, humans have been trying to answer the question of whether there is life after death. Some say that our consciousness can transfer from one body to another, with our identity going along with it. Others say that when we die, we are gone, and our awareness and consciousness go as well. So, what does all this have to do with continuity psychology? Well, read on, and you may begin to understand.

Switching Brains And Consciousness

What would happen if someone took your brain and put it into another person's body? Would you still be you but just in another body? Would your memories and sense of self (consciousness and awareness) now be in this new body? If so, where do the memories and sense of self of the new body's previous brain go? Would they be lost forever if they were not put into another body, or would they just continue indefinitely, without being bound to this earth by a body that would soon be useless? What if they put this other person's brain in your old body?

Would you both remember that you used to have a different body? Or maybe your old body still holds onto your consciousness, and it stays with you to be transferred into this new brain. So, who would you be? The person who has your new brain and old body, or would you be the old brain with the new body? Wow, that is a lot to think about, isn't it?

Continuity Psychology Definition

According to psychology experts, continuity in psychology refers to the ability to continue on the same way continuously indefinitely. Gestalt Theory speaks of vision and creating continuous patterns that are connected to objects uninterrupted, forever. Locke's memory theory of your memory being your consciousness is similar to Gestalt's theory.

However, Thomas Reid (1710-1796) disagreed with these theories, using his memory as an example. He stated that he could not remember everything he had ever done in his lifetime, so how could your memory be your consciousness? How could that be if we have forgotten things in our lives?

Continuity Psychology Examples

For example, if you could not remember that when you were a child you once got into a car accident and broke your arm, does that mean that you are not the same person as the little child who broke their arm years and years ago? Of course not. Therefore, Reid said it is impossible for memory to be "who we are" since we cannot possibly remember every single thing from our whole lifetime. If that were the case, who was that person who broke their arm as a child? Who are they now? Do they even exist? And if our consciousness is only our memories, what about other things such as character, desires, and beliefs? Do they not have anything to do with who we are?

Continuity Psychology Involves Your Identity And Sense Of Self

Are Our Memories Our Own?

Reid also brought up another discrepancy with Locke's theory. What exactly is a memory? If you were to tell someone in detail about a memory you had of meeting the Pope when you were younger, so it is now a part of their memories, does that mean it is their memory? If they remember it and can tell it to someone else, it is now in their memory. However, is it their memory? The answer is not really, because memory is only personal if the person who has the memory is the one who experienced the events in the first place.

Continuity In Psychology

What does it mean to continue? If your consciousness continues after your physical body dies, does that mean that you have had other lives before? If that's the case, then where are those memories? Do you ever have a sense of déjà vu (feeling like you did something before even if you have not)? Could that be a memory of one of your past lives? How old does that make you? If you were able to recall memories from past lives, think of all of the knowledge you would have. Maybe you were a professor of psychology in a past life, so you do not even need to finish your college classes because you already have that information in your brain somewhere. That is essentially the idea behind continuity of consciousness.

What Is Continuity In Psychology?

Joseph Butler (1692-1752) was another philosopher who discounted Locke's theory. Butler said that Locke did not realize that consciousness existed before identity, so your identity cannot be your consciousness. How can our identity be based on our consciousness when it is always changing? Our cells are constantly dying, and new ones are replacing them. We change as we get older, and sometimes that change can be so drastic as to include the loss of extremities or a plastic surgery operation that changes your looks completely. Does that mean that you are no longer who you were before? Of course not.

Continuity Vs Stages In Psychology

What about the theory of developmental stages versus continuity? Various theories have been made over the years about how we develop from birth to adulthood. Some believe that we grow and develop continuously versus those who believe that we grow and develop discontinuously in stages, according to a set schedule.

Continuous Development

The ability to continuously and constantly change and grow in our minds and bodies is the most popular opinion of the experts. These experts believe that children are constantly adding knowledge and skills as they get older, at a steady and uniform speed. Whether you can see it or not, our brains are always absorbing knowledge and ideas, gathering more and more information for future use continuously and steadily throughout our lives.

Discontinuous Development Or Learning In Stages

Those who believe that we grow and learn in stages claim that we are only able to learn certain things at certain times. For example, you would not expect to be able to teach a newborn how to read, no matter how hard you try. Although, if you think about it, you hear about these genius children who can read and write at the age of one and are going to college at age five. However, it does seem to make sense that we learn in stages because we all notice that our children usually learn to walk and talk around the same age as most other children their age.

Are You Guilty If You Do Not Remember Doing It?

Back to continuity psychology…. What if a woman commits a horrible crime while she is drunk but cannot remember what she did? Does that mean she did not do it? If she has no memory of it, how could it have been her? After all, according to Locke, it is the memory that makes us who we are. Along that same vein, the person who witnessed this woman committing the crime does have the memory. Does that mean that it was the witness who did it since it is their memory? While we know that this is not the case, according to Locke's Continuity Psychology, it is the ultimate conclusion.

Continuity Psychology Involves Your Identity And Sense Of Self

We Can Help

The mystery of the mind and sense of self has continued for centuries and will likely continue for many more years. However, what we do know is that psychological continuity is needed for personal identity. 

Are you having trouble with your sense of self? Or maybe someone you know is trying to figure out why they are who they are or how they became who they are. Are you wondering why your child does not learn the same as others or at the same rate as his or her peers? There are plenty of experts who can help you with these interesting questions. Although they may not know whether there is life after death, they may help you decide if your memories of something traumatic are causing you to experience anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

98% of BetterHelp users experience a significant improvement in their mental health, on average, regardless of condition, with 96% of our clients preferring us to other therapy options, nearly 100% saying they would use BetterHelp again in the future and recommend it to others, and over 80% having a positive working alliance with their therapist. 

At BetterHelp.com, we have over 2000 licensed professionals to talk to, many of whom operate on non-traditional schedules, catering to those living in different countries or those who have very busy schedules. Sessions can be held anytime, anywhere – you’ll just need an internet connection to get started. Just click here, answer a few questions, and you can start figuring out who it is that you are.

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