In psychology and psychiatry, scopophilia or scoptophilia (Ancient Greek: σκοπέω skopeō, "look to", "to examine" + φῐλῐ́ᾱ philíā, "the tendency towards") is an aesthetic pleasure drawn from looking at an object or a person. In human sexuality, the term scoptophilia describes the sexual pleasure that a person derives from looking at prurient objects of eroticism, such as pornography, the nude body, and fetishes, as a substitute for actual participation in a sexual relationship.[1]


Sigmund Freud used the term scopophilia to describe, analyze, and explain the concept of Schaulust, the pleasure in looking,[2] a curiosity which he considered a partial-instinct innate to the childhood process of forming a personality;[3] and that such a pleasure-instinct might be sublimated, either into Aesthetics, looking at objets d'art or sublimated into an obsessional neurosis "a burning and tormenting curiosity to see the female body", which afflicted the Rat Man patient of the psychoanalyst Freud.[4] From that initial interpretation of Schaulust arose the psycho-medical belief that the inhibition of the scopic drive might lead to actual, physical illness, such as physiologic disturbances of vision and eyesight.[5] In contrast to Freud's interpretation of the scopic drive, other psychoanalytic theories proposed that the practices of scopophilia might lead to madness — either insanity or a mental disorder — which is the scopophilic person's retreat from the concrete world of reality into an abstract world of fantasy.[6]

The theoretic bases of scopophilia were developed by the psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel, in special reference to the process and stages of psychological identification.[7] That in developing a personal identity, "a child, who is looking for libidinous purposes ... wants to look at an object in order [for it] to 'feel along with him'."[8] That the impersonal interaction of scopophilia (between the looker and the looked-at) sometimes replaced personal interactions in the psychological life of a person who is socially anxious, and seeks to avoid feelings of guilt.[9]

Lacan's conceptual development of the gaze linked the pleasure of scopophilia to the person's apprehension of the Other (person) who is not the Self; that is: "The gaze is this object lost, and suddenly re-found, in the conflagration of shame, by the introduction of the Other."[10] The practice of scopophilia is how a person's desire is captured by the imaginary representation of the Other.[11] Theories alternative to Lacan's interpretations of scopophilia and the gaze proposed that a child's discovery of genital difference, and the accompanying anxiety about not knowing the difference of the Other sex, is the experience that subsequently impels the child's scopic drive to fulfil the desire to look and to look at.[12]

Literary examples


Critical race theorists, such as bell hooks,[15] Shannon Winnubst,[16] and David Marriott[17] present and describe scopophilia and the scopic drive as the psychological and social mechanisms that realize the practices of Other-ing a person to exclude them from society (see also scopophobia). The social practice of scopophilia is supposed to fix the appearance and identity of the Other (person), who is not the Self, by way of the gaze that objectifies and dehumanizes them as "not I" and thus "not one of us". In that vein, the practices of cultural scopophilia restrict the number and type of visible representations of "outsiders" in a society.[18]


In Psycho (1960), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the protagonist Norman Bates is a voyeur whose motel rooms feature peepholes. In the course of the story, the motel manager Norman spies upon the anti-heroine as she undresses in her ostensibly private room. In Peeping Tom (1960), directed by Michael Powell, scopophilia is mentioned as a psychological affliction of the protagonist, Mark Lewis. As narrative cinema, Peeping Tom is a deliberate exercise in voyeurism for the protagonist and for the spectator, which demonstrates how readily the protagonist and the spectator are mentally willing and morally capable of watching atrocities (torture, mutilation, death) that should not be gazed upon as narrative movies. The mentally ill protagonist acted as he acted consequent to severe mental mistreatment in boyhood, by his film-maker father; the paternal abuse mentally malformed Mark into a reclusive, introverted man comfortable with torturing and killing people.

In the 1970s, parting from Lacan's propositions, psychoanalysts of the cinema used the term scopophilia to identify and to describe the aesthetic and emotional pleasures (often pathological), and other unconscious mental processes that occur in the minds of spectators gazing at a film.[19][20] Yet voyeurism and the male gaze are psychological practices basic to the spectators' emotional experience of viewing mainstream, commercial cinema;[21] notably, the male gaze is fully presented, described, and explained, and contrasted with the female gaze, in the essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975), by Laura Mulvey.[22] Subsequent scholars have challenged Mulvey's influential reading of scopophilia as a "gross reduction of the erotic and the aesthetic to the politics of representation."[23]

See also


  1. ^ Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language (Unabridged) (1976), p. 2036
  2. ^ Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (1994) p. 194.
  3. ^ Freud, Sigmund Freud On Sexuality (PFL 7) pp. 109–110.
  4. ^ Freud, Sigmund. Case Histories II (PFL 9) pp. 41–42.
  5. ^ Freud, Sigmund. On Psychopathology (PFL 10) pp. 112–113.
  6. ^ Fenichel, Otto. The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 177.
  7. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Scoptophilic Instinct and Identification (1953) ISBN 0-393-33741-3
  8. ^ Fenichel, Otto. Theory, p. 71.
  9. ^ Fenichel, Otto. Theory, p. 348.
  10. ^ Lacan, Jaxques, p. 183.
  11. ^ Lacan, Jacques. Television (1990) p. 86.
  12. ^ Schneiderman, Stuart (1980). Returning to Freud: Clinical Psychoanalysis in the School of Lacan. Yale University Press. p. 224. ISBN 9780300039320.
  13. ^ Petronius, The Satyricon (Penguin 1986) pp. 50; 188.
  14. ^ McCormick, Ian. Secret Sexualities: A Sourcebook of 17th and 18th Century Writing. Routledge, 1997. pp. 1-11; p. 158. See also George E. Haggerty. "Keyhole Testimony: Witnessing Sodomy in the Eighteenth Centur.", The Eighteenth Century 44, no. 2/3 (2003): pp. 167–182.
  15. ^ Bell Hooks, "Eating the Other", 2006 ISBN 1-4288-1629-1
  16. ^ Shannon Winnubst, "Is the Mirror Racist?: Interrogating the Space of Whiteness", (2006) ISBN 0-253-21830-6
  17. ^ David Marriott, "Bordering On: The Black Penis", (1996), Textual Practice 10(1), pp. 9–28.
  18. ^ Todd W. Reeser, Masculinities in Theory (2011) pp. 164–5
  19. ^ Jane Mills,"The Money Shot" (2001) ISBN 1-86403-142-5, p. 223
  20. ^ John Thornton Caldwell, Televisuality: Style, Crisis, and Authority in American Television (1995) ISBN 0-8135-2164-5, p. 343
  21. ^ J. Childers, G. Hentzi. The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995) pp. 316–17.
  22. ^ Mulvey, Laura (2009). Visual and Other Pleasures. England: Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 14–27. ISBN 978-1-4039-9246-8.
  23. ^ Miklitsch, Robert (2006). Roll over Adorno: Critical Theory, Popular Culture, Audiovisual Media. State University of New York Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0791467336.

Further reading