Failed act in psychology: what is it, types and examples

  • Aug 08, 2022
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Failed act in psychology: what is it, types and examples

Who has not forgotten something or lost an object at some time? It's also common to sometimes reverse words or realize you've said something you shouldn't have said. These unconscious episodes cause strange mishaps.

This phenomenon known as failed act in psychology refers to the fact that some behavioral actions or words, said apparently by chance or by error, they actually hide a deep-seated meaning that allows important issues related to the individual unconscious to be brought to light. In this Psychology-Online article, we will tell you what is a failed act in psychology, the different types and some examples.

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  1. What is a failed act
  2. Types of failed acts
  3. Examples of failed acts
  4. Difference between lapse and failed act

What is a failed act.

The failed act or parapraxia is defined in English as freudian slip, a psychic phenomenon in which an action does not have the expected result, but another. For example, at an important dinner you try to take a full glass of wine from the table and instead turn the glass over. It seems an involuntary act, but it is subjected to psychoanalytic investigation that is explained as an unconscious desire to be noticed.

How important are failed acts? This psychic phenomenon was first described by the famous neurologist, Sigmund Freud, to show that there is an unconscious will that we do not control and that, sometimes, pushes us to do things that we do not want to do consciously.

According to Freudian theory, failed acts in psychology hide the neurotic conflict between doing a certain action and not doing it. For example, a conscious exhibitionist desire is repressed and the unconscious releases the energy of repressed action with the failed act. Thus, any failed act reveals the link between the act and a repressed impulse.

Types of failed acts.

The most common failed acts can be Verbal lapses, errors, loss of objects and forgetfulness usually. Next, we will show you the main types of failed acts:

  • Forgetting words and other familiar names, for example, saying one name for another.
  • Forgetting intentions.
  • Verbal slips, writing and reading.
  • Loss of objects that makes them impossible to find.
  • Loss or breakage of objects.
  • Errors despite having knowledge of the subject in question.
  • Some usual gestures and movements.
  • Automatic execution of intentional acts in undue circumstances.

Failed acts express an unconscious conflict, but they should not worry you at all, since they are totally normal. According to Freud, these episodes should not alarm us, but are a moment of self discovery. From each failed act, a reflection can be extracted on what the adopted behavior means and what hidden desires it expresses. Find out what are the types of human desires according to Epicurus.

Unsuccessful act in psychology: what it is, types and examples - Types of unsuccessful acts

Examples of failed acts.

In everyday life it's easy identify multiple examples of failed acts. Let's see some:

  • Taking the wrong motorway exit, even if you take the same route every day.
  • Put salt in coffee instead of sugar.
  • Pronounce one word instead of another. An example of a very common misstep is saying "I bought the dog" instead of "the bread").
  • Losing your car keys just when you have to go to work.
  • Forgetting to reply to an important email or leaving your wallet at the restaurant.
  • Forgetting the train ticket despite the fact that you have dedicated a good part of your time to planning the trip can be another example of a very clear failed act.

Difference between lapse and failed act.

The failed act itself acts on our behavior in the same way that the slip operates on words, for example, in the case of saying one word instead of another. In fact, the so-called slip is another "normal" way of expressing a conflict between what can be done and what is wanted.

In fact, the main unsuccessful acts are lapses and they can refer to language, to losing something, to forgetting a word, to a lapse in reading, a lapse in writing and even a lapse in listening to something. Lapsus is a form of compromise that is created when we try to find the barriers of our conscience.

Failed act in psychology: what it is, types and examples - Difference between lapse and failed act

This article is merely informative, in Psychology-Online we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

If you want to read more articles similar to Failed act in psychology: what is it, types and examples, we recommend that you enter our category of cognitive psychology.


  • Cilento, F. (2022). Atti mancati e lapsus: the balance between pathology and normality. Recovered from:
  • Mules, b. (2022). I lapsus e gli atti mancati: the unconscious that speaks. Recovered from:
  • Scacia, F. (2018). Lapsus and Atti mancati. Recovered from:
  • Petrini P, Renzi A, Casadei A, Mandese A. (2013). Dictionary of psychoanalysis. With elements of psychodynamic psychiatry and dynamic psychology. Milan: Franco Angeli.
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