Are you a Prisoner of Optical Illusions? The Enigma of Transference

9 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2018

See all articles by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise

Katharina Balazs

ESCP Europe

Date Written: September 25, 2018


In this article the concept of transference is discussed—a psychological phenomenon characterized by the unconscious and inappropriate redirection of feelings transferred from one person to another—a pattern of interaction that influences most human behavior in organizations. Transferential reactions can be compared to optical illusions, this dissociation between the physical reality and the objective perception of an object/event. These optical illusions play tricks on the brain, imagining that something is going on when it really isn’t. As human beings are programmed to make sense of the world by internalizing mental and emotional schemas based on previous experience, this pattern of sense making is also valid for interpersonal relationships. But making automatic, unconscious assumptions about the behavior of others in organizations—reminders of previous relationships with significant others—is not simply an error in judgement but sets the stage for often, dysfunctional relationships. The article not only describes these false connections but also suggest different ways of creating awareness of and addressing these transference reactions to help build healthier relationships in the workplace.

Keywords: Transference, Optical Illusion, Mental and Emotional Schemata, Judgement Error, Unconscious, Workplace Relationships

Suggested Citation

Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R. and Balazs, Katharina, Are you a Prisoner of Optical Illusions? The Enigma of Transference (September 25, 2018). INSEAD Working Paper No. 2018/44/EFE. Available at SSRN: or

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries (Contact Author)

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise ( email )

Fontainebleau Cedex, F-77305

Katharina Balazs

ESCP Europe ( email )

79, avenue de la République
Paris, 75011

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