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Paley, A. (1986). Origins and Evolution of Behavior Disorders from Infancy to Early Adult Life, by Stella Chess, M.D., and Alexander Thomas, M.D. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1984, 320 pp.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 46(2):177-178.

(1986). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 46(2):177-178

Book Reviews

Origins and Evolution of Behavior Disorders from Infancy to Early Adult Life, by Stella Chess, M.D., and Alexander Thomas, M.D. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1984, 320 pp.

Review by:
Ann-Marie Paley, M.D.

This volume is the latest in the series detailing the on-going findings of the New York Longitudinal Study. That 133 of the original 138 subjects have stayed available for follow-up through early adulthood is a tribute to the investigators’ skill in establishing and maintaining corroborative relationships.

The emphasis in this report is on pathology, specifically pathology manifested by disordered behavior. The most striking finding is the correlation between the combination of difficult temperament and marked parental conflict at age 3 and poor adjustment in early adulthood. Detailed and highly readable case reports are presented on all NYLS subjects who developed a behavior disorder. The utility and limitations of psychotherapy and child guidance in alleviating these disorders is discussed. The authors’ model is the goodness of fit between the child's temperament and family and environmental demands. It is hard to remember that such an interactionist view was considered radical when the NYLS began in 1956. There can be no doubt that this volume will join its predecessors as a classic in the field of child study.

For the psychoanalyst, however, the volume is provocative but eventually disappointing. It is not the model that is lacking but the method. Projective testing at age 6 and direct inquiry into fears and fantasies at age 9 were attempted but abandoned when the children resisted the procedures. Thus, subjective data were acquired in young subjects only if spontaneously reported or as part of a clinical evaluation after disordered behavior had occurred. In other words, a systematic investigation of the subjective state of symptom free children was not done.

Ultimately, of course, Chess and Thomas's work deserves to be judged on what it does accomplish rather than what it does not. The sheer volume of data acquired in a study of this magnitude is staggering. Yet the reader never feels overwhelmed by disconnected facts. The authors never lose sight of the individual subjects in the forest of results. As clinicians we know our patients deeply, but essentially briefly.

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