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Freedman, D.A. (1977). Studies in Sensory Deprivation. Ann. Psychoanal., 5:195-215.

(1977). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 5:195-215

Studies in Sensory Deprivation

David A. Freedman, M.D.


The recovered memories of analysands, together with the retrospective inferences to which they lead, have been in the past—and, no doubt, will continue to be—the primary source of the data on which psychoanalytic developmental theory is built. As a medium in which to conduct research, however, the psychoanalytic situation has inherent limitations. The propensity of the analyst, for example, to accept retrospective fantasies as historically accurate did not end with Freud's (1897) discovery that his seduction theory of the etiology of the neuroses, was not based entirely in fact. Over the years a variety of secondary sources have been used both to validate the inferences drawn from the data obtained in the course of conducting analyses and to extend their implications. The plethora of references to literature, anthropology, sociology, neurology, and general biology which have always characterized psychoanalytic writings have certainly served such a corroborative purpose.

It is, therefore, somewhat surprising, that neither Freud nor any of his early collaborators made use of the direct observation of developing children to corroborate psychoanalytic data. Illustrative of how little attention was paid to this potential data source is the fact that, as recently as 1950, Spitz found it appropriate to write a paper which was devoted to demonstrating the relevance of infant observations. It hardly needs to be stated that in the intervening years psychoanalysts have become much more concerned with findings derived from the study of early development.

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