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Basch, M.F. (1977). Developmental Psychology and Explanatory Theory in Psychoanalysis. Ann. Psychoanal., 5:229-263.

(1977). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 5:229-263

III Developmental Psychology

Developmental Psychology and Explanatory Theory in Psychoanalysis

Michael Franz Basch, M.D.

I find that although the interest in developmental psychology is high among my psychoanalytic colleagues and students, even to begin to deal with the literature of that field seems so formidable a task that any attempt in that direction is soon aborted. My purpose in this essay is to show that we need not become experts in this area in order to understand the effect that advances in experimental studies of children and infants have on psychoanalysis. Specifically, I shall attempt to outline those aspects of perceptual and cognitive, especially Piagetian, psychology that have direct implications for Freud's metapsychology, the explanatory theory of psychoanalysis (Basch, 1973).

From our point of view as psychoanalysts, Piaget's most significant contributions are his experiments demonstrating that the capacity to organize stimuli, i.e., to cognize, is acquired in a stepwise fashion. On the face of it that may not sound particularly monumental; after all, haven't we always known that an evolution of learning accompanies chronologic maturation? However, the implicit assumption has been that learning proceeds in a straight line—in other words, that from the uncomprehending infant evolved an unsophisticated child who later became a sophomoric adolescent until, finally and with some luck, a reasonable and reasoning adult emerged at the end of the process.

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