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Petö, E. (1946). Weeping and Laughing. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 27:129-133.

(1946). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 27:129-133

Weeping and Laughing

Endre Petö

The investigation of emotional behaviour in infancy is of great interest but at the same time presents the greatest difficulties. As is the case with all biological phenomena, in order to understand them it is necessary to investigate their evolution. It is only through the analysis of their primitive forms that we can understand the later developments and the more complicated manifestations of emotional behaviour in child and adult. But whereas the adult can communicate his emotions to us, however incompletely and unsatisfactorily, in words, and we can extend our knowledge by observation, analogy and deduction, in the case of the infant we meet, of course, with the greatest difficulties. In particular our opinion, based on observation and on the deductions we draw from it, is misled by our unconsciously taking as a criterion for comparison our own feelings, i.e. the emotional behaviour of the adult. For this reason our interpretation is in terms of emotions that come into existence only after many years of growth and of external events in the life of the individual. In a word there is an imminent danger of our taking too 'adultomorphic' a view of the infant's emotional behaviour.

When we interview mothers and nurses we nearly always learn that they know the cause of the child's screaming—it is due to hunger, colic, fear, anger, dirt. If we examine these statements without prejudice we may discover that they are based on guesswork and 'adultomorphic' thinking. If the suckling child cries when he is left alone and stops when someone goes near him or lifts him up the grown-up says he is afraid.

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