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Katan, A. (1972). The Infant's First Reaction to Strangers: Distress or Anxiety?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 53:501-503.

(1972). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 53:501-503

The Infant's First Reaction to Strangers: Distress or Anxiety?

Anny Katan

It is common knowledge that at the age of seven or eight months, babies quite regularly show marked reactions when they see strangers. The time of onset of this phenomenon varies, as do the duration and intensity of the reaction.

The reaction of such babies upon rather suddenly perceiving a stranger is characterized by intense distress. This is the affect we can truly observe. The assumption is usually made that the baby is suffering from acute anxiety. We seem to forget that distress need not always or only be an expression of anxiety per se. Let us first limit ourselves to what we can observe: the baby cries, turns its head away, and does not want to see. (Spitz has described this reaction and the way to overcome it.) The assumption has always been made that the distress the baby expresses is due solely to a feeling of acute anxiety.

Freud (1926) strongly stresses the danger of the loss of the mother as a need-fulfilling object. He also points out that the ego is the seat of the anxiety.

I quote from Spitz's classical paper concerning this special phenomenon:

Whereas between the third and the sixth month [the baby] would smile at any human being approaching it in the appropriate manner (that is frontally), in this new stage it will show definite signs of anxiety, with drastic flight reactions, when approached by a stranger (Spitz, 1950).

What it seems to me Spitz means, but at this point does not make sufficiently clear, is that this phenomenon is observable in every baby of that age—seven to eight months—and therefore part of normal development.

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