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Mancia, M. (1981). On the Beginning of Mental Life in the Foetus. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 62:351-357.

(1981). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 62:351-357

On the Beginning of Mental Life in the Foetus

Mauro Mancia


Several interdisciplinary aspects relating to the maturation of central nervous functions and to the possible beginning of mental life in the foetus have been discussed.

Particular attention has been paid to (i) the motor functions present in the foetus at early stages of development and characterized by phasic and tonic, spontaneous and reflex movements; (ii) the sensory functions that endow the foetus with the possibility of being receptive to stimuli that reach him from the maternal container in a rhythmic constant form; (iii) the integrative functions shown by a state of active sleep with movements of the eyes (certainly present after the 28–30th week of pregnancy) and of the body.

In analogy with what happens in the mature brain, the hypothesis has been made that active sleep constitutes a 'biological framework' within which the sensory experiences coming through the maternal container are transformed by the foetus into 'internal representations'. Such an operation would constitute the beginning of a protomental activity in evolution, which would build itself around a nucleus of an instinctual nature transmitted genetically from the parents in the for of representations.

The analogies that this prenatal psychic nucleus might have with preconceptions have also been discussed, as well as the role that can be attributed to active sleep in favouring the maturation of the psychological function of the 'skin' which in turn may be able to contain the Self of the child and to protect it from disintegrating under the pressure of the impulses that come into play at the moment of birth.

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