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Leon, I.G. (1984). Psychoanalysis, Piaget and Attachment: The Construction of the Human Object in the First Year of Life. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 11:255-278.

(1984). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 11:255-278

Psychoanalysis, Piaget and Attachment: The Construction of the Human Object in the First Year of Life

Irving G. Leon


By integrating psychoanalytic theory both with Piagetian concepts on how babies think and the empirical attachment literature on infant social behaviour, the construction of human object representations in the first year is clarified. Two Piagetian concepts enable a more accurate description of infantile experience than can be afforded by psychoanalytic theory alone. 'Action-object' cognition, the infant's inability to distinguish concrete objects from his interactions with them, refines the psychoanalytic construct of symbiosis. The adaptive equilibrium of assimilation and accommodation helps to account for the continuity in infant development in the tradition of ego psychology, without relying exclusively on a conflict model.

Four distinct stages in the internalization of human object representations are discussed. These achievements promote an increasingly greater reliance on internalized, flexible representations governing infant interactions, over the earlier dependence on fixed-action patterns and regulations based on external participants. The complementary processes of integration and differentiation highlight the steps involved in the infant's increasingly accurate understanding of a person's physical and psychological continuity amid diverse appearances. Several implications for conceptualizing psychopathology and the role of behavioural interactions in fostering internalization are considered.

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