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Tennes, K. Emde, R. Kisley, A. Metcalf, D. (1972). The Stimulus Barrier in Early Infancy: An Exploration of Some Formulations of John Benjamin. Psychoanal. Contemp. Sci., 1(1):206-234.

(1972). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 1(1):206-234

The Stimulus Barrier in Early Infancy: An Exploration of Some Formulations of John Benjamin

Katherine Tennes, M.A., Robert Emde, M.D., Anthony Kisley, M.D. and David Metcalf, M.D.

The idea that the central nervous system is equipped with a barrier to stimulation, or a protective shield (Reizschutz) was originally introduced by Freud (1920, 1925). The concept has been widely used by psychoanalytic theoreticians in its implications for the development of defense mechanisms (Spitz, 1957, 1961; Hartmann, 1950), for pathological hypersensitivities (Bergman and Escalona, 1949), and as a variable in the predisposition to anxiety (Greenacre, 1958).

Within the context of a discussion of biopsychoanalytic research, Benjamin (1965) suggested that the “stimulus barrier” concept afforded an opportunity to follow biobehavioral relationships as they emerge over time in earliest infancy. In this discussion-from which we shall quote at some length-Benjamin formulated the “stimulus barrier hypothesis,” composed of three propositions, each addressed to a particular developmental age.

The first of these propositions has to do with what he called the “maturational crisis” in infants at three to four weeks of age. He described the observational data and other evidence from which he derived the hypothesis as follows (1965):

As previously reported [Benjamin, 1961a, 1961b, 1963], we noted that full-term infants show a marked and relatively sudden increase in sensitivity to external and internal stimulation at the age of 3-4 weeks. The behavioral criteria are increased crying and other motor manifestations of negative affect, of unpleasure. The phenomenon is most easily accessible to naturalistic observation whenever, for one reason or another, the usual physiological needs of the infant are not well met. In all other cases, it is clearly demonstrable only when sensory stimulation in different modalities is experimentally introduced (p. 58).

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