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Mittelmann, B. (1955). Motor Patterns and Genital Behavior: Fetishism. Psychoanal. St. Child, 10:241-263.

(1955). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 10:241-263

Motor Patterns and Genital Behavior: Fetishism

Bela Mittelmann, M.D.


1. The following four aspects of motility were discussed as being of special psychological interest in infants and children: (a) affectomotor patterns; (b) well-organized, vigorous rhythmic patterns, usually referred to as autoerotic; (c) skilled motor activities; and (d) motor phenomena that are indispensable elements in the function of other organs.

2. These various functions may be fused in the concept of a motor drive which follows a developmental scheme both as a whole and as regards its component parts, the second year of life, with some extension, being the motor phase of ego and libido development (i.e., motility being the dominant source of pleasure and mastery). This paper deals mainly with the affectomotor and the vigorous rhythmic phenomena and their pathological implications.

3. In the course of exploratory activities resulting from sensory, motor, and intellectual development (ego), the infant "discovers" and becomes preoccupied with parts of the body and articles of clothing (e.g., hands, feet, and shoes). This preoccupation has libidinal qualities. The infant eventually realizes that these organs and articles of clothing belong to the "whole self" and the "whole object."

4. Bilateral rhythmic motor phenomena occur in infancy during joyous excitement—showing both general characteristics and individual variations. In some infants the joy patterns specifically differ from motor patterns of crankiness mixed with rage and anxiety and restraint, whereas in others differences are slight or inconsistent. The patterns change in the course of development. These patterns seem to be largely congenitally determined. The same applies to vigorous rhythmic (autoerotic) motor phenomena, but the frequency of their occurrence, their intensity, and their predominant psychological structure depend to a greater extent on environmental influences. These patterns too show individual variations.

5. Affectomotor patterns and vigorous rhythmic motor phenomena may have pathological implications in two ways: (a) They may appear regressively in older children or adults during intense excitement. (b) They may contribute to the patterning of symptoms in disturbances of the genital function in general and, fused with exploratory part objects, to fetishism in particular.

6. In a child manifesting anxiety and foot fetishism, the normal libidinal investment of feet was intensified by the kinesthetic experiences that accompanied his affectomotor joy reaction, namely, vigorous jumping up and down. The latter affected the image of the body also. These factors, combined with disturbed relations with the environment, contributed to the symptom of foot fetishism and prolonged masturbation.

7. The infantile affectomotor and the vigorous rhythmic patterns are incorporated into the adult gestures and the motor behavior during intercourse and orgasm.

8. Fetishistic activity frequently follows current disappointments. The infantile patterns are fused with and are reinforced by a circular sequence of reactions containing dependent needs, hostility, guilt, fear of abandonment, fear of genital injury, and the defensive and restitutive use of the fetish as a reliable, controlled, and defenseless part object. The use of the latter potentially reinstates the attitudes and impulses with which the patient tried to cope.

9. During the period of exploratory part objects and later when skeletal motility dominates the functions of mastery, of integration, and of pleasure—then dependency needs, hostility and anxiety are readily carried over into active or passive motility and may in turn lead to genital excitement with part object choice.

The same connections may exist in adults with motor restlessness, passive muscle erotism, and significant areas of motor inhibition.

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