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Esman, A.H. (1983). The "Stimulus Barrier"—A Review and Reconsideration. Psychoanal. St. Child, 38:193-207.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 38:193-207

The "Stimulus Barrier"—A Review and Reconsideration

Arron H. Esman, M.D.

FREUD'S CONCEPT OF THE "PROTECTIVE SHIELD AGAINST stimuli" (Reizschutz) has long been the object of considerable interest on the part of developmental psychologists and psychoanalysts. It seems germane to the concerns both of those who wish to study the effect of traumatic events on personality development and neurosogenesis and of those whose focus is on normative infant development and early interaction patterns. There have been a number of systematic reviews in the past (Benjamin, 1965); (Martin, 1968); (Gediman, 1971), but, apart from passing consideration by Shapiro and Stern (1980), none that has considered the concept in the light of those recent studies of infant behavior which have demonstrated a high level of sensory receptiveness in the newborn. In this essay I shall therefore attempt just such a review, seeking to place the stimulus barrier concept in a modern framework and to assess its relevance to current views of early development.


As noted, a number of investigators have reviewed the literature on the subject of the protective shield; I shall therefore cite here only the most salient references in sketching the historical progression of the concept as it has evolved since Freud introduced it in Beyond the Pleasure Principle(1920).

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