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Symonds, A. (1964). The Influence of Family Climate on the Development of Character Structure: A Panel Discussion. Am. J. Psychoanal., 24(2):195-197.

(1964). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 24(2):195-197

The Influence of Family Climate on the Development of Character Structure: A Panel Discussion

Alexandra Symonds, Ph.D.

It is with Great Pleasure that I open this meeting as moderator in the discussion of family climate and its influence on the developing character structure. A more complete title for our subject would have been “An inquiry into the nature of, and the extent to which the family climate influences the developing character structure.” This enormous subject has been approached in many different ways over the years. Since earliest times thoughtful investigators have posed the question: Is character inborn or acquired? To what extent is personality endowed and how much would develop regardless of life experiences in childhood? Attempts to answer these questions have ranged from the excessively naive to exceedingly scientific. For exemple, in the thirteenth century Frederick II conducted an experiment. A report written at that time states:

“In order to find out what manner of speech children would have when they grew up if they spoke to no one beforehand he bade foster mothers and nurses to suckle the children, to bathe and wash them, but in no way to prattle with them, or to speak to them, for he wanted to learn whether they would speak the Hebrew language, which was the oldest, or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perhaps the language of their parents, of whom they had been born. But he labored in vain because the children all died. For they could not live without the petting and joyful faces and loving words of their foster mothers.”1

On the other hand, a recent publication2 by the Commonwealth Fund exclusively deals with abstracts of articles and books having to do with longitudinal studies of child personality covering all significant work up until 1955. Two-hundred ninety-seven separate items are listed. Many of these reports were published in the thirties and concern ten-year follow-ups.

In the field of psychoanalysis some twenty-five years ago it was considered unacceptable heresy to investigate the influence of cultural forces on personality structure. At that time, when Dr. Horney was evolving her ideas, it caused a serious upheaval and schism in the world of psychoanalysis.

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