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Scharfman, M.A. (1981). The Infant's Reaction to Strangers: By Thérèse Gouin Décarie in collaboration with Jacques Goulet, Martine Darquenne Brossard, Sandra Rafman, and Ruth Shaffran. New York: International Universities Press, 1974, 233 pp., $15.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 29:701-706.
(1981). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 29:701-706
The Infant's Reaction to Strangers: By Thérèse Gouin Décarie in collaboration with Jacques Goulet, Martine Darquenne Brossard, Sandra Rafman, and Ruth Shaffran. New York: International Universities Press, 1974, 233 pp., $15.00.
Review by: Melvin A. Scharfman, M.D.
This small, modestly presented book focuses on a subject of considerable interest to psychoanalytic developmental psychology—the nature of the infant's reaction to strangers. For the psychoanalyst, the substantive portion of this book is the introductory section which presents a brief well-written and well-integrated summary of the manifestations of the phenomena being considered and of hypotheses used to understand them from a psychoanalytic perspective, an ethological perspective, a psychophysiological perspective, and a Piagetian perspective. It closes with a summary of the data obtained in four research studies. The research studies themselves are of more interest to the developmental psychologist, who would probably be in a better position to evaluate their conceptualization, methodology, and data.
Décarie begins by pointing out that a number of terms have been used to describe the infant's reaction to strangers, including shyness, fear, anxiety, and terror. The best known of these is, of course, Spitz's description of "the eight-month anxiety." Décarie points out that most of these studies have emphasized only the child's negative reaction, whereas there is a wide range of responses, including positive responses and more indeterminate responses, throughout the first year. The infant's more positive responses, which may include smiling, physical approach, and visual or tactile explorations accompanied by pleasurable sounds, are certainly familiar. It is, however, the more negative response that draws the attention of investigators as posing the question of why a normally harmless member of his own species should initiate fear in the infant at a specific point in his development. Décarie goes on to indicate that the hypotheses she will examine are concerned exclusively with the negative reaction. She does not mention, in this section, other psychoanalytic child observers, among them Brody and Mahler, who also have described the range of the infant's reaction to the stranger, and described in detail the "customs inspection" of a new object. They also clearly indicated that the new object may be approached with great interest and curiosity and does not necessarily elicit any reaction of anxiety or fear.
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