Customer Service | Help | FAQ | PEP-Easy | Report a Data Error | About
Tip: To see translations of this article…

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

When there are translations of the current article, you will see a flag/pennant icon next to the title, like this: 2015-11-06_11h14_24 For example:


Click on it and you will see a bibliographic list of papers that are published translations of the current article. Note that when no published translations are available, you can also translate an article on the fly using Google translate.


For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

J., E. (1922). General: Stanley Hall. A Synthetic Genetic Study of Fear. American Journal of Psychology, Vol. XXV, April and July 1914, pp. 149, 321.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 3:335-341.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: General: Stanley Hall. A Synthetic Genetic Study of Fear. American Journal of Psychology, Vol. XXV, April and July 1914, pp. 149, 321.

(1922). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 3:335-341

General: Stanley Hall. A Synthetic Genetic Study of Fear. American Journal of Psychology, Vol. XXV, April and July 1914, pp. 149, 321.

E. J.

These two papers, 124 pages long, appear to be instalments of a monograph not yet concluded, although this is not explicitly stated. As, however, nothing further has been published since July 1914 a summary will be given of the two chapters in question, criticism of the whole being reserved for a future occasion.

The subject is introduced with the following sentences: 'Fear is the anticipation of pain. For those forms of life capable of fear this anticipation is not prevision but only a highly generalised fore-feeling, itself unpleasant, that a yet more painful state impends. The will to live, the élan vital, is more or less checked in its momentum or narrowed in its range by some kind of intimation that it may be still further held up. This protensive or futuristic attitude or orientation toward a pejoristic state is the specific quale of the psychic condition called fear. Psychogenetically it is a primitive Anlage of futurity and it is the most stimulating and vivid of all its forms of presentation. In fear the future dominates the present and gives it a new significance in addition to its own, and but for fear pain could do little of its prodigious educative work in the animal world. Fear is thus the chief paradigm of psychic prolepsis as well as the chief spur of psychic evolution. … If fear had not been felt it could not be anticipated, hence the condition precedent of fear is some kind of registration and some degree of revival of these vestiges. Thus fear involves the past as we have seen it does the future. … If Bergson's durée réelle or pure duration or time freed from spatialization which the intellect tends to give it, has any existence, it is in the pure psychic state of fear. If pleasure-pain is the result of the first day's work of creative psychic evolution, fear is that of the second. … If there be a vital principle fear must be one of its very close allies as one of the chief springs of mind. Thus if any psychic component is not a mere epiphenomenon, but has an entity of its own, it is this. In fact fear is intensely dynamogenic and also inhibitive. … Without known danger life would be tame, insipid, asthenic.' He regards hope rather than desire as the counterpart of fear: 'Whether we call fear an instinct, feeling, emotion, or sentiment, we must call hope the same, for each is the affective converse or complement of the other,

- 335 -

without which it can neither be understood or explained, so that a broader knowledge of fear will have to wait upon future studies of hope, which is at the same time the light of life and also the terra incognita of psychology.'

As in his other writings, Hall is here especially concerned with the genetic and biological aspects. He says, for instance, 'Fear can only be understood genetically. Its reinforcements and physiological expressions are full of atavistic rudiments, for we inherit not so much the effects of specific objects feared as the physical and psychic diathesis of fear'. He proceeds, in fact, by first making a long study of mental development in general, dealing especially with the question of the primary mental element. Rejecting the claims of sentiency, awareness, choice, and memory for honour, he decides in favour of affectivity, stated in terms of the pleasure-pain principle. As to the question of the inheritance of fear he says: 'The anxiety diathesis is one of the most inheritable of traits, while fears of special objects are so only to a very slight degree.' No direct evidence is given in favour of this conclusion, however. He recurs to the theme of the influence of phylogenetic experiences in determining present fears and the forms of these; 'We fear with not only all that we, but with all that the race has feared'.

Then follows an account of Adler's hypothesis of compensation of inferior organs, one which Hall holds to be 'the most important key' for both abnormal and normal psychology. 'Freud is wrong in interpreting this most generic form of fear (Minderwertigkeitsgefühl) as rooted in sex, worries concerning which are only one of the more specific, if common and most typical, forms of its expression. Sex anxieties are themselves only symbols of this deeper sense of abatement of the will to live, to be powerful, to illustrate in our own personality the whole estate of man, to glow with the humanistic totalising motive to be citizens of all times and spectators of all events.' He nowhere shews any sign of having grasped the psycho-analytical theory of Angst, referring to it only as worries about sexual matters. For him, neurotic fear means the breaking down of the compensation of inferiority, the failure to 'realise the life-wish of self-maximization'. 'The summum genus of fear is a sense of the inability to cope with life, a dread of being vanquished and becoming not victors in its battle, a sense of limitation and of inferiority in our power to achieve the fullest success and happiness, a feeling that our hereditary momentum was originally insufficient or is in danger of being reduced.'

A list of 132 specific phobias is given, with their Greek names, from antlo- and apeiro-phobia to nelo- and nephelo-phobia (fears of floods, infinity, glass, and clouds, respectively), and then ten important types of fears are selected for special, detailed consideration. A few words will be said about each of these.

- 336 -

1. Fear of shock. By this Hall means essentially psychic trauma, though he takes the occasion to discuss the effects of physical shock on the nervous system (Crile's experiments, etc.) as well. There is a detailed description of the symptoms of shock, terror, being taken unawares, etc. Hall points out the ambivalence of fear and courage, dealing with this from a biological standpoint. Through fear man learns to avoid disaster, and through courting danger he acquires greater mastery over natural forces. 'As life has evolved on the psychic plane, the preservation of life against all great and sudden injuries is less by the vegetative power of recuperation and more in the cerebral function of pre-perceiving and so preventing shock. Instead of the power of regenerating mutilated tissue or even lost limbs and sense organs by the vis reparatrix of re-growth, men, especially those well endowed with brain and mind, depend increasingly for survival upon their keenness of perception and their foreknowledge of coming harm, which enables them to escape it.' Speaking of the effects of intense emotion he says: 'Reason always fears emotion and is shocked by its outbreaks, and well it may be, for they mark the incursions of the race into the narrow life of the individual. When they break out riotously in the individual or in the mob they may in a moment wreak a havoc that nothing can make good. Hence it is our own emotional possibilities rather than the moral law, as Kant thought, before which we stand in supremest awe. Their sublimation, directly or indirectly, is almost the whole work of culture. In this sense the fear of self is the beginning of wisdom. Every supernatural object or personality is the creation of these feelings. All of them we fear but only secondarily, for the fear in which they all root is that of self.' Incidentally we may note that Hall has an exaggerated as well as antiquated notion of the part played by psychic trauma in psychopathology. He views it only from the static side, in Morton Prince's way, and treats of its effects as one would of the effect of a blow on to a non-reacting material. 'Freudians think shock is the only cause of hysteria [!]. … Modern psychiatry is coming to assign to shock the chief rôle in nearly all psychoses and neuroses. On this view an intense, sudden, painful experience, especially if the significance of it can be dimly felt but not understood, may persist long and latently unassimilated by the central consciousness and without fusion with it, almost as if it were a foreign body in the psychic system. Such an experience may become the nucleus of a complex which without being recognised may grow into a dominant factor in the victim's life and become a parasitic or secondary personality. … A child who sees a sex act; a girl whose trusted and respected lover suddenly makes indecent advances; even the sudden but belated knowledge of how babies come to exist, if it comes in a coarse way;—these illustrate Freudian shocks as they manifest

- 337 -

themselves at once or long afterwards by obsessions, complexes, motor, digestive or other symptoms.'

2. Pavor nocturnus. This leads to a discussion of sleep, Hall laying stress on the regressive nature of this (towards lower phylogenetic levels). He connects pavor itself with the night dangers to which our prehuman ancestors were exposed, and to their accompanying dreads. He regrets that physicians have made no psychological study of the subject.

3. Geotaxic Fears. Under this heading Hall includes, without clearly distinguishing between them, the fear of heights, astasia-abasia, interest in climbing, in rapid movement, and in being tossed up and down. He finds that fears connected with heights are remarkably common in children, that they mostly disappear later on, being rare after the age of thirty, and that they are three times as common in girls as in boys. He lays stress on the great positive pleasure most children experience in climbing, in being high up, and in being swung or tossed. Sensations of flying are discussed in the same connection. As phylogenetic sources he suggests the importance of the arboreal stage in prehuman existence for most of these phenomena, but reaches further back still to acquatic (fish) life for others. 'The facts seem to suggest that hovering is to be distinguished from falling sensations, which are later, the former being vestiges of acquatic, the latter of arboreal life. Of course the older of these experiences is to some extent reproduced in the foetal state with nearly equal fluid pressure on all sides, to which embryonal stage psycho-analysts (Ferenczi and others) have of late had recourse.' He has some illuminating comments on the inverse resemblance between astasia-abasia and the exact order in which a child learns to walk, describing this symptom as 'unlearning to stand and walk'. Further, 'the locomotor efforts of patients with abasia-phobia, with their stooping and straddling, waving of arms, clutching of hands constant incipient falling and recovery, the anxious fore-looking for the next few steps, the selection of a goal and the staggering toward it, and especially the impulse to grasp everything supportive in their way, are highly suggestive of tree-life. The same is true of agoraphobia symptoms.'

4. Fears of losing horizontal orientation. The necessity of orientation, the confusion between right and left, the obsession of knowing exacting the points of the compass, the fear of being lost, and even nostalgia, as well as other allied fears, are brought into relation with the primitive dread of being lost in forest life in prehuman times.

5. Fears of closeness. The discussion ranges far beyond the fear of suffocation, etc., and many interesting facts are related, such as the case of a woman who can only wear a loose ring and gets into a panic if it sticks at all on being taken off; Sully Prudhomme found it oppressive to live on a confined sphere and wished the world were flat and continuous

- 338 -

with the stars and sky. Hall connects agoraphobia with the prehuman necessity to be near trees for safety, and claustrophobia with the dangers of cave life in subsequent epochs. He considers that many sublimated interests, e. g. passion for liberty and hatred of constricting tyranny, arise from this group of fears, and says of vertigo, for instance, 'it is the genetic basis of man's impulsion to find his own place in the universe, to know himself and his world, to evolve a system of theory as well as of conduct and behaviour that fits him to fill his place in nature.'

6. Fears of sticks, missiles, points, edges, string. These are all connected with the vast importance such matters played in the earliest development of mankind, in relation to aggression and to danger. The following general remark is of interest: 'If phobias are thus survivals and revivals of traces in us of the salient points of long ancestral experience, we cannot understand the one without the other, and may sometimes reason both ways. We may infer from strong and in the individual inadequately motivated impulses something as to what experience the race must have passed through. Conversely, when the latter is known, we may confidently expect if not predict outcrops of similar phenomena in childhood and in neurotics.' No sexual association of any of these phenomena is mentioned except in the case of piercing with a point, and then to be dismissed with the words 'The fact that very many children long before puberty [!] have fear of points, and the fact that the chief pain done to man and his history was by non-sexual piercings, shew the limitation of this interpretation'.

6. Fear of snakes. This fear is much commoner with girls. It is related, as well as the numerous myths of overcoming serpents and dragons, to the great dangers from snakes experienced by prehuman, and especially arboreal, man. Sexuality is not even mentioned in this connection.

7. Fear of cats. The prominent elements in this are the animal's stealthiness, its power of taking great leaps, its nocturnal habits, and the fear of claws and teeth. Many interesting examples are narrated. Hall does not think that the phobia can be accounted for by painful personal experiences, and draws for an explanation on the fact that the feline race was man's most potent enemy in primitive times. 'The ailurophobe is contending with inherited more than with acquired dread, for he is to some extent reviving the old fear of big cats which he wrongly interprets, from lack of psycho-analysis of himself, as fear of house-cats. These latter are the manifest as opposed to the latent objects of his fears.' It is hard to see how psycho-analysis could reveal this, if it were true; besides, the theory does not account for the much commoner occurrence of ailurophilia.

8. Ereuthophobia and its kin. Most of the more severe cases of this are found in men. A long discussion of flushing and blushing is given,

- 339 -

especially in relation to man's sensitiveness to the opinion of his fellows. The emotions underlying blushes are always connected with fear. This is the only fear in which Hall finds it necessary to discuss a possible sexual origin, and the superficial arguments with which he dismisses this are characteristic of his whole attitude. 'Some think that the blush was once extended over the whole surface of the body and is a relic of general sex erethism that has drifted away from its origin, but why, then is blushing unpleasant to so many?' The two other arguments are that 'each sex may blush before members of its own sex', and that 'sex theorists disagree as to whether sex-flushing means desire or dread'. It is remarkable that anyone who has read some psycho-analytical literature cannot find the obvious answer to such questions. Hall's own view is as follows: 'Man's dearest wish is esteem, fame, and to maximize himself generally in his human milieu, and his greatest dread is disgrace, social outlawry, and general hate. Flushing is a factor of two variables, first, the degree of keenness of consciousness of things to be concealed, and second, a sense that they have been betrayed.'

9. Pathophobias. Hall begins with the alimentary pathophobias, to which most of the section is devoted. Raising the question of how it is that neuropathic disorders can so closely resemble organic ones, e. g. pyloric stenosis, he says that this is because of past ancestral experiences of such disorders. He discusses the danger of the interference of consciousness in the action of automatic and instinctive bodily processes. 'Necessary and effective as psycho-analysis shews this process of consciencization often to be for re-education, it suggests again the momentous conclusion that consciousness itself is essentially a therapeutic and remedial agency with potencies hitherto undreamed of in this direction because wrongly conceived of. But we must not forget that consciousness always brings dangers also hitherto unknown in its train, for it has strange powers to inhibit and to hypertrophy almost every organic, motor, and sensory activity. Hence it is that there is always a resistance born of fear in going below the threshold to explore the unconscious, and this resistance has many manifestations all the way from the instinct that prompts patients to be reserved to physicians up to the refusal of many psychologists to admit even the reality of unconscious psychic processes.' Hall overlooks here the difference between self-conscious and pre-conscious activities, the latter being the stage at which psycho-analysis leaves most bodily functions—from breathing to walking—that may have been the object of conscious attention during the clinical analysis.

Taken all in all, the three most prominent features about Hall's detailed work are (1) his emphasis on the phylogenetic aspects of

- 340 -

clinical phobias, and the relation of these to specific predispositions, (2) the vast amount of material, chiefly in children, at his disposal, (3) his opposition to admitting that sexuality may play a part in the genesis of any single phobia, or of fear in general.

- 341 -

Article Citation

J., E. (1922). General. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 3:335-341

Copyright © 2021, Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing, ISSN 2472-6982 Customer Service | Help | FAQ | Download PEP Bibliography | Report a Data Error | About

WARNING! This text is printed for personal use. It is copyright to the journal in which it originally appeared. It is illegal to redistribute it in any form.