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Székely, L. (1954). Biological Remarks on Fears Originating in Early Childhood. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 35:57-67.

(1954). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 35:57-67

Biological Remarks on Fears Originating in Early Childhood Related Papers

Lajos Székely, Ph.D.


My thesis is based on a series of concordances:

1. The adult's fear, when combined with

passive body-destruction phantasies, the baby's first smile in its second three months, and its fear of strangers in its third three months (eight-months-anxiety) concord in being released by a definite visual Gestalt, that is, by the 'two-eyes-and-forehead' pattern. Its fears are not released by a definite object, and the smile is not directed to an object. For if the visual properties of the 'releaser' change—if one eye in the full face view is covered, or if the profile is turned towards the child—neither fear nor smile is released. It seems, therefore, that the visual configuration (Gestalt) and the emotional phenomenon are closely connected.

2. Animal psychologists, especially the ethologists, hold that all instinctive modes of behaviour (such as sexual behaviour, care of young, hunting for food, hostility, search for resting place, excretion) are released—given the specific physiological readiness, that is, the need—by specific key stimuli. These are Gestalten in the sense of the Gestalt psychology, and in their construction, many sensory features of the object towards which the impulse is directed, although they are perceived, are not included. One key stimulus which is widely active in many spheres of the animal kingdom is the 'two-eyes pattern'.

I make the assumption—thus far unproved empirically—that the descriptive concordance between (a) the fear- (and smile-) releasing Gestalt in the first year of Man's life and (b) the animal key stimulus is the expression of a genetic relation between the two. In particular, I assume that the human fear-releaser is a phylogenetic survival from the animal 'enemy schema'. This makes it possible to dispose of a weakness in Spitz's hypothesis concerning eight-months-anxiety. The fear of strangers is not the fear of object-loss, but an archaic real fear, released by a phylogenetic key stimulus (the 'enemy schema' of the ethologists). The first smile is the first mastering of the archaic real fear, through the enemy schema acquiring, in course of contact with the mother, a libido cathexis, and becoming a partial object. The first social reaction arises from the matrix of the animal instinct. Here we see at the same time how a phylogenetic inheritance is transformed in the course of individual development and used in a specifically human manner. I put forward the further (unproved) assumption that the pre-objects and partial objects of the first year of life are built up from key stimuli. Should this hypothesis prove correct, Klein's thesis of the schizoidparanoid position could be newly interpreted.

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