Baggally attempts to explain a game of a seventeen-month-old girl in terms of the hedonics of play. The game consisted merely in standing upright on the couch and then slowly swaying and overbalancing so as to fall over and sit down with a bump after which the child scrambled up and the game was repeated. During the repetitions, the time taken in swaying before the fall became more and more lengthened until ultimately she lost interest in the game and turned her attention to other activities.
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The author supports a generalized theory of hedonia which states that if the ego is subjected to a pleasure and a less intense unpleasure simultaneously, both associated with the same wish, the resulting pleasure will be more intense than it would be in the absence of the unpleasure.
He summarizes his proposed explanation of the falling game as follows: the falling down while learning to walk constitutes a miniature trauma. This sets up three kinds of fear corresponding to physical pain, narcissistic mortification and loss of equilibrium. The first of these is probably predominant. The wish to avoid these fears is acted out in the game. Standing on the couch reduces the threat of pain but the memory of experiences on the floor remains. The other two fears are also reduced since the game places the child in control of the danger (except for memories of past discomfiture) and since equilibrium is regained immediately after the fall.
The game brings the unpleasure associated with memories of previous falls on the floor into hedonic conflict with the more intense pleasure of finding oneself safe, unruffled and right side up in spite of one's fears. A large increase in pleasure is thus obtained (as well as erotic pleasures from the physical movement).
As the fears are reduced by repetition, the swaying and unbalance are prolonged to spin out the remaining unpleasure. Finally, immediate experience banishes the fears and no unpleasure remains to set against and increase the pleasure so that another game must be sought.
Baggally attempts to apply the same theory to the traumatic neuroses, especially to unsuccessful repetitive dreams. The shock which precipitated the traumatic neurosis leaves an intense wish to prevent its repetition. When asleep, the dangers of the real world seem removed and the patient may envisage the possibility of experiencing the trauma on purpose to set the unpleasure of the weakened apprehension against the pleasure of security so as to increase the resultant pleasure. The attempt fails when the dreamer awakens from the preliminary anxiety of the dream just as it would were the child to fall on the floor in the game. Baggally speculates that if the patient could be kept from waking the anxiety might ultimately exhaust itself in a succession of dreams of decreasing affective intensity.
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Frank, R.L. (1950). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXVIII, 1947. Psychoanal. Q., 19:131-132