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Provence, S. Ritvo, S. (1961). Effects of Deprivation on Institutionalized Infants—Disturbances in Development of Relationship to Inanimate Objects. Psychoanal. St. Child, 16:189-205.

(1961). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 16:189-205

Effects of Deprivation on Institutionalized Infants—Disturbances in Development of Relationship to Inanimate Objects

Sally Provence, M.D. and Samuel Ritvo, M.D.


We have presented some of the observational findings from a study of institutionalized infants deprived of adequate human contact. These findings demonstrate that in these infants various parts of the apparatus of the ego mature when they would normally be expected to, but are not integrated or put to use in a normal fashion in the service of the infant's adaptation to his environment. In other words, the maturational sequence and timetable are not disturbed, but development is retarded.

We have described the institutional infant's behavior with toys, his investment in them, and his lack of initiative in approaching and exploiting them. The institutional infant's inability in the second half of the first year to solve the problem of finding the hidden toy is interpreted as indicating a deficit in the type of secondary-process thinking necessary for problem solving.

It is widely known that lack of mothering adversely affects the development of the infant. We have tried to formulate hypotheses about some of the specific mechanisms by which this adverse effect might be brought about:

1. The lack of an appropriate balance between comfort-discomfort experiences impedes the laying down of memory traces of the object and their permanent cathexis.

2. Due to the insufficiently cathected representations of the human object, the displacements to the inanimate objects do not take place in the normal fashion.

3. Therefore, the mechanism of displacement itself does not become adequately structuralized and energized.

These findings and the formulations based on them suggest a way in which the human contact acts as an organizer for the development of the infant.

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