Dr. Sergio Romano, Psychology Psychotherapy, Psychodrama

Methodology and context of the work of Rene Spitz

Methodology and context of the work of Rene Spitz


Sergio Romano

Often Spitz in its publications, touches on topics rather controversial in psychoanalysis, taking precise positions concerning the. He advocates the use of direct observation to study the child in its first year of life, combined with experimental methods of psychoanalysis. This contrasts with a traditional method of studying the processes of development, which makes use of a sort of reconstructive method of such processes by observing the successive stages. When, eg, writes the first year of life, he is opposed to the widespread view of psychoanalysts traditional, that give the baby a complex mental life, already characterized by conflict, fantasy, guilt etc.. For him, the child is in an initial state undifferentiated, from which they develop the first functions, stand the first drives, everything built on existing prototypes underlying physiological. His research on psychoanalytic infant psyche by direct observation, begin in 1935; at that time is an isolated figure in this respect. It will take at least 10 years because others are starting to take such steps. On the other hand there were many more classic publications on the subject. When in 1954 came the first concise version of the book in France the first year of life, they developed the first scientific interests which then influenced him in later years, such as communication theory. The first year of life is clearly based on Freudian ideas, with particular reference to Three Essays on Sexuality, Spitz is the same to recognize; He also adds: “…The genius of Freud, has devised a series of ingenious ideas that the various generations of his disciples are now trying to develop and validate. E 'with deep satisfaction that I take this opportunity to participate in this joint effort by applying the method of direct observation of the work of mio maestro Sigmund Freud(Denver, 10-63).

I think it is apparent to any reader that these words contain much more than a simple statement or a thank you. Deepening the work of Spitz, we become aware of how all of Freud's ideas have permeated, from strictly psychoanalytic concepts. But just as clearly emerges and I can not say how much this is consciously recognized by the author himself, a profound originality in his work. If Freud was able to conceptualize virtually everything on which he worked Spitz, we can safely say that Spitz put it into practice in research, of experimental psychology.

Despite of Viennese origin, he belongs culturally to the Hungarian school that did not bring fortune particular (considering how he forgot him) even in Sandor Ferenczi. "We can say that Freud inventò la Psicoanalisi and Ferenczi the incarnò” (Borgogno, 1999). As Ferenczi put into practice in the therapeutic, Spitz did the same in the experimental. Always keeping his work, you will feel a "devotion adult" to Master: I mean that it's too easy to criticize the impressive Freud's work; at bottom, ipersemplificando, we can say that it is still a hypothesis, though supported by innumerable and often convincing theoretical demonstrations. It is more difficult to criticize proposing alternatives supported by experimental evidence. This is what he did Spitz, when parallel to his undoubted devotion to the ideas of the Master, with humility and equally refutes scientific rigor, certain psychoanalytic assumptions. You could say that his way of objection or disprove theories, is an "adult way" to proceed. I mean, it never shines in its conclusions, defiant, of provocation, how often do you perceive reading other authors. He never feels the need to give rise to conflicts and criticism for its own sake, with the intent, often perceived by reading other authors, also today, break, to dare "to challenge the gods clumsily", crude attempts detection. Rene is an adult "fully identified", is always subject, even when it claims to be guided in all respects to his master; he did not challenge, simply is different and it does especially when he speaks of the infant as an individual undifferentiated, starting from there not to give rise to mere theoretical speculations, but for, pioneer in his field, first-hand what the teacher had said. It always define a faithful disciple of Freud, but though his work remains almost constant attention to the dynamic components of the psychic, ignores the topical dimension and the economic. The system drives disappears replaced by the evolutionary perspective of the ego and its reciprocal, the object.

It 'also clear that this required a good deal of courage, can not know in advance what would emerge from these observations: smentite the conferme?

Freud probably taken into account in detail the mother-child relationship, object and subject, when in 1905, in Three Essays on Sexuality, introduced the concept of object choice. Then when he speaks of libidinal object, it will essentially from the point of view of the subject. Talk about cathexis of the object, of object choice, the discovery of the object and rarely object relations. For Spitz, the differentiation of the newborn begins as a result of two processes. The maturation, understood as the performance of functions of the species phylogenetically developed and therefore innate, that emerge in embryological development or they are brought forward after birth as Anlage, becoming manifest in later stages of life; it development, as the emergence of forms, functions and modes of behavior resulting from the interaction between organism on one side and the other internal and external environment. The term growth instead, not be used, It was thought this could give rise to confusion. So for Spitz at birth the ego and with it the symbolism, symbolic thought, etc.., does not exist, at least in the conception we have of. Freud stated in The Ego and the Id (1923). We can find only traces of prototypes of some physiological psychological defense mechanism. These will be based on the entire structure of a psychic nature. Spitz, defines Congenital kit what is provided with the newborn, composed of a kit hereditary constituted by genes, chromosomes, etc., to which is added the influences received during pregnancy, more those that are activated during childbirth. When a child is born, in practice we are witnessing a transition from physiological to the psychological. Continuing our discussion of object relations, it should be noted what he means to psychoanalysis libidinal object; for this you could use the following definition of Freud: “The object of an instinct (instinctual drive), is that thing with respect to which or through which, the instinct is able to reach his goal. And 'what is most variable with respect to instinct and is not originally connected with it, but is assigned to it only because it is particularly suitable to make possible the satisfaction. The object is not necessarily something foreign, can also be part of the subject's body. It can be changed countless times over the vicissitudes suffered by instinct during its existence; these shifts have important functions instinct. It may happen that the same object serves for the satisfaction of several instincts simultaneously "... (1915).

This tells us that the libidinal object is not something defined a priori or static: not only it can change in the course of our existence, but you should do it. Only in this way, this process will follow those who are the maturational processes that enable the "small be in the making", to go through all the stages of development. If this does not happen, we would be in the presence of frustration, or otherwise dangerous stasis that can create problems to the flow of development. It 'clear, that the difference with the concept of the object itself, classical psychoanalysis academic, is that of libidinal object. When Spitz speaks of object relations, refers to a relation which involves a subject, in our case a newborn, ed un subject, Mother cioè. These reports are developed during the first year, because, as we have already said, at birth is assumed that the child there are no psychic functions. At the end of the first year, will establish the libidinal object itself, passing through a stage is defined as "without object”, followed by a stage of the "precursor of the object and Finally "object ". What Spitz calls stage without object the of non-differentiation, is comparable to that of "Primary narcissism". He assumes that the baby is not able to distinguish things, the outside from the inside; at this stage, the womb belongs to him, è parte di lui. These psychological aspects are in line with a poor psychological differentiation, typical of the newborn. The baby would be protected from the bombardment of stimuli from the environment, through a perceptual threshold very high, that would last for a few months and then gradually subside, to allow a more adequate psycho-physical apparatus of fully interact with the world. Until then, each stimulus is mediated by the apparatus proprioceptive-enterocettivo; he recognizes that already during intrauterine life, the infant perceives some stimuli (soprasogliari), but does not accept that the newborn may experience discomfort.

Here distances himself from Rank (1934), from considering the trauma of birth as prototype of all subsequent anxieties, thinking, come Freud, trauma that leaves no memory, because at the time there is no psychic content (Freud, 1826). To prove this,, Spitz realized, as usual, some movies and precisely followed 35 parti senza anestesia; ne filmò 29 during ejection and immediately after: deduced from these observations that you could not define the traumatic reaction of the newborn at birth. Considering that it takes a few seconds and it is not violent: after the newborn passes to a state of total stillness, hard to imagine after a trauma true.

For Spitz we are faced with events (including childbirth) who have their own reasons especially in determining mechanical (difficulty breathing ..), or stress (slaps) manuals to make them start breathing. During the first few days of life all that it can be observed that could resemble an emotion is a state of excitement that seems to have a negative connotation of sorrow. The child will begin to perceive the world and to form an idea of ​​it, especially thanks (as well as the development of perceptual organs) a determining factor: the reciprocity between him and his mother, what called precisely " The dialogue” (Spitz, 1963).

Defines it as "the action-reaction-action cycle, within the structure of the mother-child relationship ". Then, when he says that the infant does not perceive, mean that " we can not speak of perception as long as the stimuli that affect its system sensory and that are organized through a centralized process are not made meaningful experience. " (Spitz, 1965). In this period, however, the child has a series of events with the character of answers-actions. It seems that they are innate, as are the behaviors associated with the "Rooting". Such behaviors, are the set of orientation movements made by the infant during the approach phase / search of the nipple (including the movements of the hands, arms, legs), then continuing with the grab and suck the same, and then with the swallow.

Whatever is in the intellect in the sense of ought to rule over the " (da una lettera di Gassendi a Cartesio).

According to Spitz, the baby perceives the stimuli that activate such behavior by means of a sensory system different from the traditional, that will be activated later. He calls this system "organization kinesthetic”, that is, a perception of "visceral", extensive that manifests itself in the form of emotions. Then defines this form of perception "On-off reception”. Also assumed the existence of sensory organs that defines "Transitional”, a kind of interface between peripheral and visceral, ie between internal / external. Indicates one of these organs in the area of ​​oral region, (pharynx, palate, language, inner cheeks, lips, nose, outer cheeks) meadow in the face. Another would be represented from the inner ear. These organs are all involved in the process of ingestion of food, ie, a function anaclitic (Freud). Will then be the bridge between the receipt kinesthetic and that diacritica. The experience begins to change the behavior (or to be more precise, we begin to see the effects) at the end of the first week of life, in fact, at that time the child begins to respond to the conditioning. The first we observe is related to the change of balance. Taking the baby in her arms as if you were to suckle, (horizontal) he turns his head toward our chest. If the raise in vertical, this is not done (in Balinese, the opposite occurs, because of the different styles of breastfeeding, reflecting the fact that such behavior is culturally determined). Studies by Rubnow and Frankl, show that the baby until the second month does not distinguish the stimulus as such, ie milk or nipple or breast; recognizes the nipple when this is in his mouth. So he recognizes the stimulus of food only when hungry. If he is crying, the nipple does not recognize it, continues to cry. The nipple in the mouth is a necessary but not sufficient condition because he perceives, as evidenced by the fact that if the child is engaged in an experience of sorrow propriocettivamente, does not perceive the nipple. So it needs to be hungry and that the proprioceptive system is not busy. This illustrates in practice the "Nirvana principle": there is the sorrow and the voltage must be discharged; while this process is underway, the external perception is "disabled". After a few weeks of life, this incapacity ceases perceptual; the infant begins (2° mese) to perceive in a different way; if we approach him when he is hungry he calms down, after the mouth and sucks. Here we are again (2° mese) in one stage in which the perception of the environment is based on a voltage resulting from a drive not rewarded. Then, two or three weeks after, the baby will begin with a look and follow a human face. Probably the human face is the visual stimulus that he associates more readily to the gratification of his needs, since it appears whenever the need for any adult approaches him. Observing the child during breastfeeding, we note that he keeps his eyes fixed on the latter as we could not imagine, but the mother's face. If raised with bottle feeding, This is much less evident. One wonders discussing perception of the newborn, What it really means, if it perceives and what. Even Spitz, in spite of some criticism that it would take a while 'hasty in drawing conclusions, you asked the same question and give an answer brought an interesting example. It is a work of By Sander (1932) carried out on individuals born blind then, thanks to surgery had their sight restored. One of these patients declare that as soon as he could use his own eyes, "Saw", but did not distinguish nothing, only different types of light without even being able to discriminate these stimuli came from his eyes; realized that only by closing and opening the eyes and thus being able to realize that it was from there that came stimuli. This would appear to support the assumption that the perception in the child at the beginning is absolutely undifferentiated and therefore the perception, as we understand it is learned. Another patient, always referring to previous experience, wrote that it was not able once regained his sight, to distinguish anything. The words used by the surgeon at that moment are very eloquent: “They see the colors as you smell a smell of paint that wraps or disturbs, but without taking any specific form of extension so more exactly definable”. The direct observation of children seems to confirm that visual perception is by learning. Spitz, assuming an ethological point of view, noted that since man is an animal altriciale nidicolo, completely helpless at birth, does not require a visual discrimination top, as happens in the case of a chick, eg. The chick is able to discriminate shapes and sizes immediately after birth. In fact, it is an animal so-called precociale nidifugous, it goes without saying then that this ability has undoubted value of survival. Fantz, also found that the infants seem able to perceive the shapes, so you need to clarify what was the meaning of the word Spitz see.

He intended to refer to an act of perception that involves a process of apperception, without which we can not speak of seeing. This is different from what was intended in the experiments ethological Fanz to see; there did not come into play the process of apperception. In other words, we can say that the infant sees but can not, as a result, to activate mental processes. Also in these experiments ethological, the role of emotions in relation to learning is completely ignored, Spitz while they are the most incentive to learning.

It poses at this point the following question: where it then begins really the perception?

Let's see what are the current trends in this regard.

In the sixties, were introduced two new techniques of investigation on the perception: that of visual preference and that of habituation. The first is to present two stimuli and see how long the baby dedication to each of them; the results show that there are innate preferences for certain categories of configurations. For example, the newborn prefers to follow the moving stimuli compared to static objects (Slater, Morison, Town e Rose, 1985); images curved rather than straight (Fanz e Miranda, 1975); figures high contrast rather than low-contrast (Morison e Slater, 1985); stimuli representing the human face compared to stimuli that do not represent (Valenza, Simion, Macchi Cassia and Humility, 1996). These experiments, showed that the child has a discreet wealth of innate abilities that are likely to have an important adaptive significance and make it able to respond even rudimentary but differentiated, to things happening around him.

In this regard, two different theoretical visions have long opposed: the first refers to Gestalt theory, the second All constructivist theories of mold. For Gestalt school, the principles governing the organization of perceptual configurations are universal and innate. The constructivist theories, on the contrary, believe that experience plays a

role in the development of the ability to structure the visual information and that this ability develops gradually over time based on an analysis of the details of the stimulus.

Some studies in children of three / four months, in line with the Gestalt approach, seem to show that already at this age it is possible to identify some ways of organizing visual percepts similar to those operating in the adult. The data provide evidence that children of a few months of life, are able to impose a structure to visual stimuli, taking advantage of the relationship that binds together the parts of the configuration (Berthental, Fields and Haith, 1980; Ghim, 1990). So we can say that some Gestalt principles, also act in early childhood. It remains to determine whether this ability is already present at birth.

According to "the model sensory” (Banks e Ginzburg, 1985), the newborn at birth, would act following a "push" that goes like this: “See what you see better”. Then the baby would direct our gaze to those stimuli that are best suited to its visual system.

The data show a preference for the human face: This model assumes that the stimulus-face, responds perfectly to those that best sensory characteristics are identified by the visual system of the newborn (Less, 1987). More recent research, however, suggest that even in the newborn capacities exist to impose an organization on what constitutes a visual stimulus.

In this regard, is of great interest to this work highlight a search Antell, Caron and Myers (1985), which shows that at birth the child is able to grasp the relation between two points blacks included in a circle. This would indicate that the baby is not only able to work out the details of a stimulus, but that can also capture the relationship that binds them, ie their spatial arrangement. Other experiments recently performed at the Laboratory of Developmental Neuropsychology of Padua, show that a newborn looks longer a stimulus in which three square blacks within an oval shape are arranged in such a way as to represent the eyes and mouth of a face, rather than if they are rotated 180 °. Between these two stimuli that changes is only the spatial arrangement, thus demonstrating that the infant is able to capture the structural properties. By placing the center of attention of the infant over to the stimulus-stimulus face another attractive, that is, with appropriate contrast characteristics suitable to the visual system of the small, they fixed, however, as long as the stimulus-face. This implies that we must recognize that the infant at birth has the ability to build a perceptual structure from the spatial arrangement of three elements isolated. Other studies (Slater E Sykes, 1977), (Farroni, Valenza, Simion e Umilta, 2000), confirm these hypotheses.

In light of these data, it seems that since the birth of some modes are active perceptual organization of reality. The fact that the newborn choose between two stimuli, is also to indicate that information about the structure of the sensory percept precedence over those.

These conclusions are in line with the developmental theories that consider the child a competent body from birth, with innate predispositions.

Spitz, argues that there is at birth a barrier of the stimulus, as protection against stimuli and that the child responds only to interoceptive stimuli, however assumes the existence of a perceptual area with specific activity present at birth. This area would be represented by the mouth and from the oral cavity in general. In fact, externally stimulating the mouth of a newborn, provoke a "specific behavior": the child's head rotates toward the stimulus and snaps his mouth. If breastfed, he will take the nipple in the mouth (Rooting). Such reflection, more than the suck, is the only direct reflection of the newborn at birth (including finger sucking). Spitz then, the oral cavity acts as a bridge between receiving internal and external perception. Obviously we are still talking about perceptions of contact, very different from those at a distance (individuative), passage of extreme importance for the development, because this movement is mediated by the development of object relations. When the baby takes the breast milk, sees his mother's face, feel the nipple in the mouth: here there is a merger of the two forms of perception, that become a single experience. E 'at this point that, according to Spitz, the infant begins to understand that the distance perception, offers more advantages; that, in fact, continues even when the contact is momentarily interrupted. Here he sees the beginnings of object constancy. From these considerations will originate Spitz certain experiments that lead thanks to some employees (R.Emde, P. Pole, 1954) on perception of three-dimensionality. These experiments and these studies, Spitz will to introduce a "slight modification", as he called, to some assertions psychoanalytic. He concluded that the breast is yes to the first object of perception, but not visual, but contact, because the baby is not able to distance perception. The perceptual experience of the newborn is therefore unitary nature of consummatory; gratification of needs, reduces the voltage. It is also an iterative, in fact, is repeated at every meal, therefore about five times per day, at least in the first year. This experience we can assume that it will leave some traces in his mind, some form of registration psychic, deposited in the form of a configuration with quality "Gestalt".