1909 might have seemed a year like any other, but there were strange undercurrents. While educated minds were enjoying the drama of George Bernard Shaw and the literature of Gertrude Stein, other eyes were on the new silent movies and the first appearance of "America's Sweetheart" Mary Pickford [right]. New classical music was being composed by Gustav Mahler and Rimsky-Korsakov, but the new grammarphones belted out the popular songs like Oh You Kid, By The Light Of The Silvery Moon and I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now. Explorers conquered both the North and South Poles, but other pioneers were pushing back less obvious boundaries: the boundaries of the mind...
Sigmund Freud's study is unlike most of the others you've studied. For a start, it's a case study, looking in depth at just one subject (see also Savage-Rumbaugh et al. and Thigpen & Cleckley). Secondly, it's a longitudinal study, looking at how things change over a long period of time (see also Rosenhan). Finally, it consists entirely of qualitative data, mostly Freud's thoughts and theories about Little Hans' phobias with a few transcripts of Hans' conversations.
Visit Mark Holah's site for an excellent summary of Freud's study, with quizzes and links.
... And don't miss the chance to play Sigmund Freud WHACK-A-MOLE
There's a short, sweet summary of the case study on Gary Sturt's page
Want to know more about Oedipus and his Complex?
Sigmund Freud is probably the most controversial and influential thinker of the 20th century. A doctor in Vienna, he became convinced that there were mental rather than physical reasons behind the symptoms of many of his patients. Freud's theory is called psychodynamic because at the heart of it is the idea that the mind is in turmoil or conflict. Freud suggests that we have an unconscious mind which houses many desires, memories and feelings which we cannot bear to bring into our conscious thoughts. The only way we have any sort of communication with the unconscious is through dreams, but even here the dreams are full of symbols and codes. The reason why the unconscious is so hard to make contact with is that our waking mind has set up all sorts of defence mechanisms to protect it from the upsetting things in the unconscious. Most of these defence mechanisms develop out of our childhood relationships with our parents. Freud himself was very close to his mother but had a difficult relationship with his own father.
Freud was appalled at two things in the European societies of his day. He was struck by how sexually repressed they were but also how brutally parents punished their children - in fact, many parents were encouraged to beat their children regularly even if they hadn't done anything wrong. For Freud, the violent treatment of children and the sexual hang-ups in adults seemed to be related.
Freud's core idea is that children are not the innocent little angels that Victorians tended to write about: Freud thought children were deeply selfish and highly sexual creatures who experienced hatred and rage and strong physical desires. In particular, Freud argues that little boys are sexually obsessed wth their mothers but live in terror of their fathers. The boy-child wishes the father were dead so he can take his father's place with his mother... but fears the father will find out his dirty little secret and punish him, perhaps by cutting his penis off! Freud calls this crisis the OEDIPUS COMPLEX. By getting through the Oedipus Complex successfully we form our adult identities and develop our sense of right and wrong. Freud argues we do all this at about age 5.
This would have remained just a theory, except that one of Freud's keenest fans was a married man who happened to have a 5-year old boy and had noticed the little lad was starting to behave strangely...
First and foremost, Freud's aim was to cure the little boy of his strange and unhealthy behaviour. Because of this, there are some infuriating problems with the research, such as no control group or even an outside opinion.
Secondly, Freud was looking for evidence that would back up his theory of the Oedipus Complex.
Freud was also testing out his new technique of psychoanalysis, a "talking cure" that tries to rid patients of their problems by getting them to open up. Freud was writing a ground-breaking case study of using psychoanalysis with a child.
This is not a scientific experiment and Freud did not manipulate any variables. Little Hans was observed and interviewed and Freud proposed conclusions about what his behaviour meant. This is rather similar to the case study by Thigpen & Cleckley.
One of Freud's married students wrote to him explaining the problem with "Little Hans" (a fake name to hide the family's identity). Hans had developed an intense fear of horses, to the extent that he was terrified to go out of doors. Perhaps psychoanalysis could help the boy? Perhaps his phobia was caused in some way by the Oedipus Complex?
The father provided Freud with more details.
So far, this is all plain sailing...
The bath time tantrums are a bit more peculiar but Freud has a solution:
The phobia about horses started when Hans was 4½. Freud suggested that Hans' father carry out a series of interviews with the little boy, asking him about his hopes and fears, his dreams and nursery games and getting him to make up stories. It is important to remember that all these interviews were carried out by Hans' own father then posted to Freud, who read them and suggested courses of action.
The fear of horses poses no problem for Freud. Obviously, Hans has repressed his anxieties into his unconscious mind and now they're breaking out again but in a disguised form, as a phobia. Here's the reasoning:
A new phobia started to develop. Hans became very frightened of horses pulling heavy carts (and there were a lot of them about in Austria in the early 1900s). In particular, he seemed to dread one of the horses falling over and its load being dropped in the street. This was linked to an occasion when Hans and his mother had been walking and actually saw a horse collapse and kick its legs about, which had terrified the small boy. Hans' father continued with the talking therapy.
Too easy! This is how it works:
After weeks of these interviews, Hans' phobia starts to fade and he is able to go all the way to the park, unafraid of horses or their loads. He has two interesting fantasies which suggest he is recovering:
Freud declared Little Hans cured. Here was, he claimd, proof of his theories about infant sexuality and Hans was clearly a "Little Oedipus". What's more, the talking therapy worked and Freud argues that Hans' anxieties and fantasies were perfectly normal and that all children would benefit from psychoanalysis to help them resolve these feelings for their parents.
Interestingly, Freud did meet Hans again. When he was 19, Herbert Graf (Hans' real name) came to visit Freud. His parents had divorced, but he had stayed close to both of them and especially to his sister Hanna. He had many questions about his father, who had recently died, but remembered absolutely nothing of his phobia or his talking therapy and was dumbfounded when he looked through his father's letters. He had grown up to be a heathy, well-balanced adult and went on to become an opera producer in America.