Academic journal article General Psychiatry

The Development of the Mind: A Three Month Old Infant

Academic journal article General Psychiatry

The Development of the Mind: A Three Month Old Infant

Article excerpt

Summary: Infant mental development occurs in interplay with a caregiver. The infant establishes an inner world, a psyche, by using his or her caregiver as transitional mental space for the development of a sense of self. This mental progress occurs simultaneously with motor elaboration, pre-conditioned by neurophysiological maturation. The bodily holding function of the caregiver, through initial skin-to-skin contact, enables the infant to develop a sense of bodily self. The pivotal role of the body as a first place of ego development is illustrated by the vignette of Nino, a 3-month-old infant whose caregiver is unable to provide the necessary physical contact, and therefore insufficiently containing the young infant. This lack of physical holding limits the infant from developing a sense of bodily self, a primary sense of self. Without the caregiver's holding function, it is impossible for the infant to establish a relationship to a whole person.

Key words: Infant, psychic development, dyadic interaction, clinical vignette

[Shanghai Arch Psychiatry. 2017; 29(1): 51-54.

1. Background

The first months of an infant's development are characterized by rapid physiological and psychological maturation. There is, however, a marked latency and adjustment period in human infants to the extrauterine condition. This phase--less evident in other primates--emphasizes the importance of the caretaker in the development of the human infant. The affective physical contact with the caretaker through acoustic and visual functions, touch, movement, and smell has a wider function of emotional communication, symbol formation, thinking, and integration of the self by the infant. [1]

The case vignette of a 3-month-old infant who received limited early parental affective stimulation shall emphasize the consequences of an insufficient physical and psychological holding environment. Detailed written reports of Nino's infant observation sessions provide the foundation of the discussion of the importance of early physical contact in the development of the human infant's mind. Psychoanalytic concepts of parental holding and protective function are used to elaborate the role of the maternal body for the infant's development.

Several French authors have emphasized the importance of combining touch and sight. Anzieu, in his work of the "skin ego", [2] notes how gazing at the mother offers the infant contact with her psychic reality in the midst of longing for mutual incorporation. The latter is limited by pressure against the breast, which represents the limits of mutual absorption. The narcissistic seduction conducted by eye and skin contact is essential. The mother is, as he defined, a "protective envelope" for the child. [2] The envelope with its containing function can protect the child from his raw sense of falling apart or complete helplessness and avoids the introjection of these primitive feelings into him. The sensation of the mother's touch and contact with the skin of the infant gives him a sense of unity. The importance of the mother's containing function reflects itself in the child's capacity of internal organization. Freud saw the skin ego as a mental projection of the surface of the body. [3] Bick developed the concept further and suggested that the infant's good experience of skin sensations was the basis for a sense of a containing object. By experiencing positive bodily sensations, the child can then start to differentiate between the internal and external world. Fonagy and Target [4] extend the mother's containing function on a more cognitive level to her capacity to mentalize and, through reflective functioning, be more sensitive to the child's needs. Fonagy and Target [4] found evidence for an association between the quality of the attachment relationship and reflective function in the parent and the child. They claim that it is reviewed and interpreted in the context of current models of theory of mind development. …

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