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The Interpersonal World of the Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology
Daniel N. Stern
Basic Books | Basic Behavioral Sciences / Softcover / 2000-10-01 / 0465095895
Infant, Child & Adolescent / Gestalt Institute Core Texts
reg price: $38.00 our price: $ 36.10
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Challenging the traditional developmental sequence as well as the idea that issues of attachment, dependency, and trust are confined to infancy, Stern integrates clinical and experimental science to support his revolutionizing vision of the social and emotional life of the youngest children, which has had spiraling implications for theory, research, and practice. A new introduction by the author celebrates this first paperback edition.
from Perseus Books online

A really great review by David Teasdale from
At first sight, The Interpersonal World of the Infant is a daunting book. The design is dull, and a quick flip through suggests densely argued, intense text. Sentences catch the eye like:
' has not conceptualised intersubjective experience as a dyadic event, and this conceptualization is necessary to a generic view of in tersubjectivity.' (p 127)

Not necessarily what your reviewer needs as he wrestles with the training reading list on long train journeys and late nights! Happily the book also confirms the proverb about books and covers. It is an exciting, provocative and valuable read, grounding the study of child development in experiment and observation, without retreating into either reductionism or gross limitation of the field of enquiry to those matters which can only be studied by completely objective measurement.

The basis of the book is to use experiment and the objective observation developed by ethologists to study animal behaviour objectively. These techniques are applied to the development of human children to provide data to examine the traditional theories of child development used in psychoanalysis and to develop concepts within a new hypothesis which accords with the known observed facts and will inform and guide psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. This meeting of scientific technique, the behaviour of real children and the ideas used in the clinical practice of psychotherapy drives the excitement of this book.
'The discoveries of developmental psychology are dazzling, but they seem doomed to remain clinically sterile unless one is prepared to make inferential leaps about what they might mean for the subjective life of the infant.' (p5)

The book examines the development of self in the first two years of life. The author accepts that while the existence of self may be difficult to prove scientifically a subjective organisation unique to the self is very real and permeates our experience of ourselves in relation to others. Development of this self is seen as the key to understanding the development of psychopathology. Failures or gaps in development will disrupt social functioning to a greater or lesser degree. However difficult it may be to study the preverbal development of self it is vital to the psychotherapeutic enterprise to have as objective an understanding of this as may be.

  Stern's hypothesis of the development of self is built up of four 'senses of the self', each beginning at within a given age range, and subject to potential development through out life. The development of each 'sense of self' is related to observed and experimental data, but each forms a stage for the development of psychopathology. The 'emergent self' develops from birth. Stern sees this a developing sense of organisation. The scientific data presented in support of this gives a clear picture of the infant immediately operating in a world where social relatedness is important and sought for. This contrasts with the traditional psychoanalytic view, which focuses on the satisfaction of physiological needs and refers to essentially asocial behaviour. Infants seek out and give attention to human faces. Infants are capable of sophisticated perceptions and, it is suggested may overlay perceptions with the beginnings of a perception of affects - mad, sad, glad. The emergent self is seen as the basis of all learning and creative activity concerned as it is with emerging organisation.

The 'Sense of Core Self' is seen as developing from 2-3 months, This 'core self' is seen as integrated with ownership of affect, continuity and a sense of other people as separate. This is seen as a sharp contrast to views of the infant passing through a long period of lack of differentiation from the mother. Again observational evidence is given of the infant identifying the invariant that represent self, including affects. A theory of how memory operates to create AI representations of interactions that have been generalised' is presented. These 'RIGS' modify behaviour and feeling, they may be modified by experience, but tend to build into fixed structures that may affect future interactions, which trigger access to the 'RIG.'

The argument proceeds through the 'sense of a subjective self' at 7-9 months, which sees the infant as beginning to share subjective experience. During the second year a 'sense of verbal self ' is seen as forming.

With the hypothesis stated and reviewed the author proceeds to discuss its implications in two distinct areas. He examines firstly the idea of predicting future psychopathology from observations of the infant and parents. No general theory is created for prediction, but much observational data is presented to confirm the significance of very early interaction for future psychology. The author moves from this to examine the significance of the hypothesis of the development of self for clinical practice. This is a fascinating part of the book. He believes that the data demonstrate that orality, dependence, trust and other significant issues in development do not occur as set stages at set points in development. The development of self begins immediately, continues throughout life and provides a flexible setting for these issues to work through. He does not claim any priority during work with a client for returning to the very early scenes dealt with in the theory. He stresses that clients will frequently deal with an issue, which may have very early roots, in terms of a much later 'narrative point of origin.' Where the hypothesis is of great significance is in the strategy adopted with the client. An empathic strategy will tend to favour contact with material in the domain of the subjective self; an interpretative strategy will tend to focus on the verbal self. Transactions between therapist and client are seen as needing to be very finely tuned in terms of the sense of self they address, in order to get a therapeutically useful response from the client. The argument is for thoroughness, flexibility and creativity on the part of the therapist, and for great possibilities for change on behalf of the client.

In the epilogue to Stern's book he states that one effect of the release of child development study data is a change in behaviour of parents, and a subsequent and unpredictable effect on the psychology of future clients.
review by David Teasdale from

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Stern, Daniel N
other lists
Basic Behavioral Sciences | Basic Books
Basic Books
Gestalt Institute Core Texts
Infant, Child & Adolescent
Perseus Book Group
Psychoanalysis with Infants, Children & Adolescent
Self Psychology / Intersubjectivity