Rene Spitz (1887 - 1974) was an Austrian-American psychoanalyst, one of the first researchers who used
He focused on both normal and disturbed child development, pointing out the effects of Maternal and Emotional Deprivation.
His work influenced the Psychological Basis of Biodanza
(see Psychological Aspects of Biodanza).
Spitz focused his research on infants who had experienced sudden long-term
separation from their caregiver, for example when the mother was sent to prison. These studies and
conclusions were thus different from investigations of institutional rearing.
Anaclitic Depression was the term
proposed by him to describe a child's reaction of grief, anger, and apathy to partial emotional
deprivation (the loss of a loved object)
He proposed that when the love object is returned to the child within three to five months, recovery
is prompt but after five months, they will show the symptoms of increasingly serious deterioration
The studies that René Spitz conducted were the first to show systematically that social interactions
with other humans are essential for children’s development:
- Spitz followed two groups of children from the time they were born until they were several years
- The first group were raised in an orphanage, where the babies were more or less cut off from
human contact in their cribs, or where a single nurse had to care for seven children.
- The second group of babies were raised in a nursery in a prison where their mothers were
incarcerated. The mothers were allowed to give their babies care and affection every day, and the
babies were able to see one another and the prison staff throughout the day.
- At age 4 months, the state of development of the two groups of babies was similar; the babies in
the orphanage even scored a higher average on certain tests.
- By the time the babies were 1 year old, the motor and intellectual performance of those
reared in the orphanage lagged badly behind those reared in the prison nursery. The orphanage babies
were also less curious, less playful, and more subject to infections.
- During their second and third years of life, the children being raised by their mothers in prison
walked and talked confidently and showed development comparable to that of children raised in normal
- Of the 26 children reared in the orphanage, only 2 could walk and manage a few words.
- Since the time of his pioneering study, many other experiments have shown what catastrophic
effects sensory and social deprivation at certain critical periods in early childhood can have on
children's subsequent development.