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Clinging Instinct


Imre Hermann presupposes an instinct manifest in primates and latent in human babies, namely, the drive to cling to the mother, which is frustrated from the outset by the absence of biological endowments, but is present in the form of reflexes (grasping, Moro, heat-orientation) in the early stages of development and in later pathological symptoms (e.g., hair-pulling, nail-biting).

Based on the psychoanalytical examination of comparative psychology, Hermann first expounded the theory of the clinging instinct in the study, "Sich Anklammern und Auf-SucheGehen," in 1936. He described the operation of phylogenic heritage in the mother-child dual union, its integration into the libidinal organization, the relationship of frustrated instinct drives to castration complex, to passively endured separational trauma and active separational drive, to sadism and masochism, to destruction instinct and narcissism. In his book, The Primeval Instincts of Man (1943), he expanded the biosocial model theory of human development to form the clinging theory. He conducted wide-ranging investigations, starting with primate biology, through clinical facts supported by neurological data, and through developmental psychological data he examined the relationship of the phenomenology of the clinging syndrome to love, anxiety, shame, and, through ego development, to thinking. He also studied ethnology, culture history, and social psychology.

Later ethological researchers (e.g., Harlow and Lawick-Goodall) demonstrated the verisimilitude of Hermann's theories, while John Bowlby's and René Spitz's concepts demonstrated them biosocially. Michel Balint integrated the theory into his concept of primary love.

Hungarian Group

See also: Hermann, Imre; Hungary; Hungarian School; Ethology and psychoanalysis.


Binet, Agnes. (1977). Comportement d'attachement ou instinct de cramponnement? Psychiatrie de l'enfant, 20, 533-564.

Hermann, Imre . (1943). Az ember ösi össztönei. Budapest: Magvetö.

. (1976). Clinging-searching:contrasting instincts, rel. sadism, masochism," Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 45:5-36.

. (1978). Psychanalyse et logique. Paris: Denoël.

Nemes, L. (1980). Biographical notes of Professor Imre Hermann, International Review of Psychoanalysis, 7, 1-2.

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