Spitz, René Arpad (1887-1974)

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SPITZ, RENÉ ARPAD (1887-1974)

Hungarian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst René Arpad Spitz was born in Vienna, Austria, on January 29, 1887, and died in Denver, Colorado, on September 14, 1974.

From a wealthy Jewish family background, Spitz spent most of his childhood in Hungary. While studying medicine in Budapesthe became a physician in 1910he discovered the works of Freud. During the First World War, he served in the army as a military physician. Encouraged by Sándor Ferenczi, he became one of the first to undergo a training analysis with Freud himself. Between 1924 and 1928, he participated in the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and, subsequently, worked in Berlin, where he became member of the German Psychoanalytic Society (DPG).

Between 1932 and 1938 Spitz lived in Paris, where he taught psychoanalysis and child development at the eliteÉcole Normale Supérieure, and he frequently attended conferences of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society. In 1939 he emigrated to the United States and found work as a psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York (1940-1943). He served as a visiting professor at several universities before settling at the University of Colorado, where he conducted much of his research on infant development. He served as president of the Denver Psychoanalytic Society (1962-63).

At the end of World War II, Spitz (1945, 1946) published his influential research with infants and young children in various settings, including a foundling home and a penal nursery. Serious developmental pathologies, as he documented with careful research, arose in infants who, though adequately nourished, were deprived of maternal care and emotional sustenance. Through direct observation he developed the diagnoses of "hospitalism" and "anaclitic depression," two pathologies that led him to further study mental and emotional development from birth to two years of age.

Spitz is best known for his books on the infant and the mother-infant dyad, including No and Yes: On the Genesis of Human Communication (1957); A Genetic Field Theory of Ego Formation (1959); and The First Year of Life (1965). According to Spitz, infants pass through three stages corresponding to stepwise developments in object relations: (1) the objectless stage (three first months of life), characterized by "non-differentiation" between baby and its mother; (2) the stage of "the precursor of the object" (from three to eight months) in which the smiling response indicates the beginning of object relations; and (3) the stage of the libidinal object (from eighth to fifteenth month), by which time the mother is recognized as a real partner and the infant can distinguish her face from strangers' faces. From the fifteenth month, the child enters into semantic communication with gesture and the use of "no," indicating the emergence of the autonomous ego.

Spitz was the first of a small number of distinguished psychoanalysts to actively pursue research in child development by employing methods commonly used in experimental psychology; his use of films was particularly influential. In contrast to behavioral psychologists, however, Spitz believed that deep psychic process, while not directly observable, may be identified by surface "indicators" such as the smile. These reveal "the organizers of the psyche" that serve as evidence of the child's maturation.

Kathleen Kelley-LainÉ

See also: Abandonment; Allergic object relationship; Congress of French-speaking psychoanalysts; Defense; Depravation; Ethology and psychoanalysis; Fear; France; Hungarian school; Infant observation (therapeutic); Infant development; International Federation of Psychoanalytic Societies; Masturbation; Maturation; Mothering; Oral stage; Phobias in children; Phobic neurosis; Primary identification; Stranger, fear of; Sucking/thumbsucking; Switzerland (French-speaking); Symbiosis/symbiotic relation.


Emde, Robert N. (Ed.). (1984). Rene Spitz: Dialogues from infancy. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

Spitz, René. (1945). Hospitalism: An inquiry into the genesis of psychiatric conditions in early childhood. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child,1, 53-74.

. (1946). Anaclitic depression. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2, 313-342.

. (1957). No and yes: On the genesis of human communication. New York: International Universities Press.

. (1959). A genetic field theory of ego formation. New York: International Universities Press.

. (1965). The first year of life. New York: International Universities Press.

.(1958). On the genesis of superego components. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 13, 375-404.