Seven Plus or Minus One: Latency in Germany and Brazil by Nathan Szajnberg, MD, Managing Editor

Seven Plus or Minus One: Latency in Germany and Brazil
(An “Orphaned” Book Review)

Nathan Szajnberg, MD, Managing Editor 

This title borrows from Ted Shapiro’s classic and comprehensive article on Latency and evidence for its biological bases ((1976). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 31:79-105.).  Freud thought that latency was biologically based (although his focus was on the repression of early sexuality), leaving a fallow period before the eruption of puberty and its psychological accommodation, adolescence. Briefly, Shapiro collates developmental and neuroscience data to demonstrate that latency’s biological foundation.  He also reaches back in time and across Western civilizations to show our sense that something changes profoundly at latency: for instance, the Catholic Church’s communion “recognizes” that the seven-year-old now is responsible for both venial and mortal sins; in Medieval times, boys were sent at seven to apprentice; or that my Ethiopian/Israeli parents took on shepherding and cooking responsibilities about this age in rural preliterate Ethiopia.  Other features Shapiro summarizes about latency: they are emotionally less dependent on family; neuromuscular mastery of the environment; cognitive strategies to “outwit and control” the environment; inhibition and control of drives with lesser need for external controls and, perhaps above all, opposing internal structures, a cardinal characteristic that Freud identified in Western humankind.
 I write this to review, “On Latency: Individual Development, Narcissistic Impulse, Reminiscence and Cultural Ideal,” by Leticia Franieck and Michael Günter (Karnac, 2010).  Few will  read this book, in large part because it is so costly. Occasionally, I will select such “orphaned” books here.
 An alternative title might be “Latency Onset in Brazil and Germany: a bifurcation of development.”  Franieck, Brazilian, lives in Tubingen, Germany. This bilingual, bicultural researcher studied seven year olds from intact families in both cultures. (She also is mother of twins born in Brazil and raised in Germany.) While not abjuring the universal qualities Shapiro cites, she found that the family’s values resulted in emphases on different developmental paths: one emphasizing individualism, self-sufficiency (Germany), the other emphasizing family connectedness and community.
To assess the psychoanalytic weight of the study, one should know how it was performed.  Bear with us a bit.  Franieck and Günter recruited non-clinical samples of 41 children in Brazil and 41 in Germany.  They assessed the children’s inner views of self and other using the MacArthur story-stem measure: give a child a beginning of a story with dolls (For instance, Mom returns home saying her keys are missing, accusing Dad….; Parents leave for an overnight, while grandmother babysits…; Parents return from the trip…. ); then at the climax, ask the child to continue the stories and give them endings. The child’s narratives are assessed for content, relationships and affect and coherence.  Child ratings assess social competence, internal control, emotional coherence, narrative coherence, moral themes, positive and negative representations, and expressions of mistrust.
A questionnaire assessed the parents’ views of ego ideal and transmission of cultural values.
Franieck and Günter’s idea that cultural values are transmitted via the family harkens back to Aristotle’s Politics, in which he suggested that the family is a state and that the State’s values are transmitted via the family. Erik Erikson described the way in which parents transmit societal values by how they raise their children: toiletting, nursing and weaning (among the Sioux versus the Yurok Indians, for example).  These researchers extend that idea.
They find that German parents successfully transmit the values of individual competence: self-sufficiency, individuality lead to self-esteem.  Brazilian parents emphasize the importance of the family or group:  solidarity, social empathy, family unity.
In their discussion, they refer to differences between “individualist” cultures  (such as in North America and Western Europe) versus “collectivist” cultures (such as in Asia, Africa, South America). This reminds us of Bobby Paul’s elegant article on culture and psychoanalysis in (Click Here to Read This Article)  in which he describes the importance of respect for authority in some Asian cultures, with consequent differences in psychoanalytic process.  It also may connect with Piers and Singer’s classic, Shame and Guilt Societies, a psychoanalytic and anthropological exploration of these two emotions across cultures.
A brief plea here for publishers to help these books become more available. First, a publisher has some obligation at the least to decent copy-editing.  Second, price books affordably. If this means making these into eBooks, that would be an advance in our field.  I will be reviewing the biography of Steve Jobs, in which he convinced book publishers (and less successfully the New York Times, which he valued) to be more reasonable about pricing in order to both protect their market and also to reach readers.  Jobs affected publishing from the outside, from Silicon Valley; we may need to influence academic publishers from the outside to promote distribution of intellectually rich work.
Franieck and Günter contribute significantly to understanding how development can appear to bifurcate at latency, although perhaps this bifurcation is along a continuum of “individualist” versus “collectivist” cultures. We hope to learn more from other psychoanalytic researchers in other cultures. This is another route to broadening the scope of psychoanalysis.

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5 Comments on “Seven Plus or Minus One: Latency in Germany and Brazil by Nathan Szajnberg, MD, Managing Editor”

  1. Theodore Shapiro Says:

    Dear Nate Thank you for highlighting my article from the distant past. I am pleased that some still read the literature , although I know you always have been scholarly and thoughtful. The book you review sounds interesting from many vantages and reminds me of 2 issues: one from Ainsworth following Bawlby’s publication in the World health Org monograph in which she discussed cultures where mothering was diffused among many vs singular mothering and the varied outcomes. The second issue concerns the parsing of effect of culture on collectivism and community spirit vs individualism and survival Capitalism.. The adaptations and fit with various societal norms may differ but the hierarchic reorganization at Latency depends on a bio-behavioral shift that requires the enhancement of inbuilt structures .. That for me is what latency is aboiut… Multilinearity and diversity within the limits of biologic determinism… The review was great and I look forward to more discussion TED

  2. nathan szajnberg, MD Says:

    As usual, Ted Shapiro adds depth and thoughtfulness to our discipline.
    The intent of this review and of is to generate discussion in order to refine our thinking as a discipline.

    Ted’s ideas remind me of Bobby Paul’s paper at IPA (reprinted in in which he outlines cultural differences that will influence psychoanalytic practice (and thinking). Ted broadens our ideas including attachment theory and socioeconomic effects on our views of the inbuilt structures and how they unfold.

  3. Eugene Mahon MD Says:

    Dear Nathan, thank you for your review of this important book and for Ted’s insightful comments. While there is no question that biology and culture are crucial to the establishment of latency, it is the children who cannot establish a stable latency for themselves that we see most often in our consulting rooms, their potential latencies hobbled by intense drives they have not been able to tame or inhibit, suggesting that the classical ideas about the formation of latency can also help us understand what’s going on, as much as culture and biology can. Freud, Bornstein, Sarnoff et al. while acknowledging the role constitution, culture, endowment play, also stress the psychodynamic impasse that a six year old faces from the point of view of all the sexual and aggressive energies oedipal and leftover pre-oedipal issues have “saddled” him with. In this crisis he withdraws from confounding oedipal torment, regresses instinctively to an anal hiding place, but finding no respite there, reaches for reaction formation and gets his ego to build an obsessional caricature of character for himself that has little chance of surviving unless culture and biology come lovingly to his assistance. There is no need to pit drive theory against the role of culture or biology here, but drive theory can help us understand why the plus one concept can become a plus two, or three, or four or five as middle childhood tries desperately to master over-stimulated drives with only minimal help, or no help at all, from a useless or toxic “facilitating” environment. As one very traumatized child insightfully put it after a year of analysis: “my anger frightens me”. But he was talking to an analyst who knew how to understand him psychodynamically and this made a world of difference. By the way, Nathan, it is not just the books that should be made cheaper: analysis should be cheaper too so that the latencies of under privileged children like this can be gradually restored to them.
    Eugene Mahon

  4. nathan szajnberg, MD Says:

    Dear Eugene,
    I start with your last comment, which is on target: our fees. I agree that we can do something about that more easily than about book prices. One of my teachers, trained in Vienna, said that other than Freud, most analysts had day jobs to support their psychoanalytic practice (and, he added, he thought that the quality of analytic work was better). This is an important and altogether further issue to address. He also strongly believed that we shouldn’t accept third-party payment: these payers ultimately want to control the treatment (or deny paying altogether).

    I understand your comments as emphasizing how alive, how mobile, how dynamic is the inner life of the child (and others). Ted’s article emphasizes what happens in reasonably good development. When vicissitudes of life interfere, the child begins running down (and back) the developmental scale as you describe.

    Thank you for your comment.
    N. Szajnberg, MD

  5. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from Letiicia Franieck:

    Seven Plus or Minus One: Latency in Germany and Brazil
    (An “Orphaned” Book Review)

    FirstlyI would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Szajnberg for his review. Secondly, I thank you kindly Dr. Shapiro’s and Dr. Mahon’s for their thoughtful comments. From the reasonably good development to the vicissitudes of life interfering in the development, I would like to highlight particular vicissitudes (e.g. immigration, war exposure, homeless exposure)and their consequences on the development of masses of children age 7 plus or minus 1 -to understand the adaptation that they have made, their vulnerability, their familiar values, their emotional and social models of organization.

    The book has had the intention to ponder what the ‘globalization era’ may interfere. Since then I have continued research into the use of story stem techniques to understand children’s minds, moving towards higher risk groups – to this end I have been carrying out research on seven year olds street children. The story stem technique seems particularly well suited to understanding mental functioning in street children who by definition generally do not have adults who know them well who can provide an account of their functioning, likewise they are individuals who usually do not consult in psychoanalytical common settings – although they are often thought of as having major psychological difficulties, it is equally likely that they have particular psychological reserves.This study will provide the understanding of child development under such unfavorable circumstances– an environment apart from what we have experienced in the psychoanalytical common settings.

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