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Little Hans Case Study

Little Hans Case Study

Little Hans Case Study

In this option, you will review Freud’s case study of Little Hans, the young boy who developed a fear of horses. Read the original case study of Little Hans, located on the student website.



Prepare a 1,500- to 1,750-word paper in which you use psychoanalytic theory to analyze Little Hans.


Include the following in your paper:


  • Complete an analysis of the phobia of Little Hans from a psychoanalytic perspective.


    • Discuss how psychoanalytic theory conceptualized the phobia of Little Hans.
    • Discuss why this was such a remarkable strategy for the period.


  • Describe, in detail, how the phobia of Little Hans could be explained by the following:


    • Classical conditioning (behavioral perspective)
    • Observational learning (social learning perspective)


Cite at least two psychoanalytic references in your paper to support your assessment.

Format your paper consistent with APA guidelines.


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    A Case Example: Little Hans

    A deep appreciation of Freud’s analysis of personality can be gained through his case studies. Freud reported in detail on a small number of cases. Although these case reports often were written early in his career and thus do not fully reflect his final structural model of personality, they nonetheless reveal his general approach to the complex conflicts and anxieties of the mind. We summarize one such case here, the case of Little Hans (published in 1909).

    Little Hans was a five-year-old boy who suffered from an extreme fear, or a phobia. He feared that a horse would bite him and, therefore, refused to leave the house. Freud’s report of the case is unusual in that it did not involve a treatment by Freud himself; the boy was treated by his father. However, the father kept detailed notes on Hans’s treatment and frequently discussed Hans’s progress with Freud. Freud’s interpretation of the case is highly illustrative of his psychoanalytic principles, particularly his theories of infantile sexuality, the Oedipus complex and castration anxiety, the dynamics of symptom formation, and the process of behavior change.

    Events Leading Up to Development of the Phobia

    Our account of events in the life of Little Hans begins at age three. At this point he had a lively interest in his penis, which he called his “widdler.” He derived much pleasure in touching his own penis and was preoccupied with “widdlers” in others. The interest in touching his penis, however, led to threats by his mother. “If you do that, I shall send you to Dr. A. to cut off your widdler. And then what will you widdle with?” Thus, there was a direct castration threat. Freud pinpointed this as the beginning of Hans’s castration complex. Little Hans Case Study

    Hans’s interest in widdlers extended to noting the large size of the widdlers of horses on the street and lions at the zoo and analyzing the differences between animate and inanimate objects (animals have widdlers, unlike tables and chairs). Hans was curious about many things, but Freud related this child’s general thirst for knowledge to sexual curiosity. Hans continued to be interested in whether his mother had a widdler and said to her, “I thought you were so big you’d have a widdler like a horse.” When he was three and a half, a sister was born, who also became a focus for his widdler concerns. “But her widdler’s still quite small. When she grows up, it’ll get bigger all right.” According to Freud, Hans could not admit what he really saw, namely, that there was no widdler there. To do so would mean that he would have to face his own castration anxieties. These anxieties occurred at a time when he was experiencing pleasure in the organ, as witnessed in his comments to his mother while she dried and powdered him after his bath.

    HANS: Why don’t you put your finger there?

    MOTHER: Because that’d be piggish.

    HANS: What’s that? Piggish? Why?

    (laughing) But it’s great fun.

    Thus Hans, now more than four years old and preoccupied with his penis, began some seduction of his mother. It was at this point that his nervous disorders became apparent. The father, attributing the difficulties to sexual overexcitation due to his mother’s tenderness, wrote Freud that Hans was “afraid that a horse will bite him in the street” and that this fear seemed somehow to be connected with his having been frightened by seeing a large penis. (Recall that Hans, at a very early age, noticed what large penises horses have and inferred that his large mother must “have a widdler like a horse.”) Hans was afraid of going into the street and was depressed in the evenings. He had bad dreams and was frequently taken into his mother’s bed. While walking in the street with his nurse, he became extremely frightened and sought to return home to be with his mother. The fear that a horse would bite him became a fear that the horse would come into his room. He had developed a full-blown phobia, an irrational dread or fear of an object.

    Interpretation of the Symptom

    The father attempted to deal with his son’s fear of horses by offering him an interpretation. Hans was told that the fear of horses was nonsense, that the truth was that he (Hans) was fond of his mother and that the fear of horses had to do with an interest in their “widdlers.” On Freud’s suggestion, the father explained to Hans that women do not have “widdlers.” Apparently this provided some relief, but Hans continued to be bothered by an obsessive wish to look at horses, though he was then frightened by them. Little Hans Case Study

    At this point, his tonsils were taken out, and his phobia worsened. He was afraid that a white horse would bite him. He continued to be interested in “widdlers” in females. At the zoo, he was afraid of all the large animals and was entertained by the smaller ones. Among the birds, he was afraid of the pelican. In spite of his father’s truthful explanation, Hans sought to reassure himself. “And everyone has a widdler. And my widdler will get bigger as I get bigger, because it does grow on me.” According to Freud, Hans had been making comparisons among the sizes of widdlers and was dissatisfied with his own. Big animals reminded him of this defect and were disagreeable to him. The father’s explanation heightened his castration anxiety, as expressed in the words “it does grow on me,” as if it could be cut off. For this reason he resisted the information, and thus it had no therapeutic results. About this Freud mused, “Could it be that living beings really did exist which did not possess widdlers? If so, it would no longer be so incredible that they could take his own widdler away, and, as it were, make him into a woman.”

    At around this time, Hans reported the following dream. “In the night there was a big giraffe in the room and a crumpled one; and the big one called out because I took the crumpled one away from it. Then it stopped calling out; and then I sat down on top of the crumpled one.” The father’s interpretation was that he, the father, was the big giraffe, with the big penis, and the mother was the crumpled giraffe, missing the genital organ. The dream was a reproduction of a morning scene in which the mother took Hans into bed with her. The father warned her against this practice (“The big one called out because I’d taken the crumpled one away from it”), but the mother continued to encourage it. The mother encouraged and reinforced the Oedipal wishes. Hans stayed with her and, in the wish fulfillment of the dream, he took possession of her (“Then the big giraffe stopped calling out; and then I sat down on top of the crumpled one”).

    Freud’s strategy in understanding Hans’s phobia was to suspend judgment and to give his impartial attention to everything there was to observe. He learned that prior to the development of the phobia, Hans had been alone with his mother at a summer place. There, two significant events occurred. First, he heard the father of one of his friends tell her that a white horse there bit people and that she was not to hold her finger up to its mouth. Second, while pretending to be horses, a friend who rivaled Hans for the affection of the little girls fell down, hit his foot, and bled. In an interview with Hans, Freud learned that Hans was bothered by the blinders on horses and the black band around their mouths. The phobia became extended to include a fear that horses dragging a heavy van would fall down and kick their feet. It was then discovered that the exciting cause of his phobia—the event that capitalized on a psychological readiness for the formation of a phobia—was that Hans had witnessed a horse falling down. While walking outside with his mother one day, Hans had seen a horse pulling a van fall down and begin to kick its feet. Little Hans Case Study

    The central feature in this case was the phobia about the horse. What is fascinating in this regard is how often associations concerning a horse came up in relation to the father, the mother, and Hans himself. We have already noticed Hans’s interest in his mother’s “widdler” in relation to that of a horse. To his father, he said at one point: “Daddy, don’t trot away from me.” Could the father, who wore a mustache and eyeglasses, be the horse that Hans was afraid of, the horse that would come into his room at night and bite him? Or could Hans himself be the horse? Hans was known to play horse in his room, to trot about, fall down, kick about with his feet, and neigh. He repeatedly ran up to his father and bit him, just as he feared the horse would do to him. Hans was overfed. Could this relate to his concerns about large, fat horses? Finally, Hans was known to have called himself a young horse and to have a tendency to stamp his feet on the ground when angry, similar to what the horse did when it fell down. To return to the mother, could the heavily laden carts symbolize the pregnant mother and the horse falling down the birth or delivery of a child? Are such associations coincidental, or can they play a significant role in our understanding of the phobia?

    According to Freud, the major cause of Hans’s phobia was his Oedipus conflict. Hans felt more affection for his mother than he could handle during the phallic stage of his development. Although he had deep affection for his father, he also considered him a rival for his mother’s affections. When he and his mother stayed at the summer cottage and his father was away, he was able to get into bed with his mother and keep her for himself. This heightened his attraction for his mother and his hostility toward his father. For Freud, “Hans was really a little Oedipus who wanted to have his father ‘out of the way,’ to get rid of him, so that he might be alone with his handsome mother and sleep with her. This wish had originated during his summer holidays, when the alternating presence and absence of his father had drawn Hans’s attention to the condition upon which depended the intimacy with his mother which he longed for.” The fall and injury to his friend and rival during one of those holidays were significant in symbolizing the defeat for Hans of his rival. Little Hans Case Study


    The Solution to the Oedipal Conflict

    When he returned home from the summer holidays, Hans’s resentment toward his father increased. He tried to suppress the resentment with exaggerated affection. He arrived at an ingenious solution to the Oedipal conflict. He and his mother would be parents to children, and the father could be the granddaddy. Thus, as Freud notes, “The little Oedipus had found a happier solution than that prescribed by destiny. Instead of putting his father out of the way, he had granted him the same happiness that he desired himself: He made him a grandfather and let him too marry his own mother.” But such a fantasy could not be a satisfactory solution, and Hans was left with considerable hostility toward his father. The exciting cause of the phobia was the horse falling down. At that moment, Hans perceived a wish that his father might similarly fall down and die. The hostility toward his father was projected onto the father and was symbolized in the horse, because he himself nourished jealous and hostile wishes against him. He feared the horse would bite him because of his wish that his father would fall down, and fears that the horse would come into his room occurred at night when he was most tempted by Oedipal fantasies. In his own play as a horse and in his biting of his father, he expressed an identification with his father. The phobia expressed the wish and the anxiety and, in a secondary way, accomplished the objective of leaving Hans home to be with his mother. Little Hans Case Study

    In sum, both his fear that a horse would bite him and his fear that horses would fall down represented the father who was going to punish Hans for the evil wishes he was harboring against him. Hans was able to get over the phobia and, according to a later report by Freud, he appeared to be functioning well. What factors allowed the change? First, there was the sexual enlightenment by the father. Although Hans was reluctant to accept this, and it at first heightened his castration anxiety, it did serve as a useful piece of reality to hold onto. Second, the analysis provided by his father and by Freud was useful in making conscious for Hans what had formerly been unconscious. Finally, the father’s interest in and permissive attitude toward Hans’s expression of his feelings allowed a resolution of the Oedipus conflict in favor of an identification with the father, diminishing both the wish to rival the father and the castration anxiety, and thereby decreasing the potential for symptom development.

    To the contemporary personality scientist, the case of Little Hans is very limited if viewed as a scientific investigation. The father’s interviewing was not systematic, his close adherence to Freud’s thinking may have biased his observations and interpretations, and Freud was primarily dependent on secondhand reports. Though aware of these limitations, Freud nonetheless was impressed with the data on Hans. Whereas before he had based his theory on the childhood memories of adult patients, now, in the case of Little Hans, he began to observe the sexual life of children.

    The case of Little Hans simultaneously gives us an appreciation of the wealth of information available to the analyst and the problems inherent in interpreting such data. This one case alone yields information relevant to multiple theoretical ideas: infantile sexuality, fantasies of children, functioning of the unconscious, the process of conflict development and conflict resolution, the process of symptom formation, symbolization, and the dream process. We see Freud’s courage and boldness in trying to discover secrets of human functioning in spite of limitations in his observations. Yet we also see Freud interpreting data that most contemporary psychologists would reject; most 21stcentury psychology scientists would see the data this case provides as so unsystematic, and so potentially biased, that it could not serve as a foundation for scientific theorizing. Little Hans Case Study

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