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EFFECTS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL DEPRIVATION IN INFANCY AND SUBSEQUENT STIMULATION
WILLIAM GOLDFARB
Am J Psychiatry 1945;102:18-33.
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The New York Association for Jewish Children, Foster Home Bureau, New York, N. Y.

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Abstract

This study stemmed from an interest in the broad problem of psychological deprivation of infants and a practical interest in the related problem of institutional deprivation as such. Fifteen institution children who had been in the institution since early infancy and who at about 3 years of age were at the point of being placed in foster homes, were studied. They were equated with a group of children with continuous foster home experience of age, sex, age when substitute care was initiated and length of dependency. The major divergence between the two groups was in maternal background. The occupational status of the true mothers of the institution children tended to be superior to the occupational status of the true mothers of the foster home children.All of the children were given a series of tests of intellect, language, motor coordination, social maturity and personality. Test reactions were also recorded and rated. Data on the children were first gathered when the institution children were still in the institution and then again after the institution children had been in, foster homes for seven months.In the first series of tests, the institution children were inferior to the foster home children in intellectual performance in activities with requirements for both verbal and non-verbal reaction, in vocabulary and in language. The mean intelligence test results of the institution children were inferior in terms of a normal group while the mean intelligence test results of the foster home group were within the average ranges. The institution children also tended to be more removed in their overt reaction to the examiner and to the test material. The Rorschach results tended to confirm their general immaturity in all aspects of psychological development in comparison to the foster home children. There were no differences in social maturity or in motor coordination. The social maturity of both groups was average. In no area were the institution children superior to the foster home children.After the institution children had had seven months of placement experience, the foster home children were still clearly superior in intellectual performance and in language performance. Again the average intelligence test results of the institution children were below normal while the average intelligence test results of the foster home children were within the normal ranges. The equivalence in motor coordination was maintained. The principal changes occurred in the children's overt reaction to the examiner and test materials and in the area of social competence. The institution children were no longer differentiated from the foster home children in such qualities as friendliness to strange adults, and curiosity and interest in material objects. A startling shift did occur in regard to the social maturitity or social competence of the children. Relative to their age group, the institution children dropped in social maturity following the foster home experience, while the foster home children rose in social maturity. Now the two groups were clearly differentiathd with the foster home children superior to the institution children. The institution children were now below average in social maturity while the foster home children's social competence was still within normal ranges. Finally, the Rorschach examination continued to confirm the relative immaturity of the institution children in general psychological organization.These results are in line with the previous comparisons of institution and foster home children similar in experimental formulation to the present one(3, 5). The inferior intellectual performance of the institution children as compared to the foster home children had been observed in studies involving equated groups of institution and foster home children at the following age: 20 pairs of children at mean age 6 years, 9 months, 20 pairs of children at mean age 8 years and 5 months, and 15 pairs of children at mean age 12 years and 2 months. The most carefully controlled study involving direct observation and rather elaborate experimentation was the adolescent investigation. The consistent divergence in mental test results of institution and foster home children as observed in this investigation was also present in the adolescent group study. There should, of course, be continued periodic study of the babies involved in the present study. However, the present study's finding that the institution child's initial experience in placement did not diminish the gap in mental performance between institution child and foster home child, in addition to the previous finding of a similar divergence in adolescent groups with years of community experience, would tend to strengthen the hypothesis that extreme psychological deprivation in infancy produces a lag in mental growth which is maintained even under new conditions of enriched stimulation.The language deficiency of the institution children is a specific factor retarding them. The continued presence of the language handicap six months after placement (present study), four and half years after placement (3) and eight and a half years after placement(5) gives further evidence of the imperviousness of the children's personalities to environmental stimulation—an imperviousness which is explained by the passivity and apathy of total personality in the institution child. This apathy was experimentally demonstrated in the adolescent group but probably was also reflected in the Rorschach reactions of the institution babies in this study. The institution children do develop a capacity for acceptable social response in casual relationships (present study. as well as 5). This only represents a capacity for superficial relationship, however. Apathy reflects itself in the nature of the child's personal relationships, his response to obstruction or failure, to separation, to limitation, and in his will to meet experience actively so as to manipulate his environment as well as to be impelled by it. Finally, the bulk of evidence points to generalized retardation and impoverishment in all aspects of personality—even in perceptual reaction.It is a matter of some interpretative significance, that after six months in foster homes, the institution children become socially less competent than the foster home children in this study and less competent than the average child their age. This regression on the part of the institution children would seem in part to point to the trauma of separation from the familiar environment of the institution. However, placement experience would indicate that the social regression which accompanies the separation and replacement experience of most foster home children is ordinarily observed for a brief period following replacement. Marked regression is not likely to continue for as long as six months unless the placement experience is highly unsatisfactory for the child. In addition, the adolescent study(5) pointed to retardation in social maturity in an adolescent group of institution children. The more likely explanation for the phenomena is that the average social competence of the institutional children in the institution was determined and maintained by the external control of institutional routine. When this external control was removed by placement in foster homes and when the institution children were forced to rely on their own inner will to care for themselves, the thin shell of social maturity collapsed. The children lacked the drive to grow that is derived in most children from their early identifications. There is the additional fact that the institution children become more dependent and excessively demanding of affection as a result of early deprivation and in response to the warmth of a family setting—a warmth which they are psychologically unprepared to assimilate normally.The question may be logically asked as to whether the impoverished and apathetic responses of the institution children while in foster homes might be related to the shock of change to the startlingly new world of the foster home. Present results would indicate that the apathy was already in existence in the institution. It reflected itself in the overt response of the institution children to a new adult, the psychological examiner, and to new things, the test materials. It also was manifested in the tendency to meagreness or even absence of response to the world of reality as exemplified in the Rorschach examination. It is consequently probable that the apathy observed in institution children in adolescence was in adaptive response to their total life experience, but the adaptive response finally selected by them was a repetition of their babyhood pattern of behavior in the institution.There is cumulative evidence that an extensive period of deprivation of babies in an infant institution is profoundly detrimental to their psychological growth. There is also evidence that the pernicious effects of the early experience persist even in the face of careful placement in selected foster homes, casework supervision and, in some cases, psychiatric treatment. The extreme deprivation experience of the institution children has apparently resulted in a quasi-constitutional fixation on the most primitive levels of conceptual and emotional behavior.These conclusions should be related to previous experimental consideration of the effects of environmental stimulation on children's growth. In the main, the studies have concentrated on the effects of schooling, socio-economic status, and foster home status on children's test I. Q. as derived from typical tests of intelligence. In their extreme concern with the intelligence test product, the experimenters have tended to avoid consideration of personality and motivational factors, and both factors in relation to the intelligent act. In part at least, this may explain the confusions that typify the nature-nurture controversy raging in the field of intelligence psychology. The experimental studies of institutional deprivation in infancy confirm conspicuous lack of development in emotional organization, social relationship and the ability to conceptualize in the institution children. In addition, the generalized passivity of personality is so dominant that the child is no longer in a position to assimilate new sources of stimulation and new relationships as these may be found in the personal and material worlds. Paucity of emotional and intellectual reactions is consequently characteristically maintained. Under such circumstances, it seems unlikely that marked improvement in personality and intellect can result from the introduction of a relatively superficial experience, such as the nursery school, in which, for example, the key problem of adequate parental identifications is not met. In the Skeels, Updegraff, Wellman and Williams study of orphanage children of pre-school age(13), the major effect of the nursery school was that the intelligence test level of the children who attended the school was maintained. It is patent that we will have to discover the basis for the formation of normal identifications and normal expression of will in the institution children, or they will not be in a position to assimilate new experiences in such a way as to improve in emotional status and, similarly, in intellectual status.

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