Freud - Analysis of phobias in a five year old boy

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Freud (1909)

Anaylysis of phobias in a five year old boy

Background and Context

The Oedipus complex is an important concept in Psychoanalysis and Freud believed that this case study of Little Hans supports this idea. Freud believed that children pass through five stages of development, known as the psychosexual stages because of Freud's emphasis on sexuality as the basic drive in development.  These stages are: the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latency period and finally the genital stage.

Key Terms and Definitions 

Unconscious -  processes in the mind which occur automatically and are subconscious.

Id, Ego, Superego - entirely unconscious, responsible for dealing with reality, aspect of personality that holds all of our internalized moral standards

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Freud (1909)

Aims and Hypotheses

1) Help treat Han's phobias

2) Evidence to support his theories about psychosexual development 

Research Methods

Case study - Studied one individual 

Longitudinal - Studied over a long period of time


One boy (Little Hans), gathered by asking his friends to observe his children


Observations were carried out by Little Han's father and were analysed by Freud through self-report. Freud only met Hans once.

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Freud (1909)


Hans was fearful of horses, partically the blinkers around their eyes.

- The horse represents Hans father with the blinkers being like glasses

Giraffe dream about crumbled giraffe and big giraffe, big one sat on the crumbled one

- The big giraffe represnts him due to his penis and the crumbled his mother. Hans desire and her genital organ represented by him coming into their room

Hans was playing with his imainary friends explaining he was the childrens dad

- Suggesting a satisfactory conclusion to the Oedipus complex, with a happy solution.

Hans had a final plumber fantasy of his behind and widdler being taken away

- Suggests the bigger widdler and behind represented his father and Hans desire to be like his dad. Belief Hans had overcome the castration complex.

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Freud (1909)

Type of Data



The evidence supported his theory that Little Han's was a typical young child in the phallic stage displaying evidence of the Oedipus Complex and that he resolved the complex by identifiying with his father. 

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Freud (1909) - Evaluation

Pros on using a case study

You can focus a lot of detail on one case study.

Cons on using a case study

It was a study on a boy so cannot generalise for girls or other children (ethnocentric).

Pros on self report

Had a great insight into Han's thoughts etc.

Cons on self report

His father may have lied about what he saw to fit the study.

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Freud (1909) - Evaluation

Ethics Upheld

Had consent from his parents, Hans also knew about the observations.

Ethics Broken

Due to the nature of the case study, it may be an invasion of privacy, due to asking personal questions to Han's.


The study was of only one boy in Vienna. The findings may result between gender and area with different ethnicities and class.

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Freud (1909) - Evaluation



Sample was too small to establish and effect or trend



Freuds interpretations of Hans' phobias and fantasies could be incorrect and have no meaning at all. Other explanations such as going to the zoo may explain his behaviour. Also the use of leading questions may have pushed him towards certain answers.


The sample was small so is not valid for the whole population.

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Freud (1909) - Evaluation

Link to the individual differences area

It investigates the way in which people differ with different phobias

Link to the key theme of understanding disorders

Tells us this can be understood through understanding of unconcious conflicts

Links to debates

Nature vs Nurture - His homelife (nurture) would influence his behaviours e.g. phobias. The psychosexual stages happen to everyone (nature)

Reductionism vs holism - Freud only looked at the Oedipus complex as an explanation for his horse and bath phobias, rather than all factors.

Psychology as a science - There is a lack of quantitative data to prove his theory. Freud said that you had to be a Freudian to understand. He also cannot be proved wrong and these thoughts are unconcious.

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