Mental Hygiene, Psychoanalysis, and Interwar Psychology: The Making of the Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis

The most recent issue of Isis includes a piece of interest to AHP readers: “Mental Hygiene, Psychoanalysis, and Interwar Psychology: The Making of the Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis,” by Bican Polat. Abstract:

The maternal deprivation hypothesis was arguably the most discussed debate in midcentury psychiatry. Combined with the gender ideology prevalent in America and Britain, it solidified the idea that the mother-child relationship had formative influence on personality development. This essay explores the formation of this hypothesis by situating its knowledge claims against an institutional innovation set to prevent juvenile delinquency and promote mental hygiene, the establishment of child guidance clinics on both sides of the Atlantic in the late 1920s. It then tracks the development of investigative agendas by child guidance practitioners, examining the practices they adopted to construct psychological knowledge claims in conformity with preventive objectives and positivist standards. Shifting the historiographical focus toward the clinical scenes in which psychological assertions were made, the essay examines how investigators sought to determine the “pathogenic” influence of early parental environment by way of estimating its emotional qualities. It argues that it was this positivist-determinist effort to achieve preventive goals that foregrounded the role of the mother in the etiology of personality disturbance and marked the knowledge field that came to be called the maternal deprivation debate.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.