Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

The Case Of Little Hans

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
The Case Of Little Hans

‘Little Hans’ is a pseudonym for Herbert Graf, the son of the critic musician Max Graf, a follower of Freud’s theories. Little Hans was born in 1903 in Vienna. Freud did not directly treat him but rather through his father, who would correspond with Freud through letters, explaining and questioning the son’s behaviour and conversations. It wasn’t till Little Hans was around five years old that Freud interacted with him directly.

The Little Hans case study (1909) is one of Freud’s most famous case studies. The case of Little Hans is about the fears and traumas of a five-year-old boy. Hans’ father requested Freud’s support for dealing with the boy’s fear of horses.

The Case Of Little Hans Fear of horses Oedipus Complex StudySmarterLittle Hans feared horses, Flaticon

The Little Hans case study summary

Freud demonstrated interest in the role of sexual drives concerned children’s development. He focused on Little Han’s psychosexual development to resolve the mystery about Hans’ fear of horses.

He realised that Little Hans was going through the phallic stage of the Oedipus complex, which means he feared castration.

From the age of three, his parents reported little Hans showing interest in ‘widdlers, which referred to his penis and that of other males, including animals. His mother threatened to call the doctor and get him castrated unless he stopped playing with it.

When Little Hans was four years old, he went through a traumatic event.

He witnessed an accident with a heavily loaded horse that collapsed in front of him. After the accident, his parents noticed that he became afraid of horses, especially those carrying a heavy load and those with darker circles around the eyes or wearing blinkers.

He feared seeing other horses, and he didn’t want to leave home for the phobia of horses.

Freud presumed that his focus on male genitals was connected to this fear of horses and Little Hans’ mother eventually threatened her son with calling a doctor to get him castrated if he did not stop this obsession.

Hans was traumatised with the view of the horse’s large genitalia, which led Little Hans to avoid leaving his home because he did not want to encounter any horses.

The father reported it to Freud, describing the worry about male genitals. Little Hans’ father, Max Graf, shared with Freud several conversations with his son.

The two giraffes

One specific conversation between Little Hans and his father revolved around a dream or fantasy he had had, in which he described two giraffes entering a room.

One was crumpled whilst the other one was big, and Little Hans took the crumpled one away, which caused the big one to call out for it.

Hans described his dream to his father:

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 I sat down on top of the crumpled one.

This was interpreted as a morning routine involving Little Hans and his father and mother waking up (the father is the big giraffe and the crumpled one was the mother). Freud and the father also suggested that the giraffe’s neck could also be interpreted as a phallic symbol, but Hand did not truly entertain and dismiss this.

Sibling jealousy

When Hans was three and a half years old, his mother gave birth to his younger sister. Hans began competing for his mother’s attention and showing signs of jealousy. He stated that he wished his mother would drown his younger sister in the bath. However, Hans also developed a fear of drowning.

The baby sister’s birth led Little Hans to question the process around conception and childbirth. The parents answered, telling Hans that a stork bird delivers babies in bags.

What is Freud’s interpretation of Hans’ traumas?

Considering Freud did not personally interact with Little Hans until he was five years old, we have to consider the following interpretations with that in mind. Most of Freud’s theories about Little Hans’ fear and trauma revolve around correspondences with Little Hans’ father.

Oedipus Complex

The Oedipus Complex is one of Freud’s most infamous conceptualised theories, which he suggests to be a crucial stage in child development.

The Oedipus Complex, curated by Sigmund Freud, is a psychoanalytic theory revolving around the idea of a sexual desire for the parent, which is the opposite sex to the child, and insists that a natural rivalry with the same-sex parent develops to win the attention of the opposite sex parent

Freud described Little Hans’ interest in ‘widdlers’ as unconscious motives. He also added that Hans had experienced repression through his mother’s threats, which developed into his fear of castration.

Freud thought Hans was jealous of his sister because it reminded him of his pleasure during the earlier stages of development. He wanted his sister to drown in the bath so he could have his mother to himself.

When Little Hans wanted his father to go away and be alone with his mother, Freud explained that Hans desires his mother and related this to the Oedipus complex. According to Freud, Hans wanted a large penis to compete with his father and marry his mother, as he had entered the phallic stage of development.

Freud also associated Hans’ fear of white horses as part of the Oedipus Complex, as the horses represented his father and the fear that he could bite him. Freud interpreted this as Hans’ fear that his father would castrate him as a punishment for his incestuous desire for his mother. This was associated with a defence mechanism known as identification with the aggressor.

By adopting the father’s mannerisms, a child’s identification with the aggressor reduces the chances of conflicts occurring as they appease the father figure.

The fear started as an Oedipal conflict and developed due to the mother allowing Hans in the parents’ bed and his father opposing him getting into bed with them.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Little Hans case study?

We need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the case study to analyse the legitimacy of Freud’s claims.

Weaknesses

The case study suffers from the following weaknesses.

Generalisability

The studies were based on one child, and for this reason, they may not be generalised or applicable to others. Little Hans had specific experiences, so whilst the case study revolves around him and is specifically relevant to him, the interpretations can only be related to him as well. It is a lack of population validity.

Reliability

The case study requires a subjective interpretation, and it could vary from analyst to analyst. Hans’ phobia could be seen differently by others, which means that the study case is unreliable. However, Freud collected very detailed data from Hans and his parents. Because of the rich data collection, the study can be re-analysed on an interpretative level relating specifically to Hans.

Bowlby’s attachment theory

Jerome Wakefield (2007) used Bowlby’s attachment theory to Little Hans’ giraffe experience. The outcome was a symbolic way to compete for the mother’s attention with his toddler sister. Therefore, Bowlby’s findings rejected Freud’s conclusion linking it to the Oedipus complex.

Validity

It’s known that Little Hans’ parents were Freud’s followers, and the information provided to Freud may be considered biased. They may have asked Hans leading questions based on Freud’s theories and looked at Hans’ case through the lens of Freud’s interpretations. The study case is not considered scientific as the unconscious castration fears are not testable, and Freud’s Oedipus Complex cannot be measured.

Conversations between father and son

As Freud was aware that Little Hans’ father followed his theories, it can be called into question the conversations between father and son, as the questions could have been leading.

Ethics of the Little Hans case study

Regarding ethics, Hans himself could not consent, and the father gave consent. Hans also was unable to withdraw from the study.

Strengths

Let’s consider the following strengths of the case study of Little Hans.

Application

The application of Freud’s studies and theories are focused on sexual and unconscious qualities, which has led to a new path for psychotherapy and psychoanalysis to be further studied.

Integrity

The case study was initially proposed to understand and treat Hans’ fear of horses and see whether there was any support for the Oedipus complex. It also helped track the development of a child aged between four to five.

Years later, when Little Hans became an adult, he had paid a visit to Freud, who found he was a healthy man with a successful career, suggesting there was a long-term resolution.

Conclusion

Based on the study, applying Freud’s concept and evidence for psychosexual stages and theory of gender development revealed the unconscious drives, which resulted in Hans’ cured phobia of horses.


The Case Of Little Hans - Key takeaways

  • The Little Hans case is one of Freud’s most famous case studies.
  • ‘Little Hans’ is a pseudonym for Herbert Graf, the son of the critic musician Max Graf, a follower of Freud’s theories. Little Hans was going through the phallic stage within the Oedipus conflicts, fearing castration.
  • His parents reported little Hans showing interest in ‘widdlers’ from the age of three years. Little Hans experienced the trauma of seeing a horse collapse/die in the street at around four years old.
  • It was presumed that Little Hans phobia was connected to the fear of the horse’s large genitalia, and the fear of horses has led Little Hans to avoid leaving his home because he did not want to encounter any horses. This fear was also associated with the horse representing Hans’ father (Oedipus complex).
  • When Little Hans wanted his father to go away and be alone with his mother, Freud explained that Hans desires his mother and related this to the Oedipus complex. Hans wanted a large penis to compete with his father and marry his mother, as he had entered the phallic stage of development (according to Freud).
  • Freud’s theory lacks generalisability, is unreliable in its method collection, and is subject to bias as the parents were familiar with Freud’s theories. However, Hans developed into a healthy young man, and his theories led to a new path for psychotherapy and psychoanalysis to be further studied.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Case Of Little Hans

The Little Hans case study (1909) is one of Freud’s most famous case studies. The study is about the fears and traumas of a five-year-old boy. Hans’ father requested Freud’s support for dealing with the boy’s fear of horses.

Little Hans was going through the psychosexual conflicts a child encounters during development, precisely the phallic stage. Freud believed he was being repressed when his mother threatened him to get castrated if he kept playing with his penis. Freud explained the fear of horses as part of the Oedipus complex, and the fear of a white horse was a symbol to represent his fear of his father.

The method applied is a long term treatment or longitudinal case study. The study describes Hans’ conflicts from the age of three until five years old.

Only once, most of the study was provided by his father exchanging letters with Freud, quoting relevant conversations he had with the son.

The data provided by Hans parents started when he was three years old until he reached five. However, this information is not clear. Freud also reported encountering Little Hans at the age of nineteen. 

Final The Case Of Little Hans Quiz

Question

How did Freud intend to resolve the Little Hans case?

Show answer

Answer

Freud demonstrated interest in the role of sexual drives concerned children’s development. He focused on Little Han’s psychosexual development when finding the key to resolving the mystery. 

Show question

Question

How did Freud associate Little Hans with the Oedipus complex?

Show answer

Answer

When he analysed that Hans was five years old, the association was inevitable. He realised that the Little Hans was going through the phallic stage within the Oedipus conflicts, fearing castration. 

Show question

Question

What had called Freud’s attention to Little Hans’ interests when he was three years old?

Show answer

Answer

From the age of three years, his parents reported little Hans showing interest in ‘widdlers’. i.e., his penis and those of other males, including animals.

Show question

Question

How did Little Hans’ mother propose to stop him from playing with his penis?

Show answer

Answer

His mother used to threaten to call the doctor and get him castrated.

Show question

Question

How old was Little Hans when he witnessed the horse accident?

Show answer

Answer

When Little Hans was four years old, he went through a traumatic event. He witnessed an accident with a heavily loaded horse that collapsed in front of him. 

Show question

Question

What happened to Little Hans after witnessing the horse accident?

Show answer

Answer

After the accident, his parents noticed he started becoming afraid of horses, especially those carrying a heavy load or those with darker circles around the eyes. He feared to see other horses and thus didn’t want to leave home. 

Show question

Question

What was involved in the phobia that Little Hans developed?

Show answer

Answer

It was presumed that his phobia was connected to the view of the horse’s large genitalia. The fear of horses has led Little Hans to avoid leaving his home because he did not want to encounter any horses. 

Show question

Question

What has Hans reported dreaming of?

Show answer

Answer

Hans described that he dreamed about being in a room, and two giraffes entered the room. One of the giraffes started to crumple the other and have led the second giraffe to call out to him.

Show question

Question

Was Hans a single child?

Show answer

Answer

No. Hans had a younger sister born when Hans was three years and a half.

Show question

Question

How did Little Hans see the mother’s relationship with the sister?

Show answer

Answer

He was competing for the mother’s attention, showing jealousy when he said he wished the mother would drown the baby in the bath.

Show question

Question

When Hans had questions about conception and birth, how did his parents respond to him?

Show answer

Answer

The parents would tell him a story about a stork bird delivering babies in boxes.

Show question

Question

Freud and Graff believed that the giraffe’s long neck was a symbol for the large adult penis. What did Little Hans think about it?

Show answer

Answer

Hans rejected this idea.

Show question

Question

How did it go with applying Freud’s concept and evidence for psychosexual stages and theory of gender development?

Show answer

Answer

It revealed that Hans’ unconscious drives resulted in a cure of the phobia of horses.

Show question

Question

What is one strength of the case of Little Hans?

Show answer

Answer

The application of Freud’s studies and theories are focused on sexual and unconscious qualities, which has led to a new path to psychotherapy and psychoanalysis to develop further.

Show question

Question

What is one weakness of the case of Little Hans?

Show answer

Answer

The studies were based on one child. For this reason, they may not be generalised or applicable to others.

Show question

Question

How did Bowlby’s theory of attachment support the studies?

Show answer

Answer

Jerome Wakefield employed Bowlby’s attachment theory to Little Hans’ giraffe experience. The outcome was that it was a symbolic way to compete for the mother’s attention with his toddler sister.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the The Case Of Little Hans quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.