The case of little Hans

Image Source:

The case of little Hans

During the time when this analysis took place, Sigmund Freud who is now known as the father of psychoanalysis had spoken about it’s principles in his book ‘Interpretation of dreams’. Psychoanalysis was a new term coined during this time and it was one of the first disciplines to work on the understanding of the human mind. Freud talked about the psychosexual stages of development, which was gaining much popularity among people. He also spoke about the Oedipus complex which is a very important aspect of a child’s sexuality. According to him a boy begins to feel sexual attraction towards his mother when he enters the phallic stage of psychosexual development which leads to also having feelings of resentment towards his father. To overcome this conflict, he wishes to kill his father and marry his mother. Similar, conflict is seen in the female child as well which was termed as the Electra complex. His research on child sexuality was still going on when he met little Hans and his father.

Little Hans was born in 1903 in Vienna and was in analysis with Freud later on. Even though Freud was not in direct contact with him throughout the analysis, he did meet him once in his office. Freud corresponded with Little Hans’s father who provided him with information about Han’s behavior through letters. Little Hans’s father was a music critic and an admirer of Freud’s theories. He was a family friend of Freud, and when Hans started to show signs of extreme fear of horses he contacted Freud for analysis.
The extra information provided by Han’s father helped Freud understand his behavior better. Little Hans, had developed a phobia for horses. He was afraid to go anywhere near them. He would not step out of his house because of this fear. Upon Freud’s analysis, he discovered that what little Hans was afraid of was his father. According to Freud, little Hans is a prime example of the oedipal complex. He has sexual feelings for his mother which he is afraid of having because his father will come to know about them and cut off his penis. The horse’s big penis and black harness unconsciously reminded him of this fear of his father. Little Hans had been obsessed with his penis and those of others from a very young age. He would call it ‘widdler’ and was very enthusiastic about playing with it. He had dreams where he would play the game of forfeits with two girls who were the landlord’s daughters. In this dream, he would ask who wanted to play the game of forfeits with him, and the girl says ‘I do’’, to which Hans responds then she had to make him widdle. He would also ask his mother to put her finger on his widdler. The act of opening his trouser and taking his penis out to widdle in front of his friends was very pleasurable to him. One day when he was out with his father, he saw a big horse collapse and make a loud sound thud. After this incident, he had been showcasing his fear of horses. The fear that the horses will bite him is a significant mark of Litlle Hans's castration anxiety, which Freud talks about in further subsequent papers as ‘Castration complex’. He would also make fun of his sister for not having a ‘widdler’.


After reaching this conclusion, Freud told little Han’s father to insure him that he would not cut off his penis. Little Hans started to show signs of improvement and dealt with this whole conflict by having a fantasy that he would have a larger penis than his father and marry his mother. He had a few dreams and fantasies and Freud and his father interpreted one such of his dreams about two giraffes in which a big giraffe had called out to him because he took a crumpled giraffe away. They both agreed that the big giraffe was his father who objected to Little Hans, him taking away his mother who is the crumpled giraffe. Later after a bath with his little sister he also exclaimed that her widdler is lovely. This was quite unexpected of his previous behaviors as it showed the acceptance of the opposite sex and not relating the world with ‘widdlers’ anymore. He started identifying with his father more which also improved his anxiety symptoms and phobia. Later at 18 years of age, Herbert Graff which is little Hans’s real name does not even remember much of these incidents and disapproved of Freud’s analysis as well. He became a successful director of Opera and lived a healthy life.

Many people have questioned Freud’s findings as to it’s authenticity. Sigmund Freud was a well-renowned psychologist and his theories are known all over. Little Hans was not in direct custody of Frued during this analysis, also his father’s account on him should not be taken as accurate because during this time he was having relationship problems with his father, so he wouldn’t have wanted to communicate freely with him. Freud generalized his theory on an oedipal complex with this one analysis which is frowned upon, there needs to be large survey regarding any study first. Behavioral psychologists have pointed out that few days before little Hans saw the horse collapsing, he had been to a funeral and had started the philosophical understanding of death. He could have been frightened by that fact and that led him to develop a phobia of horses when he saw it collapse. Hans’s mother was also a patient of Freud and had psychological problems. She used to beat up her daughter and also showed some seduction and sexual intent toward Hans. Many theorists believe that, Hans’s phobia could have been the result of his trauma. Some researchers have noted that Freud was right about the analysis, as he was afraid of horses with black around their mouth which resembles his father’s mustaches. He also resented horses with blinkers on, and his father wore glasses. His father and him would play the game of horses, in which his father would become the horse and Hans would be the rider.

It is interesting to note the experiment of little Hans and it marks as one of the remarkable analyses relating to the infamous theories of psychoanalysis.

About the Author

Psychologs Magazine

India's First Psychology Magazine 

Leave a Reply

Related Posts