Analysis of a phobia of a five-year old boy - Freud, S. (1909)


The aim of this study was to help Little Hans go through his Oedipal crisis and eliminate his phobias. Freud would later use this study to reinforce the case for his psychoanalytical method of psychology.


Little Hans was the only participant in the study.

Research Method

This was a case study with only one participant.


The study was conducted by having Little Hans' father ask him questions about his dreams, which the father would then relay to Freud for analysis.
His father provided Freud with details of conversation with Hans

  • Freud and the father tried to understand what the boy was experiencing to resolve the phobia of horses.
  • When Hans was 3 he developed an interest in his widdler (penis) and also those of other people.
  • For example: on one occasion he asked ‘Mummy, have you a widdler too?’
  • Throughout this time, the main theme of his fantasies and dreams was widdlers and widdling.
  • When he was about 3 1/2 his mother told him not to touch his widdler or she would call the doctor to come and cut it off.
  • When he was 3 1/2 his mother had a baby girl, Hannah. He was resentful of the baby.
  • He developed a phobia of the bath.
  • Hans later developed a fear of horses
  • He overheard a father tell his soon ‘Don’t put your finger on the white horse or it will bite you.’
  • He saw a horse pulling a carriage fall down and kick about with its legs.
  • This fear went on to generalize to carts and busses.
  • Hans reported liking to get in to the bed with his parents (especially mother)
  • Freud said his libido had longing for the mother.
  • Throughout the study Hans expressed anxiety that his mother would leave him. (But the mother kept saying how she was going to leave and divorce the husband, etc)

  • Hans fantasies:
  • Being the mother of his own children, whom he made widdle
  • That his mother showed him her widdle
  • That he had taken a smaller crumpled giraffe away from a taller giraffe.
  • That the plumber snaked out Hans’ belly.
  • That the plumber replaced Hans’ behind and his penis with a larger one.
  • That Hans was the father of his own children with his mother and that his father was their grandfather.
  • After this last fantasy and the ‘help’ he received from his father and Freud his anxieties and phobias and the psychoanalysis came to an end.
  • Findings / Explanations

    Hans feared his mother would abandon him - Freud interpreted this as anxiety as anxiety caused by the sexual arousal of sleeping in his mother’s bed

  • Fear of bath - death wish for sister.
  • Taking small giraffe from big giraffe - taking mother from father.
  • Fear of heavily loaded cart - Fear of his mother being pregnant.
  • Fear of being bitten by white horse - fear of father (glasses and mustache displaced onto horse black binders and mussel castrating him biting his finger.
  • Fantasy of plumber providing larger widdler - Identify with his father by being more like him
  • Fantasy of being father of his mother’s children and his father being their grandfather - Fulfillment of having mother but allowing his father to live.

  • Little Hans was able to resolve his Oedipal crisis with Freud's help and began to identify more with his father, with his fantasies of killing his father disappearing.


  • Only one participant
  • Father was a supporter of Freud, may have corrupted data to support Freud's ideas
  • Freud never actually treated Hans. All help was received though his father

  • Ecological Validity

    This theory is difficult to test.

    Other Explanations

    Attachment Theory of John Bowlby:

    Caregivers are available and responsive to other infant’s needs then the baby knows that the caregiver is dependable which creates a secure base for the child to explore the world
  • Bowlby believed that most of Hans’ anxiety arose from actual threats by his mother.
  • Classical conditioning is a learning process that occurs through association between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus.
  • Hans witnessed a horse fall in a street. Hans then generalized this fear to all horses. It has also been suggested that his mother was abusive to Hannah and that Hans associated her screams with the noises that horses make when they fall down.

  • Strengths

  • Indepth look at one person
  • Special relationship with his father

  • Ethics

    Bring Little Hans unconscious into his conscious - mental harm.

    Freud, S. (1909)

    View the study