The reliability and validity of Freud’s case study; Little Hans.

Hello 🙂 Welcome to my first blog, based on Freud’s use of psychoanalysis as a therapy and it’s criticisms.

Freud famously stated that “dreams are the royal road to the unconscious“.

Freud used case studies as a research method, to provide evidence for his gender development theories, and to act upon his methods of dream analysis.
Little Hans therefore,  became the ideal ‘participant’ to practice his theories upon and strengthen Freud’s beliefs and theories. Through symbol analysis Freud interpreted Hans’ fear of horses as a fear of his father, and gathered data though his father, of Hans’ thoughts.

However, through gathering data from his father’s letters, information may have been lost which cannot be conveyed through written letters alone. For example, Hans may have expressed some of his emotions through a certain tone of voice, which could have revealed subtle cues as to which fears Hans felt were stronger than others. Due to this, the validity of Hans’ thoughts and feelings are questioned, as they were not recorded directly from Hans’ himself, but from his father, who may have manipulated the content of his letters to fit into Freud’s theories – questioning subjectivity also. The young boy’s parents were aware of Freud’s theories at the time such as the Oedipus complex, and symbol analysis. Therefore they may have been deliberately looking for ‘symbols’, such as wanting his father gone so he could possess his mother, which would then support Freud’s idea of the Oedipus complex. However this could be due to attachment theory, in which Bowlby would state that Hans’ had a natural warm attachment with his mother due to survival instincts, and naturally had separation anxiety when away from her. Validity is questioned once again here, as Freud’s methods are not measuring what they claim to measure if Hans’ parents are subjectively choosing which of his thoughts fit into Freud’s theories best.

Despite this study having little apparent validity, there is some validity deriving from the research method itself. Case studies gather much qualitative data. Freud gathered qualitative data from the letters, and saw Hans’ himself several times for interviewing, therefore collecting in-depth information from the child himself, and was not converted into quantitative data, which may have lost some validity through doing so.  Such detail is difficult to gather from other research methods such as laboratory experiments, in which participants are not usually given a long amount of time to express their true emotions and opinions due to time constraints, sometimes having to choose an answer quantitively. However, a vital flaw of gathering such in-depth, valid data, is that it is extremely difficult to replicate case studies and find similar results. So, when this point is applied to the Little Hans’ study, based on the revealing of unconscious desires, it is evident that such results would be near-impossible to find again, as the results are from Hans’s personal thoughts, unique to him only.

Please free to comment/ criticise (constructive criticism!) .  Hope it wasn’t too boring!


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sarahrosestokes
    Oct 02, 2011 @ 23:12:30

    My ONLY criticism would be that at the start you say your going to talk about Freud, but its sort of more about Little Hans. But I thought the blog was interesting and and contained the right amount if information. I was never really interested in Freuds’ work, and your article made it ok to read about 🙂


  2. katiehulbertresearchm
    Oct 02, 2011 @ 23:32:43

    Thankyou 🙂 I stated I was going to talk about Freud’s psychoanalysis as a therapy, because I could not talk about Freud’s case study method without mentioning it. Freud’s case study methods were used to support his ideas of psychoanalysis, and so I tried to introduce an example of one of his well-known case studies. However, I admit I did tend to focus more on the case study itself than details of his psychoanalysis techniques 🙂


  3. leighanne1907
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 10:24:38


    I like your blog and thought it covered Freuds case study into Little Hans very well and in alot of detail : )

    You could have also mentioned though the insparation for Freuds case study on a 5 year old boy was from his previous reaserch with middle aged women, and how it wasn’t really a logical step to try and apply these findings to Hans. : )


  4. katiehulbertresearchm
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 12:40:17

    Hi, ah thanks for the comment 🙂 I never knew that! That’s interesting, so that would be another point to mention for the validity aspect. Applying results from a middle age woman to a 5 year old boy doesn’t sound very generalisable, which would perhaps mean a lack of validity if those results can not be applied to other real-life settings. So, I guess that’s another issue with the case study research method.


  5. francescagordon
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 08:44:14

    Hi Katie 🙂
    I thought your blog was really interesting, the use of evidence from Freud’s case studies on Little Hans to back up your opinion on his method of study was really good. In my opinion, Freud’s use of the case study had many problems with validity and reliability. For example, when you talk about Little Hans’ Father already having knowledge of Freud’s theories and purposely changing the content of his letters to fit in with his theories, you could also mention that Freud also made this mistake. He only used the information from Hans’ Father which fitted in with his theories, which also causes problems with reliability and validity. It could also be mentioned that Little Hans’ parents were divorced; therefore Hans was bound to feel anxiety and confusion from being separated from his Mother. If you wanted to refer to other case studies Freud carried out, you could talk about his case studies on middle aged, neurotic women, which he used as evidence for the other parts of his theory. Here’s a link with some useful information about Freud’s studies:


  6. lucyannebromley
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 12:29:27

    Hi Katie! I thought your blog was very interesting and well written, as somebody who has never studied psychology in depth before I had only a small amount of knowledge of Freud and had not looked into the Little Hans case study before. At first you appeared to suggest that Freud was simply trying to fit the situation around his own theory and could even be ignoring counter evidence, but later you clearly show that you have taken these possibilities into account. You have written concisely and clearly about what appears to be a very complex theory and case study and this has encouraged me to look further into it. Well done!


  7. Eva Christodoulou
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 12:43:53

    Hi Katie!
    I was really glad to see Hans’ story in a blog! I certainly agree with the validity of Freud’s theory during this specific case study; it pretty much sounds like Oedipus Complex, but Hans was really young, so it’s pretty complicated. Hans was just 5 years old and he had a younger sister of whom he was jealous. What if his phobia was just a result of suppressed jealously?
    The fear of castration is pretty clear though, I think that’s hard to deny.
    All in all, I did enjoy reading your blog! Great job!


  8. Jake Callaghan
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 12:44:17

    Hello, just read your blog and for your first one it was very good! Freud’s study is very rich in data collection and interpretation and yes i agree that Freud’s method of data collection (letters from father to Freud) is massively flawed. What I find funny about this study is that it took place over a period of a few years (I think that’s right?) and Freud only gathered small bits of data that agree with his theory, those being the horse phobia, the giraffe dream and the family fantasy… over a period of so many years that’s all he got!? On top of this you cant really argue with Freud. If you say you didnt go through the phallic stage your either in denial or youve repressed the memories.


    • katiehulbertresearchm
      Oct 04, 2011 @ 20:57:40

      Thankyou 🙂 . Yes, it seems apparent that there was much bias from Freud regarding what information he chose to look into. What if Hans had shown another phobia, of say, spiders? Freud would perhaps not chosen to document it as he could not relate any of his theories to it, and only chose Hans’ phobia of horses to work with as he could find ‘symbols’ easily.


  9. psuedb
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 11:20:02

    Very interesting topic 🙂 One outstanding problem with this is that Little Hans was a case study, therefore is that it lacks the power of generalisation, meaning that we don’t know if this incidence was unique to the boy or wether it would have wider applications. Good points about the subjective interpretation; not only was it the opinion of Freud, but he was basing his interpretation on subjective information Hans father conveyed to him 🙂 serious lack of objectivity; it’s like chinese whispers!


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