The Image of the Mother's Eye: a Possible Link between Early Narcissistic Injury and Autism

McDowell, Maxson (2001) The Image of the Mother's Eye: a Possible Link between Early Narcissistic Injury and Autism. [Journal (Paginated)] (Unpublished)


There is a more recent version of this eprint available. Click here to view it.

Full text available as:

[img] ASCII


At six weeks an infant makes eye-contact with the mother thereby stimulating her ‘containing’ behavior (she meets and regulates her infant’s needs). Eye-contact enables the subsequent development of intersubjectivity. To accomplish reliable eye-contact, the infant must acquire an image of the mother’s eyes. Once acquired, this image becomes associated with containment. The acquisition of this image is therefore a crucial very-early step in psychological development. Evidence for these assertions comes from (1) analyses of patients with early narcissistic injuries, (2) the evolutionary development of the appearance of the primate eye and of its signaling function, (3) experiments on infant visual preferences, and (4) observation of nursing mothers. Existing developmental models have not addressed the acquisition of the image of the eye. A variety of biological predispositions or injuries, together with congenital blindness and severe infant deprivation, all increase the risk of failure to acquire this image. The likely result is a pervasive cascade of developmental failure. Failure to acquire this image might, therefore, represent the primary deficit in autism. Like narcissism and neurosis, the primary deficit in autism may be psychological. This model suggests that autism may be investigated via the analyses of high-functioning patients with mild autistic symptoms.

Item Type:Journal (Paginated)
Keywords:Autism, Narcissism, Image, Eye, Sense-of-self, Kohut, Stern
Subjects:Psychology > Clinical Psychology
ID Code:2225
Deposited By: McDowell, Doctor Maxson J.
Deposited On:26 May 2002
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:54

Available Versions of this Item

References in Article

Select the SEEK icon to attempt to find the referenced article. If it does not appear to be in cogprints you will be forwarded to the paracite service. Poorly formated references will probably not work.

ARENS, R. (1954). Beitrage zur Entwicklung des Phsyiognomie und Mimikerkennens. Zeitchrift fur Experimentall e und Angewandte sychologie, 2: 412-54; 599-633.

ALS, H., TRONIC, E. & BRAZELTON, T. B. (1980). Stages of early behavioral organization: the study of a sighted infant and a blind infant in interaction with their mothers. In High-Risk Infants and Children, ed. T. M. Field. New York: Academic Press, pp. 181-204.

BARON-COHEN, S., WHEELWRIGHT, S. & JOLLIFFE, T. (1997). Is there a “language of the eyes”? Evidence from normal adults and adults with autism or Asperger syndrome. Visual Cognition, 4(3): 311-31.

BARON-COHEN, S. (1999). The extreme male-brain theory of autism. In Neurodevelopmental Disorders, ed. H. Tager-Flusberg. Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 401-29.

BARON-COHEN, S., WHEELWRIGHT, S., HILL, J., RASTE, Y. & PLUMB, I. (2001). The “reading the mind in the eyes” test revised version: a study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry, 42(2): 241-51.

BARON-COHEN, S., WHEELWRIGHT, S., SKINNER, R., MARTIN, J., & CLUBLEY, E. (2001). The autism spectrum quotient (AQ): evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. J Autism Developmental Disorder, 31(1): 5-17.

BROWN, R., HOBSON, R. P., LEE, A & STEVENSON, J. (1997). Are there “autistic like” features in congenitally blind children? J. Child Psychol. Psychiat., 38(6): 693-703.

EASTERBROOK, M. A., KISILEVSKY, B. S., MUIR, D. W. & LAPLANTE, D. P. (1999). Newborns discriminate schematic faces from scrambled faces. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53(3): 231-41.

ELMAN, J. L., BATES, E. A., JOHNSON, M. H., KARMILOFF-SMITH, A., PARISI, D. & PLUNKETT, K. (1998). Rethinking Innateness: A Connectionist Perspective on Development. Cambridge: MIT Press.

EMERY, N. J. (2000). The eyes have it: the neuroethology, function and evolution of social gaze. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 24: 581-604.

FRAIBERG, S. (1977). Insights from the Blind: Comparative Studies of Blind and Sighted Infants. New York: Basic Books.

FREEDMAN, D. (1964). Smiling in infants and the issue of innate vs. acquired. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 5: 171-84.

GANS, C. & PARSONS, T. S. (1973). Biology of the Reptiles, vol. 4, Morphology D. London: Academic Press.

GRANDIN, T. (1996). Thinking in Pictures and other Reports from my Life with Autism. New York: Vintage.

GILLBERG, C. & WING, L. (1999). Autism: not an extremely rare disorder.

Acta Psychiatry. Scand., 99(6): 399-406.

GREEN, M. J. (1993). Celtic Myths. Austin: University of Texas Press.

HAAF, R. A. & BELL, R. Q. (1967). A facial dimension in visual discrimination by human infants. Child Development, 38: 892-9.

HAITH, M. M. (1966). The response of the human newborn to visual movement. J. Experimental Child Psychology, 3: 235-43.

HOBSON, R. P., LEE, A. & BROWN, R. (1999). Autism and congenital blindness. J. Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29(1): 45-56.


Rhythms of dialogue in infancy: coordinated timing in development.

Monogr. Soc. Res. Child Dev.,66(2): i-viii, 1-132.

JOHNSON, M. H.,DZIURAWIEC, S, ELLIS, H. & MORTON, J. (1991). Newborns’ preferential tracking of face-like stimuli and its subsequent decline. Cognition,40: 1-19.

KARMEL, B. Z., HOFFMANN, R. F. & FEGY, M. J. (1974). Processing of contour information by human infants evidenced by pattern-dependent evoked potentials. Child Development,45: 39-48.

KOHUT, H. (1971) The Analysis of the Self. Madison: International U. Press.

_____ 1978. The Search for the Self. Madison: International U. Press, Vol 1.

_____(1984). How Does Analysis Cure? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

LORENZ, K. (1970). Studies in Animal and Human Behavior, trans. R. Martin, 1:245-246. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

MAESTRO, S., MURATORI, F., BARBIERI, F., CASELLA, C., CATTANEO, V., CAVALLARO, M. C., CESARI, A., MILONE, A., RIZZO, L., VIGLIONE, V., STERN, D. D. & PALACIO-ESPA SA, F. (2001). Early behavioral development in autistic children: the first 2 years of life through home movies. Psychopathology, 34(3): 147-52.

MCDOWELL, M. J.(2001). Principle of organization: a dynamic systems view of the archetype-as-such. J. Analytical Psychol., 46(4): 637-54.

(Also available online as ‘The three gorillas: an archetype organizes a dynamic system’ in Cogprints).

MICHAEL, C. R. (1969). Retinal processing of visual images. Scientific American, May: 104-15.

MORTON, J. & JOHNSON, M. H. (1991). Conspec and con lern: a two-process theory of infant face recognition. Psychological Review, 98(2): 164-81.

RAPIN, I. (1997). Autism. New England Journal of Medicine, 337(2): 97-104.

RODIER, P. M. (2000). The early origins of autism. Scientific American, February: 56-63.

RUTTER, M. L., KREPPNER, J. M. & O’CONNOR, T. G. (2001). Specificity and heterogeneity in children’s responses to profound institutional privation. British Journal of Psychiatry, 179: 97-103.

SALAPATEK, P. (1975). Pattern perception in early infancy. In Infant Perception: from Sensation to Cognition, I: Basic Visual Processes, eds. L. B. Cohen & P. Salapatek. New York: Academic Press, pp. 144-248.

SIGMAN, M. & CAPPS, L. (1997). Children with Autism: a Developmental Perspective. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 147-74.

SPITZ, R. A. & WOLF, K. M. (1946). The smiling response: a contribution to the ontogenesis of social relations. Genet. Psychol. Monogr., 34: 57-125.

STERN, D. N. (1977). The First Relationship. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press.

_____(1985). The Interpersonal World of the Infant. New York: Basic Books.

STERN, D. N., SANDER, L. W., NAHUM, J. P., HARRISON, A. M., HARRISON, LYONS-RUTH, K., MORGAN, A. C., BRUSCHWEILER-STERN, N. & TRONIC, E. Z. (1998). Non-interpretive methods in psychoanalytic therapy: the ‘something more’ than interpretation. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 79: 903-31.

TREVARTHEN, C. & AITKEN, K. J. (2001). Infant intersubjectivity: research, theory, and clinical applications. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 42(1): 3-48.

UNGERER, J. A. (1989). The early development of autistic children: implications for defining primary deficits. In Autism: Nature, Diagnosis and Treatment, ed. G. Dawson. New York: Guildford Press, pp. 75-91.

WIMPORY, D. C., HOBSON, R. P., WILLIAMS, J. M. G. & NASH, N. (2000). Are infants with autism socially engaged? A study of recent retrospective parental reports. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(6): 525-36.


Repository Staff Only: item control page