latency phase

Latency stage


Freud describes in his model of psychosexual development five stages. In this model the latency period is the fourth stage. The other stages are the 'oral phase' (first stage), the 'anal phase' (second stage), the 'phallic phase' (third stage) and the 'genital phase' (fifth stage). Freud views that each stage reflects a body area through which libido or sexual energy is discharged during that period. He described the latency phase as one of relative stability. No new organization of sexuality develops, and he did not pay a lot of attention to it. For this reason, this phase is not always mentioned in descriptions of his theory as one of the phases, but as a separate period. It is also important to note that because it is less of a stage and more of period between stages, it may begin at anytime between 3 and 7 (whenever the child goes to school) and may continue until anywhere from 8 to 13 (whenever puberty begins). Mothers in the Victorian Era were more likely to stay home with young children, and by comparison to adolescents today, puberty began at a higher age, on average.

The latency phase originates from the dissolution of the Oedipus Complex, which takes place during the phallic stage. The child then realizes that his/her wishes and longings cannot be fulfilled and will turn away from his/her original desires. Hence, he/she starts the identification with the parent of the same sex and this will lead to rapidly evolving sex roles. The energy, previously put in the Oedipus problem can be used for developing the self. The child also enjoys being with members of his own sex rather than with those of the opposite sex. Anna Freud mentioned possible consequences for the child when the solution of the Oedipus complex is delayed. She states that this will lead to a variety of problems in the latency period; the child will have problems with adjusting to a group, lack of interest, school phobias and extreme homesickness (when on boarding school). However if the Oedipal problem is resolved, the latency phase will also bring along new problems of her own, like gang formation, rebellion against authority and beginnings of delinquency. Parents should stop this behavior.

Erikson developed a stage model for the evolvement of the ego. The latency phase corresponds to his stage ‘industry and inferiority’. Mostly older children teach the child to use utilities, weapons and tools. The child will develop industry; it learns the joy to accomplishing a task. If the child is going to doubt about his tools, his skills and his status, he/she can get the feeling of failing and inferiority.

During the latency phase the drives are decreased and the libido is transferred from parents to friends, clubs and leading figures. The sexual and aggressive drives are now expressed in socially accepted forms (repression and sublimation). The superego is already present, but becomes more organized and principled. Culturally valued skills and values are acquisitioned and feelings of shame, guilt and disgust arise. The child will exert what he/she has learned in the previous 6 years. It has evolved from an 'animal-like creature’ with primitive drives to a reasonable human being with complex feelings. The child learns to adapt to reality and also begins the process of what Freud terms ‘infantile amnesia’: the repression of the earliest traumatic, overly sexual or evil memories.


- Baldwin, A.L. (1967). Theories of child development. United States of America: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

- Carver, S.C., Scheier, M.J. (2004). Perspectives on Personality (5th edition). United States of America: Pearson Education, Inc.

- Erikson, E.H. (1972). Het kind en de samenleving (6e druk). Utrecht/Antwerpen: Het Spectrum.

- Etchegoyen, A. (1993). Latency – a reappraisal. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 74, 347-357.

- Freud, A. (1965/1980). Het normale en het gestoorde kind (vertaling, 1e druk). Rotterdam: Kooyker Wetenschappelijke Uitgeverij (Oorspr.: Normality and pathology in childhood, 1965).

- Kuiper, P.C. (1972). Neurosenleer (6e druk). Deventer: Van Loghum Slaterus.

- Woodworth, R.S, & Sheehan M.R. (1967). Contemporary schools of psychology (6e druk). Great Britain: the Ronald Press Company.

- Kriekemans, A. (1965). Geschiedenis van de kinderpsychologie tot en met Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud en Melanie Klein. Tielt: Uitgeverij Lannoo.

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