Little Hans, a significant case in the development of psychoanalysis, was a five-year-old boy who had developed a fear of horses due to a traumatic event in 1908. His father, Max Graf, was a Viennese pediatrician who was friends with Sigmund Freud. Freud used Little Hans’s case as a way to illustrate his ideas about the Oedipus complex, the unconscious, and early childhood development.

Little Hans was born in 1903 to Max and his wife, Elizabeth. He had an older sister, who he was very fond of. At the age of five, Hans began to fear horses due to an incident that occurred while he was walking with his father and a horse-drawn carriage approached. He was so scared that he had to be carried home. After this, he was afraid to leave the house and would cry whenever he saw a horse.

To help overcome his fear, Max Graf wrote to Freud for advice. Freud suggested that Hans’s fear was a result of his Oedipal desires towards his mother and fear of his father’s angry reaction. Freud believed that Hans’s fear of horses was a way of displacing his feelings for his parents onto something else.

To further illustrate his ideas, Freud used Little Hans’s case to describe the concept of the unconscious. He suggested that Hans’s unconscious desires towards his mother were the cause of his fear, and that he was unaware of these desires. Freud believed that the unconscious mind was a powerful force that could drive behavior in ways that the conscious mind was not aware of.

Little Hans’s case was a significant development in the field of psychoanalysis. It helped to illustrate Freud’s ideas about the Oedipus complex, the unconscious mind, and early childhood development. It is still studied today as a way to understand how the unconscious mind can affect behavior.


Gross, R. (2020). Little Hans: Freud’s classic case study of the Oedipus complex. The Psychologist, 23(7), 628-631.

Freud, S. (1909). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 10(1), 1-149.

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