The theory of the Detour
A theory of relativity in psychology


Theory of the Detour
by Michel Cariou




Outline of the presentation

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  1. Introduction
  2. First months of the life
    1. The development of the centripetal phase corresponding to the genetic development (construction of the organisation)
    2. Second phase: Birth with the human access (exercise of the vital functions and beginnings of the interactions with the adult)
  3. First detour: Structuring of the emotion and, consequently, the interaction to the human one
    1. First phase: Coordination of the emotional reactions (installation of a basic safety based on the emotional participation)
    2. Second phase: Shaping of the vital energy through the proper action (activity of relation of Wallon) and socialising action.
  4. Second detour: The differentiation of Ego and Other (of 2/3ans, till the puberty)
    1. 1° phase: Appearance of the reflexive conscience, distinction between the emotion of the Other and his own emotion and thus the subjects’ positioning from him even.
    2. Reflexive conscience
    3. 2° Phase: refinement of the others and thus of Ego by the experiment of varied social situations
  5. Third Detour: the access to the adulthood through differentiation Identity/Otherness of Kind
    1. 1st Phase: evolution of the body, discovered sexual emotion and access to the total ideology (self-centred on itself or centripetal position)
    2. Adolescence (From 11/12 years until 19/21ans minimum) and the installation of the identifiers
    3. 2nd phase: differentiation Identity/Otherness of Kind and development of a subject’s position (in realistic projects)
  6. The 4th Detour: the access to the mental activity as concrete activity
  7. References of this presentation

Automatism is a term which derives from automat, and was created in 1757 by the physiologist Réaumur to indicate an achievement of acts without participation of the will. It is thus about a rigid and antiquated behaviour.

It is Pierre Janet who introduces truly the term into the psychological field since it makes the subject of his thesis of it “the psychological automatism”, published in 1889.

In the design of Janet, psychic operation answers the superposition of various levels of conduits since most elementary (animal conduits), until highest (led higher). In this hierarchy, the higher levels control in cascade the levels which theirs are lower.

The psychic automatism appears then as a dysfunction due to a deficiency of control of the higher level, with contracting of the field of conscience. Owing to lack of “psychic tension”, the higher level is not able to ensure the coordination of the adapted activity anymore, dependent on the lower conduits, and those thus will be expressed in an inappropriate way on the mode of the automatism.

However the automatism of Janet remains very close to the original design. Being a degraded product of the higher activity, that produced by the automatism preserves the rigidity of that of an automat “It is necessary that this movement remains however very regular, and is subjected to a rigorous determinism, without variations and whims” (Janet, p.21).

So Wallon has preserved of Janet design of psyches based on progressive acquisition and superposition of different functional levels, if it as preserved the idea as the level most recently appeared subordinates and controls the previous levels (inhibition/activation), it completely modifies the direction of the concept of automatism. For him “the perfection of the automatism, is not to have definitively fixed a certain sequence of muscular actions, it is on the contrary an increasing freedom in the choice of the muscular actions to connect” (awkwardness, 1975 [1928], p.78).

The automatism of Wallon relates on the activity of relation and, as expressed in the preceding quotation, more specifically to the sensor-motor activity. It materialises the joint possession between the act and the effect. For “the distinction of the effect and the action is indeed only one simple abstraction. In any action there is something which is its contents, its occasion, its goal. Any action is measured with the changes either subjective, or objective, whether it causes or seeks to cause” (the E.P., p.51).

The automatism of Wallon relates on the activity of relation and, as expressed in the preceding quotation, more specifically to the sensor-motor activity. It materialises the joint possession between the act and the effect. For “the distinction of the effect and the action is indeed only one simple abstraction. In any action there is something which is its contents, its occasion, its goal. Any action is measured with the changes either subjective, or objective, whether it causes or seeks to cause” (the E.P., p.51). Thus, the construction of the automatism in the acquisition of walk, for example, or from the stroke, will make it possible to bind the act to the effect, by adapting the muscular actions to produce in a differentiated relation, dependent on their implementation’s conditions (more or less regular ground, inclined, in dimension. The automatism, which is built then starting from an intentional and conscious activity, little by little will slip towards an unconscious operation, thus carrying out “a kind of unit closed on itself, a dynamic continuity, a driving sequence, like a melody continuation” (Wallon, Movement and psyches, 1990 [1926], p.31).

One thus finds a part (in the operation of the automatism installed) of the initial idea (Réaumur), “an achievement of acts without participation of the will”, like, slightly different, the idea of Janet with the concept of “contracting of the field of conscience”. However, this disappearance of the conscience and the will are not initial at Wallon, they rise from the passage to an unconscious management from the acts/effects which started to be automated. And, if intentionality does not go on the realisation of the act itself anymore, it was at its origin and remains in its use.

We’re thus well far from the reference to the automat of Réaumur and even of the psychological automatism of Janet. On the one hand, instead of being rigid, and always identical to itself, it is “an increasing freedom in the choice of the muscular actions to connect”. In addition, instead of being the expression of a primitive control which emerges by defect of control by the higher conduits, it becomes the result of a development process of the interaction organism/circle; making it possible the organism to acquire the competences interiorised and diversified competences in the order of the sensory-motor one.

With the theory of the Detour, the concept of automatism still will evolve/move: first once at the time of the first edition (Cariou, 1992; Cariou, 1995) and second once at the time of this edition.

In the first version of the theory, the automatism remains a process of management of the activity of relation (action clean), that Wallon defined as a working of the gesture compared to the external object, in opposition to working of the own body in the emotional expression. **********Manque1********************************************** C'est pour cela que Wallon l'applique à l'activité sensori-motrice. **************************************************************

In the theory of the Detour, with the access to the symbolic function system, the external object becomes mental (it is internalized) and the real action (activity of relation) becomes also mentalized. It is the operational activity (in the broad sense) of the thought compared to a representation of the object or a situation.

So the automatism is not confined the sensory-motor activity anymore, but these is a process which will continue to manage the real action, even mental, and up to the highest intellectual levels. Thus students of mathematics which carries out tens of exercises each day, install, beyond the intellectual comprehension of the theorem concerned, a competence with respect to a whole class of problems. They interiorise, little by little, the capacity to be extracted from the statement, the elements relevant, the type of reference frame which it is necessary to use among all those of which they lay out and the most effective manner (because there can be several) to arrive at the solution.

All this finalised, voluntary mental activity and, at the groping beginning, is organised in an automatism which becomes unconscious and fast. The student then becomes able, as soon as a problem is posed, of knowing, to feel should I say, how it should be treated, in reference to what, and where that will carry out.

This example could be begun again for the acquisition of any competence: reading, writing, on all its professional qualification levels (mechanic, cook, investigator, accountant…), competence of leisure (navigation, play of failure or chart…).

In all the cases, it’s about the acquisition of a mental automatism generating a knowledge to be bearing on a more or less mentalized external object.

The theory of Detour thus extends the concept of automatism until the high positions of the spirit. That makes it possible to include/understand by which process the psychological organisation adapts itself and incorporates in its structure, the human and social environment with which it must reach its adaptive agreement.

However, we remain in the design of Wallon where the automatism relates to only the activity of relation which is expressed by the real action on the circle. That involves that, because of antagonism between activity of relation and emotion, the emergence of the emotion, can disturb the good progress of the automatism and that, conversely, the start-up of the automatism can neutralise the emotion. For example, the actor that the nervousness paralyses and who does not manage to find the text that it however entirely automated in his play. (Against example being the actor who having succeeded in launching the first counterparts, finds the automatism and any more the “nervousness does not have”.

Thus, by the automatism, fall under the super psychological structure and thus in the neurological structures the competences acquired by the person in her interaction in the physical and human environment, according to the various aims which it successively had during her development and of the risks of her life.

It is this considerable incorporation to know to make (compared to contexts material or human) which little by little will be expressed and to live itself in the terms of a knowledge being.

However, if this definition of psychological automatism is progress compared to those which it have preceded, if it makes it possible to better understand how the incorporation of the circle by the organism takes place, it continues to maintain anthropomorphic cleavage between the cognitive one and the emotional one.

Indeed, insofar as this process relate to only the real action, we find oneself finally in the register of cognitive which, certainly, is a dimension to be it, but could not summarise there. The man must be understood and studied as whole and its instrumental functions (sensory-motor or intellectual competences), are only tools with the service of the global agreement organism/circle.

If we come back to the first steps of the theory, we remember that man is a living being, that any living being is an unstable structure which produces an energy (vital energy) which makes it possible to generate an activity whose function is to ensure the perennially of living (survival), that this survival can exist only if the activity makes it possible to maintain the adaptive agreement between the organism and the circle from which it is resulting, and in which it functions. In other words, what’s essential, and what will have to manage the psychological activity, is the vital agreement organism/circle. In the field of psyches, it is what we defined in the terms of basic safety.

If the automatism is the major process by which the circle is interiorised, it is then on this vital activity that it will carry, overall, and not only on its instrumental dimension.

Compared to the definition of Wallon, that’s as results not to necessarily make construction of the automatism any more as an intentional and conscious activity. Admittedly it is directed, by the general movement of the life and the adaptation. For this reason we can say that it’s finalised. But the end which is aimed, is not necessarily deliberated, intentional, nor not even had a presentiment of by the person.

Being the visceral activity of adaptation to the physical environment of the first months, the automation of the vital functions achieves an aim (thanks to differentiation/reorganisation of the perceptivo internal activity/driving ), but this one is already genetically programmed.

Being working of the body through the vocal posture, mimicry or emissions, this one automates themselves very quickly in the interaction with the adult and aims a vital purpose well: to communicate its lived with that which can help you. But the newborn does not know it.

With the access to the emotion, like mode of participation in the circle ensuring the basic safety, the expressive methods through which the emotions will be expressed, build them and automate themselves in connexion with the differential reinforcements which they cause.

These feedbacks are not only related to the type of expressed emotions (anger, joy, sadness, etc). They also relate to the form, the frequency and the intensity which are accepted by the circle. They can be different according to psychological operation from the concerned adults but also according to the type of reactivity of the child or even, quite simply according to its sex:

Thus, on average, a boy will be instinctively more aggressive than a girl, more “difficult”, etc.

These automatisms of the expression (and thus of lived) emotional achieve well a goal, that to be in the relation such as the circle waits until the child is there. In that they are thus finalised and ensure the basic safety (in all the relativity of the concept).

Thus functional units which are interiorised and, as well as for the real action are set up, register in our psychological structure a singular manner to be in the world.

With the wire of the various Detours, and qualitative change of the adaptive activity, these automatisms will be more and more interiorised, while continuing to be current in the total organisation of the psychological structure. Because, if an automatism of action can not meet its release the appropriateness, the relational automatisms ensuring the good manners to be compared to the different one, or with the social one, will be always solicited.

Michel Cariou - November 2008

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