Jactatio Capitis – Head Shaking and Head Banging in Early Childhood

Financed by: The IPU and the Köhler Foundation

2016–2019 / Project Heads: Huberta Ulmen, Prof. Dr. Dr. M. B. Buchholz, Prof. Dr. Dr. H. Kächele

Project Description

Although the phenomena of head banging and head shaking in infancy are repeatedly mentioned in clinical literature, there is a complete lack of any systematic empirical studies in this regard, as indeed of an appropriate theory on the causes. The aim is to conduct an empirical study of the psychosocial causes of early-childhood head banging and head swaying.

Doing so, the question is being pursued of whether head swaying and banging can be understood as an attempt to compensate where there is a lack of an interactive affect regulation – as the Polyvagal Theory (Porges, 2010) and the social biofeedback theory of parental affect-mirroring (Gergely & Watson, 1996; Fonagy, Gergely, Jurist & Target, 2002) would suggest.

In order to assess this issue, the intention is to analyse in detail the interaction between the child and its primary psychological parent with the use of modern video technology. Parallel to this, the aim is to take into consideration the pedagogical attitude and the unconscious relationship representations of the psychological parent with the help of specific interview techniques (family history, Adult Attachment Projective Picture System – AAP).

The project consists of an initial explorative study. 10 cases are to be examined.

Data Set

The data basis consists of the recorded AAPs (Adult Attachment Projective Picture System interviews) and family histories with the parents of the children concerned, as well as the recorded video-based observations of the children. The family histories will be carefully transcribed (on the basis of the GAT conversation-analytic transcription system).


The Familienzentrum Potsdam family centre, headed by Prof. Dr. H. Staats, is to provide assistance is finding the test subjects. Prof. Dr. A. Buchheim is to give advice on collecting the AAPs (Adult Attachment Projective Picture interviews) data.