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Classification according to ICD-10
R62.8 Other lack of expected physiological development
ICD-10 online (WHO version 2019)

The term infantilism describes the state of standing still at a child's level and can refer to both physical and mental development. The term comes from the Latin word infantilis (dt. 'Childlike') and has more precisely defined meanings in the individual subject areas. The induction of infantilism is called infantilization .

Nursing / medicine

Infantilism - or infantilization in this case - often manifests itself in medicine and long-term care. This is triggered by a certain need for help in patients who can no longer look after themselves and who also need the help of nursing staff in intimate situations. Many nursing patients have great difficulty with it and react to it with frustration, aggressiveness, or even depression.


In the psychological definition, infantilism shows itself mostly in the form of unrestrained, undisciplined, emotional behaviors such as defiance , egocentrism and imposing behavior , or more generally in the lack of age-appropriate self-reflection and, accordingly, mostly in social and / or emotional immaturity. But even a learned helplessness is a form of infantilism. Infantilism can occur, for example, in cognitive disabilities , but also as defensive behavior towards fellow human beings and frustrations .


Infantilism is also a term used to describe a person's tendency to imagine themselves as a child in sexual fantasies. Acting out this tendency is conceivable in the form of role-playing games in which the person concerned is treated like a child. The partners are often older because this underlines the role identity that is sought.

The cause of this tendency is likely to be an early (before the usual age of puberty ) awakened sex drive (cf. infantile sexuality , precociousness ), because many people have lifelong fantasies with regard to the intensely felt phase of first sexual interest.

Infantilism should not be confused with pedophilia . The pedophile is an adult who is attracted to children; the person prone to infantilism is (in their own perception or in their self-image) the child themselves.

Cultural, social and political sciences

In cultural studies Johan Huizinga uses the term puerilism for what he classifies as infantile behavior of adults in modern times . To this he counts the need for banal diversion, the addiction to sensations, the pleasure in mass shows, insinuation of bad intentions or motives in others and intolerance to any other opinion, excessive exaggeration of praise and blame. According to Norbert Elias , who at about the same time as Sigmund Freud came up with his theory that the process of civilization should be understood as a process of increasing impulse control, the difference between the behavior of adults and children increases in the course of this process. Again and again, however, civilizational relapses, mass psychological regression and desublimation processes are possible, which he describes as infantile.

Infantilization as regressive dissolution of boundaries

The media scientist Neil Postman understood infantile behavior as the opposite of that of “normal” adults, to whom he attributed the following characteristics in particular: “Ability to self-control and to postpone immediate need satisfaction, a differentiated ability to think conceptually and logically, a special interest for both historical continuity as well as for the future, the appreciation of reason and social structure ”. Other scholars, such as the US political scientist Benjamin R. Barber , the German school teacher and writer Horst Hensel, and the Austrian literary scholar Thomas Rothschild refer to this understanding of the term . Herbert Marcuse can be regarded as a forerunner of this perspective , who transferred the sexual psychological concept of repressive desublimation, coined by Wilhelm Reich , to modern western culture. This is characterized by a repressive tolerance of its ruling institutions, but allows more and more border crossings and makes private matters public in a scandalous form.

As characteristics of the infantilization tendency of adults u. a. called: “urge to communicate towards strangers, indiscretion; a certain show pride; the tendency to pursue one's needs for games and diversion at almost any time and without regard to the surroundings ”as well as the“ continuous surrender of the private, personal ”.

Media and advertising influence

While Postman argued, given the spread of increasing television consumption in the early 1980s, that through the medium of television children and adults had a much greater overlap of information and experiences and that childhood was no longer specific, but was disappearing, today the advertising and entertainment industry is tearing it down age-specific barriers and sees people between 14 and 49 as the most important " advertising-relevant target group ". This expansion of the youth feeling ("one age") firmly anchors infantilization in the market: books and films for children and young people or comics are becoming more common today consumed by adults. More than 19 percent of the target group defined in the Sinus Milieu study as “modern performers” and thus as a social “lead milieu”, i.e. the educated “ self-actualizers ”, buy children's and young people's books for themselves (the national average is over 16 percent of all people .) The Scot Johanna Basford has sold 1.4 million copies of her adult coloring book, My Enchanted Garden . 30 million Germans play on the computer, almost 13.5 million of them every day. Seven million gamers are over 50 years old. Designers, too, are increasingly creating all-age products that remind baby boomers of their childhood. The pop culture slogan Die Young, Stay Pretty makes aging appear as a cognitive decline ( senility ) and curse.

Other effects of the ubiquity of popular media are the suppression of social inequality and the infantile dream of social advancement as a media star or top model.

Influences of education and the welfare state

Matthias Heitmann sees the apparent “revaluation of the concerns and potential of young people” also as a “devaluation of the adult, mature people”. The aim of educating young people to take responsibility is no longer taken seriously. On the one hand one complains about the disorientation of the children, but denies the adults the right to be able to decide on questions of upbringing. In this context, Heitmann speaks of “adult settings” such as children's parliaments or computer science lessons in primary schools, the learning outcomes of which can hardly be implemented in adult life.

Another aspect of infantilization is the firm cultural anchoring of the learned helplessness in the structures of the welfare state of the last decades. The "nanny state" - according to the criticism from the conservative side - transforms people into an unrealistic, externally determined childhood that lives in the dream world of a large "Villa Kunterbunt". Pascal Bruckner describes the connection between infantilism and self-victimization in modern societies: The individual is anxious to the utmost for his independence, but at the same time demands care and help and looks at others with envy and fear; it connects the dual form of the dissident and the infant.

Web links

Wiktionary: Infantilism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: infantil  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: childlike  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: childish  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Alphabetical directory for the ICD-10-WHO version 2019, volume 3. German Institute for Medical Documentation and Information (DIMDI), Cologne, 2019, p. 406
  2. Gerhard Wahrig (Ed.): Fremdwortlexikon . Bertelsmann, Gütersloh / Berlin / Munich / Vienna 1974.
  3. ^ Johan Huizinga: Homo Ludens - From the origin of culture in play , Hamburg, 20th edition 2006, p. 221 f.
  4. Norbert Elias: About the process of civilization. Frankfurt 1976.
  5. Jump up ↑ Neil Postman: We Are Having Fun: Judging in the Age of the Entertainment Industry . Frankfurt / M. 1988.
  6. ^ Benjamin R. Barber: Consumed! How the market seduces children, infantilizes adults and undermines democracy . Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-57159-6 , p. 87
  7. Horst Hensel: The new children and the erosion of the old school . Munich 1995 (5th edition), p. 33 f.
  8. Thomas Rothschild: Relax and Enjoy. Total infantilization . Vienna 1995, p. 10.
  9. In Critique of Pure Tolerance . Frankfurt / M. 1966.
  10. Edo Reents : People become children. In:, November 3, 2012.
  11. Working group of young people's book publishers: Basic study of children's and young people's books , no year (, no longer online)
  12. Felicitas Kock: Scribbling against stress. In: , April 19, 2015.
  13. Susanne Gaschke: Germany becomes a republic of infantiles. In:, August 9, 2015.
  14. Lyrics
  15. Anna Stach (Ed.): From outliers, top models and superstars: Social inequality and the dream of social advancement as game themes in popular television formats. Books on Demand, 2013.
  16. Matthias Heitmann: Zeitgeister Hunt. Jena 2015, p. 115.
  17. ^ Christian Günter, Werner Reichel (ed.): The nanny state and its children. Berlin 2016.
  18. In his book I suffer therefore I am. The disease of modernity. Berlin 1996.