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JAMA 100 Years Ago
December 22/29, 1999


Author Affiliations

Edited by Jennifer Reiling, Editorial Assistant.

JAMA. 1999;282(24):2282I. doi:10.1001/jama.282.24.2282

DR. JAMES G. KIERNAN, taking this topic for consideration, said that maternal impressions have been considered from one standpoint only, and that is as to their supposed cause and its method of action. As the supposed cause is psychic and—in the conception of it usually adopted—immaterial in action, an absurd credulity respecting its powers which existed at one time among obstetricians has given way to an equally absurd skepticism. The subject has not been discussed by either set of partisans, from a scientific critical standpoint. At the January session of the Academy, the skeptical spirit evinced itself in denial of facts authenticated by embryologists and ornithologists of unblemished repute. The case was further supported by teratologic specimens in the British Museum. Spitzka had his skepticism as to maternal impressions shaken by these specimens, which were newly-hatched chicks with a curved beak like a parrot and the toe set back as in that bird. The hens in the yard where these monstrosities were hatched had been frightened by a female parrot which, having escaped, fluttered among them before the eggs were laid and greatly frightened the hens from whose eggs the malformed chicks were hatched. This would seem at first sight to confirm the photographic theory of maternal impressions. The fact is, however, that these malformations are simply arrests of development. Birds, being aberrant reptiles, belonging to the Sauropsidae. During their embryonic development birds pass through a reptilian phase. It was at the end of this phase that the chicks were arrested in development, producing parrot-like malformation. It is precisely for lack of a logical explanation like this that modern obstetricians are skeptical.

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