As stated earlier, Berne defined a stroke as the “fundamental unit of social action.”11 A stroke is a unit of recognition, when one person recognizes another person either verbally or non verbally. Berne introduced the idea of strokes into Transactional Analysis based upon the work of Rene Spitz, a researcher who did pioneering work in the area of child development.
Spitz observed that infants deprived of handling – in other words, not receiving any strokes – were more prone to emotional and physical difficulties. These infants lacked the cuddling, touching, and handling that most other infants received.
Berne took Spitz’s observations of these infants and developed theories about the needs of adults for strokes.
Berne postulated that adults need need physical contact just like infants, but have learned to substitute other types of recognition instead of physical stimulation. So while an infant needs cuddling, an adult craves a smile, a wink, a hand gesture, or other form of recognition. Berne defined the term recognition-hunger as this requirement of adults to receive strokes.
Berne also reasoned that any stroke, be it positive or negative, is better than no strokes at all. Or, as summarized in TA Today, “any stroke is better than no stroke at all.”12 For example, if you are walking in front of your house and you see your neighbor, you will likely smile and say “Hi.” Your neighbor will likely say “hello” back. This is an example of a positive stroke. Your neighbor could also frown at you and say nothing.
This is an example of a negative stroke. But either case is better than no stroke at all, if your neighbor ignored you completely.
Dr. Claude Steiner, a student of Dr. Berne who went on to publish many books on Transactional Analysis, did pioneering work in strokes. He developed what he called the Stroke Economy