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Psychohistory derives many of its concepts from areas that are perceived to be ignored by conventional historians as shaping factors of human history, in particular, the effects of childbirth, parenting practice, and child abuse.
The historical impact of incest, infanticide and child sacrifice are considered. Psychohistory holds that human societies can change between infanticidal and non-infanticidal practices and has coined the term "early infanticidal childrearing" to describe abuse and neglect observed by many anthropologists. Lloyd deMause, the pioneer of psychohistory, has described a system of psychogenic modes (see below) which describe the range of styles of parenting he has observed historically and across cultures. Many anthropologists concur that "the science of culture is independent of the laws of biology and psychology". And Émile Durkheim, whose contributions were instrumental in the formation of sociology and anthropology, laid down the principle: "The determining cause of a social fact should be sought among social facts preceding and not among the states of individual consciousness". Psychohistorians, on the other hand, suggest that social behavior such as crime and war may be a self-destructive re-enactment of earlier abuse and neglect; that unconscious flashbacks to early fears and destructive parenting could dominate individual and social behavior.
Psychohistory relies heavily on historical biography. Notable examples of psychobiographies are those of Lewis Namier, who wrote about the British House of Commons, and Fawn Brodie, who wrote about Thomas Jefferson.
Science fiction author and scientist/science writer Isaac Asimov popularized the term in his famous Foundation series of novels, though in his works the term psychohistory is used fictionally for a mathematical discipline that can be used to predict the general course of future flow.