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Neuro-psychoanalysis is a movement within neuroscience and psychoanalysis to combine the insights of both disciplines for a better understanding of mind and brain.

Theoretical Base: Dual Aspect Monism[edit | edit source]

Neuro-psychoanalysis fits under the more general heading of neuropsychology: relating biological brain to psychological functions and behavior. As Oliver Sacks has written: "Neuropsychology, like classical neurology, aims to be entirely objective, and its great power, its advances, come from just this. But a living creature, and especially a human being is first and last . . . a subject, not an object. It is precisely the subject, the living `I,' which is excluded from neurology" (Sacks 1984, 164) . Neuro-psychoanalysis seeks to remedy that exclusion.

Subjective mind, that is, sensations and thoughts and feelings and consciousness, seems a completely different thing from the cellular matter that gives rise to mind, so much so that Descartes concluded they were two entirely different kinds of stuff, mind and brain. Accordingly, he invented the "dualism" of the mind, the mind-body dichotomy. Body is one kind of thing, and mind (or spirit or soul) is another. But since this second kind of stuff does not lend itself to scientific inquiry, most of today's psychologists and neuroscientists have rejected Cartesian dualism.

They have had difficulty finding an alternative, however. The opposite position, monism, says there is only one kind of stuff, brain, and the sensations like the red of a tomato simply represent the pattern of activation of certain brain cells. Many people find this simple monism unsatisfactory, though, because it does not really deal with the fact that the red of a tomato and a pattern of activation in region V4 of the visual system seem so very different. Bridging that difference is what neuroscience calls "the hard problem."

Neuro-psychoanalysis meets this challenge via dual-aspect monism, sometimes referred to as perspectivism. That is, we are monistic. Our brains, including mind, are made of one kind of stuff, cells, but we perceive this stuff in two different ways (Solms and Turnbull 2002, pp. 56-58).

One is the neuroscientists' "objective" way. They dissect the brain with scalpel and microscope or look at it with brain scans and then trace neurochemical pathways. Neurology observes "mind" from outside, that is, by means of the neurological examination: questionnaires, the Boston Naming test or Wisconsin Sorting, bisecting lines, acting out how you use a screwdriver, and so on. Neurologists can compare the changes in psychological function that the neurological examination shows with the associated changes in the brain, either post mortem or by means of modern imaging technology.

The other way is the layman's or Descartes' or the psychoanalysts' way. We can observe "subjectively," from inside a mind, how we feel and what we think. Freud refined this kind of observation into free association. He claimed and a century of therapy confirms that this is the best technique that we have for perceiving complex mental functions that simple introspection will not reveal. Through psychoanalysis, we can discover mind's unconscious functioning.

Perhaps because Freud himself began his career as a neurologist, many of today's neurologists take psychoanalysis somewhat more seriously than, say, experimental psychologists do. As a result, the neuro-psychoanalytic group has been able to draw useful insights from a number of distinguished neuroscientists: Antonio Damasio, Eric Kandel, Joseph LeDoux, Helen Mayberg, Jaak Panksepp, Vilanayur Ramachandran, Oliver Sacks, and many others. (Some serve on the editorial board of the journal Neuro-Psychoanalysis).

Research Directions[edit | edit source]

Neuro-psychoanalystic researchers put these two kinds of knowledge together. They relate unconscious (and sometimes conscious) functioning discovered through the techniques of psychoanalysis or experimental psychology to underlying brain processes. Among the ideas explored in recent research are the following:

  • Drives can be understood as a series of basic emotions (prompts to action) anchored in pontine regions, specifically the periaqueductal gray, and projecting to cortex: play; seeking; caring; fear; anger; sadness. Seeking is constantly active; the others seek appropriate consummations (corresponding to Freud's "dynamic" unconscious) (Panksepp 1998).
  • Seemingly rational and conscious decisions are driven from the limbic system by emotions which are unconscious (Westen et al., in press).
  • Infants' first-year experiences of attachment and second-year (approximately) experiences of disapproval lay down pathways that regulate emotions and profoundly affect adult personality (Schore 1994).
  • Oedipal behaviors (observable in primates) can be understood as the effort to integrate lust systems (testosterone-driven), romantic love (dopamine-driven), and attachment (oxytocin-driven) in relation to key persons in the environment (Fisher 2004) .
  • Differences between the sexes are more biologically-based and less environmentally-driven than Freud believed (Panksepp 1998, chs. 12-13; Fisher 2004).

People[edit | edit source]

Among the important figures in the neuro-psychoanalytic movement are: Mark Solms (founder and leader, neuropsychologist and psychoanalyst); Jaak Panksepp (a leading researcher in affective neuroscience); Oliver Turnbull (psychological researcher); Aikaterini Fotopoulou (psychological researcher); Howard Shevrin (psychoanalytic researcher); Yoram Yovell (neurological researcher); Douglas Watt (neuropsychological researcher); and others.

The group maintains a web site Neuro-Psychoanalysis Centre, a journal, and a foundation for financial support. Regional groups hold meetings in Boston, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London, New York, Tel Aviv, Sao Paolo, Stockholm, Toronto, and elsewhere, usually associated with the local psychoanalytic association or institute.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Fisher, H. E. (2004). Why we love: The nature and chemistry of romantic love. New York: Henry Holt.
  • Kaplan-Solms, K., & Solms, M. (2000). Clinical studies in neuro-psychoanalysis: Introduction to a depth neuropsychology. London: Karnac Books.
  • Panksepp, J. (1998). Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sacks, O. (1984). A leg to stand on. New York: Summit Books/Simon and Schuster.
  • Schore, A. N. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: The neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Schore, A. N. (2001). The effects of a secure attachment relationship on right brain development, affect regulation, and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22(1-2), 7-66. (. Accessed 18 March 2004.)
  • Solms, M., & Turnbull, O. (2002). The brain and the inner world: An introduction to the neuroscience of subjective experience. New York: Other Press.
  • Westen, D., Kilts, C., Blagov, P., Harenski, K., & Hamann, S. (in press). The neural basis of motivated reasoning: An fMRI study of emotional constraints on political judgment during the U.S. Presidential election of 2004. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

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