Chapter

Towards a psychodynamic neuroscience

Aikaterini Fotopoulou

in From the Couch to the Lab

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199600526
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754753 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/med/9780199600526.003.0003
Towards a psychodynamic neuroscience

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The chapter reviews recent advances in experimental and computational cognitive neuroscience and argues that there is ample scope for a new discipline within the neurosciences, hereafter called Psychodynamic Neuroscience. This new, specialised field will focus on generating and testing the predictions of classic and contemporary metapsychological models by using the methods and tools of the neurosciences. Advances in both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ neuroscientists study the brain make psychodynamic neuroscience possible in ways that simply did not exist, even 20 years ago. For starters, the assumption prevailing until the early 90s to the effect that the human mind can be understood by examining exclusively cognitive functions and their neural correlates has undergone considerable criticism. A growing community of researchers claim that mental abilities are defined also by emotions and motivation, are embedded in the acting, sensing and feeling body, and are subject to intricate couplings between organisms and their interpersonal, social and technological environments. In addition to this change in ‘what’ neuroscientists study, there is the dramatic development in ‘how’ they study the brain, and thus what kind of knowledge about brain-mind relations they can arrive at. Recent theoretical and methodological developments in neuroimaging, neurodynamics and computational neuroscience allow direct, large-scale measurement of complex, dynamic and hierarchically organised brain networks. Consequently, this progress calls for a theory of the mind that entails dynamically and hierarchically organised mental processes. Unlike the strictly modular, cognitive models of the mind, Freudian metapsychology, and subsequent psychoanalytic models seem more suitable candidates for interdisciplinary investigation. At the same time, as psychoanalytic concepts have been applied to and modified by explorations of subjective meaning and its vicissitudes in psychopathology, studies in psychodynamic neuroscience can counter the atheoretical and reductionistic approach of some contemporary studies in cognitive neuroscience. The chapter outlines existing examples of interdisciplinary work in order to illustrate how progress can be achieved in psychodynamic neuroscience. First, a neurocomputational model is presented, which synthesises insights about the Freudian distinction between primary and secondary process and parallel economic aspects of metapsychology, with current findings from theoretical neuroscience and neuroimaging research. This is then further enhanced and specified by considerations of neuropsychological work on wishful reality distortions following ventromedial frontal lesions and of the role of the pleasure principle in cognition. These few examples do not, of course, reflect the full scope of psychodynamic neuroscience but they serve as illustrative examples of the potential of this new field and the broader scope of this book.

Chapter.  12194 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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