Freudian drive theory today

Mark Solms and Margaret R. Zellner

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:
Freudian drive theory today

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This chapter summarizes the basic elements of Freudian drive theory and suggests, in broad brushstrokes, what the neural correlates of those elements might be. Drives are the psychical representatives of the metabolic and endocrinological imperatives of the body, supporting survival of the individual and reproduction of the species. The central brain substrate for the source of the libidinal drive, we propose, is the medial hypothalamus, which responds to signals regarding the state of the body and influences circuits in the brainstem, limbic system, and forebrain, making certain behaviours and responses more or less likely. The SEEKING system, roughly corresponding to the trajectory of the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system, which is directly activated by these ‘need detector’ mechanisms, is the key substrate for the object and pleasure seeking tendencies of the libidinal drive, while interacting (LUST) circuits represent the neural substrate of what Freud called drive aim. The objects of the libidinal drive are not innate—the drive is (as Freud surmised) inherently objectless—all object relations arise from secondary processes, from learning. Brainstem nuclei which regulate global arousal and levels of activity in the forebrain appear to correspond to Freud's notion of psychic energy, which may be more independent from drive than he originally assumed (cf. Hartmann's psychoanalytic concept of ‘neutralized’ drive energy) but which is also intimately bound up with it (as Pfaff's neurobiological research suggests). Finally, we discuss some ways in which affective neuroscience, by delineating a number of basic emotional command systems, sheds new light on our taxonomy of drives and the relation between drives and other bodily and mental processes, including the higher cognitive and regulatory processes based largely in the prefrontal cortex, which both represent and inhibit drive pressures.

Chapter.  9283 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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