Freudian affect 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 affect theory today

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In this chapter we discuss affect primarily from the point of view of subjective experience. Affective neuroscience is the only branch of neuroscience to take seriously the traditionally psychoanalytic view that lived affective experience is of central importance to our understanding of the workings of the mind. The foundation of affective experience is the basic pleasure/unpleasure series of conscious states that mediate homeostasis—by telling us how well we are doing in terms of our fundamental biological task of getting our needs met for survival and reproduction. These elemental affects are closely linked with the operation of the SEEKING system, which we believe correlates closely with Freud's idea of a multi-purpose ‘libidinal’ drive. In addition, we have evolutionarily conserved brain systems which subserve distinct instinctual emotions. These systems release specific behaviours, thoughts and feelings in response to appropriate stimuli. These systems correspond to Freud's notion of ‘primal fantasies’ or phylogenetic memories. Affect encodes valence and value—which, we argue (with many others), is essentially what consciousness is for—and is the motor for memory and learning. The neuroscience evidence appears to support the Freudian idea of drives (but not necessarily instincts) being fundamentally ‘objectless’—the same kinds of feelings and behaviours can be triggered by or oriented towards a wide variety of specific objects, associations with specific objects being largely developed through learning. Finally, the functions of higher cortical regions, which we correlate with certain ego functions, allow for the capacity to inhibit the automatic expression of instinctual emotional behaviours, creating the opportunity for thinking and planning. This inhibitory capacity subserves executive control, which involves the exclusion of certain objectionable contents from consciousness; the trigger for this exclusion is typically overwhelming negative affects.

Chapter.  7159 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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