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J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 1997;45(3):807-40.

A century after Freud's project: is a rapprochement between psychoanalysis and neurobiology at hand?

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Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California School of Medicine, Los Angeles, USA.


In his 1895 "Project for a Scientific Psychology" Freud attempted to construct a model of the human mind in terms of its underlying neurobiological mechanisms. In this endeavor "to furnish a psychology which shall be a natural science," Freud introduced the concepts that to this day serve as the theoretical foundation and scaffolding of psychoanalysis. As a result, however, of his ensuing disavowal of the Project, these speculations about the fundamental mechanisms that regulate affect, motivation, attention, and consciousness were relegated to the shadowy realm of "metapsychology." Nonetheless, Freud subsequently predicted that at some future date "we shall have to find a contact point with biology." It is argued that recent advances in the interdisciplinary study of emotion show that the central role played by regulatory structures and functions represents such a contact point, and that the time is right for a rapprochement between psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Current knowledge of the psychobiological mechanisms by which the right hemisphere processes social and emotional information at levels beneath conscious awareness, and by which the orbital prefrontal areas regulate affect, motivation, and bodily state, allows for a deeper understanding of the "psychic structure" described by psychoanalytic metapsychology. The dynamic properties and ontogenetic characteristics of this neurobiological system have important implications for both theoretical and clinical psychoanalysis.

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