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Has neuroscience found the ego? What Freud and Jung inferred is now observed in MRI scans.

October 30, 2010

Mid last centruy psychoanalysis was highly respected within established psychiatry. It was not atrange to find that the most senior psychiatrists in a hospital were also analysts. Now that is less true. As drug companies have increasingly won the cost-benefit (cost to the paitent, benefit to the shareholder) argument pscyhoanalysis was kicked to the curb. Now the techno-wizardry being applied to neuroscience is more and mroe finding biochemical structures and processes that have been accurately described and modelled by both Freud and Jung.

Dana Alliance member Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D., a neurobiologist at New York University, has argued that psychological constructs such as ego are not incompatible with modern neuroscience; scientists just need to come up with better ways of thinking about the self and its relation to the brain. "For many people, the brain and the self are quite different," he writes in The Synaptic Self, where he made the opposite case. For LeDoux, it’s a truism that our personality — who we are in totality — is represented in the brain as a complex pattern of synaptic connectivity, because synapses underlie everything the brain does. "We are our synapses," he says.

Researchers are increasingly applying the tools of modern neuroscience to try to understand how the brain represents self and other aspects of ego as popularly defined — they just don’t call it ego. Brain-imaging studies have used self-reference experiments to investigate the neurobiology of self. For example, asking a subject to make a judgment about a statement, such as "I am a good friend" versus a statement that is self-neutral, such as "water is necessary for life." Others have looked at brain pathology in people with disorders of self. These studies have fairly consistently linked self-referential mental activity to the medial prefrontal cortex, a subregion of the frontal lobe where higher-order cognitive functions are processed.

The medial prefrontal cortex is the locus of the brain’s "default mode" network, where metabolic activity is highest when the brain is not actively engaged in a task. During task performance, default mode activity decreases. Washington University neuroimaging pioneer and Dana Alliance member Marcus E. Raichle, M.D., first reported the default mode and has argued that default-state activity may hold clues to the neurobiology of self.

The Unhealthy Ego: What Can Neuroscience Tell Us About Our ‘Self’?
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101028113618.htm
ScienceDaily (Oct. 28, 2010)

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