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Bucci, W. (1985). Dual Coding: A Cognitive Model for Psychoanalytic Research. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 33:571-607.

(1985). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 33:571-607

Dual Coding: A Cognitive Model for Psychoanalytic Research

Wilma Bucci, Ph.D.


Four theories of mental representation derived from current experimental work in cognitive psychology have been discussed in relation to psychoanalytic theory. These are: verbal mediation theory, in which language determines or mediates thought; perceptual dominance theory, in which imagistic structures are dominant; common code or propositional models, in which all information, perceptual or linguistic, is represented in an abstract, amodal code; and dual coding, in which nonverbal and verbal information are each encoded, in symbolic form, in separate systems specialized for such representation, and connected by a complex system of referential relations. The weight of current empirical evidence supports the dual code theory. However, psychoanalysis has implicitly accepted a mixed model—perceptual dominance theory applying to unconscious representation, and verbal mediation characterizing mature conscious waking thought.

The characterization of psychoanalysis, by Schafer, Spence, and others, as a domain in which reality is constructed rather than discovered, reflects the application of this incomplete

mixed model. The representations of experience in the patient's mind are seen as without structure of their own, needing to be organized by words, thus vulnerable to distortion or dissolution by the language of the analyst or the patient himself. In these terms, hypothesis testing becomes a meaningless pursuit; the propositions of the theory are no longer falsifiable; the analyst is always more or less "right." This paper suggests that the integrated dual code formulation provides a more coherent theoretical framework for psychoanalysis than the mixed model, with important implications for theory and technique. In terms of dual coding, the problem is not that the nonverbal representations are vulnerable to distortion by words, but that the words that pass back and forth between analyst and patient will not affect the nonverbal schemata at all. Using the dual code formulation, and applying an investigative methodology derived from experimental cognitive psychology, a new approach to the verification of interpretations is possible. Some constructions of a patient's story may be seen as more accurate than others, by virtue of their linkage to stored perceptual representations in long-term memory. We can demonstrate that such linking has occurred in functional or operational terms—through evaluating the representation of imagistic content in the patient's speech.

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