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Gabbard, G.O. (2000). What Can Neuroscience Teach Us about Transference?. Canadian J. Psychoanal., 9(1):1-18.

(2000). Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 9(1):1-18

What Can Neuroscience Teach Us about Transference?

Glen O. Gabbard

Although the language of the mind and the language of the brain are quite distinct, we can nevertheless apply research from cognitive neuroscience to deepen our understanding of mechanisms associated with psychoanalytic thinking, such as transference. Neural network models provide a bridge between the disciplines. Inherent in neural network theory is the property of one-way transmission between neurons. Connections between neurons are modifiable through changes in their weight. Thus representations are ultimately formed in neural networks through the principle of associability—the idea that streams of information are combined by forming, strengthening, or pruning connections between them to form new representations that can later be retrieved. The introduction of two distinct memory systems has greatly increased the complexity of our understanding of transference. Both implicit declarative and implicit procedural elements can be found in transference. Moreover, applying research in cognitive neuroscience to the psychoanalytic notion of transference helps us to recognize that the notion of “the transference” is no longer valid. There are multiple transferences, each of which reflects different representations and different activations of neural networks. Finally, the mode of therapeutic action of psychoanalysis can be understood as involving the creation of new associative linkages accompanied by the relative deactivation of problematic links in activated networks.

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