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Watt, D.F. (1990). Higher Cortical Functions and the Ego: Explorations of the Boundary Between Behavioral Neurology, Neuropsychology, and Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Psychol., 7(4):487-527.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 7(4):487-527

Higher Cortical Functions and the Ego: Explorations of the Boundary Between Behavioral Neurology, Neuropsychology, and Psychoanalysis

Douglas F. Watt, Ph.D.

This article explores current thinking about brain organization and the potential bridging of various neuropsychological and psychoanalytic ideas. The focus is on the potentially vital, direct, and generally unappreciated connection of basic neuropsychological ideas to equally basic psychoanalytic constructs, particularly around concepts of drive, affect, and ego, and in terms of the corticolimbic, frontal-posterior, and lateral axes of brain organization. In terms of the corticolimbic axis, I suggest that Freud's basic model of the mind, in which the ego mediates between an internal drive milieu and perceptions of external reality, bears a remarkable resemblance to recent notions in behavioral neurology about the hierarchical organization of the cortex and the limbic system. In terms of the left—right lateral axis of organization, the affective (as opposed to more strictly cognitive) aspects of lateralization are linked to concepts suggesting right hemisphere cognitive processing in transference phenomena. Transference, although clinically complex, has consistent common denominators linking it with right hemisphere functions; it may be universal because it is neuropsychologically elemental. Empirical findings of right hemisphere involvement in affect may be due to the advantages of the right hemisphere's processing style for constructing self- and object images and for processing these images analogically, thus allowing for “preferential” linkage of the right hemisphere to limbic structures. The neuropsychology and basic integrative functions of the frontal cortex are also reviewed in relation to models for higher ego functions and their relationship to adaptation. Possible neuropsychological aspects of “insight” are discussed, and proposals are offered for the further bridging of psychoanalysis, biological psychiatry, and neuroscience.

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