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Hadley, J.L. (1983). The Representational System: A Bridging Concept for Psychoanalysis and Neurophysiology. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 10:13-30.

(1983). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 10:13-30

The Representational System: A Bridging Concept for Psychoanalysis and Neurophysiology

June L. Hadley


The neural representational system, a concept derived from neurophysiology, is proposed as a briging concept between neurophysiology and psychoanalytic theory.

The observable phenomena of the neural representational system are at a level of organization of brain function of which we speak when discussing human psychological function in that they represent information-processing (registration, perception and attention) and its sequelae (affect, action, and thought as inhibited action).

The psychoanalytic literature dealing with representation is reviewed and a common denominator extracted for comparison with the neural representational system. A brief historical background on the electrical activity of the brain is presented.

The work of five neurophysiologists is reviewed; namely Pribram, Freeman, Thatcher & John, and Bechtereva. Pribram's holographic theory of memory is explored as one explanation of neural representation. Freeman's theory utilizing an analogy to diffusion-coupled chemical reactions offers a predictable, mathematical grounding for hierarchially arranged neural patterning, up to the level of 'adaptive behaviour'. Thatcher & John's work has greatly elaborated the knowledge of event-related potentials particularly in man. In addition, this team has developed theories of formation of representational systems, a term which they originated. Bechtereva, using implanted electrodes in humans, has explored particularly the emotional components of the evoked potential and has elaborated a theory of a dual system of registration, one plastic, the other rigid, which helps account for match–mismatch functions.

The development of cognitive functioning is reviewed, particularly in infancy and early childhood, using the representational system and structural maturation as referents.

The conclusion is drawn that the concept of the representational system as evidenced by observable, reproducible electrical brain events has much to offer to the verification and elaboration of theories of mental functioning, particularly developmental theory.

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