The (Re) Discovery of the Unconscious. What we have learned from neuroscience

Journal title IPNOSI
Author/s Giuseppe De Benedittis
Publishing Year 2023 Issue 2023/1 Language Italian
Pages 18 P. 5-22 File size 388 KB
DOI 10.3280/IPN2023-001001
DOI is like a bar code for intellectual property: to have more infomation click here

Below, you can see the article first page

If you want to buy this article in PDF format, you can do it, following the instructions to buy download credits

Article preview

FrancoAngeli is member of Publishers International Linking Association, Inc (PILA), a not-for-profit association which run the CrossRef service enabling links to and from online scholarly content.

The discovery that an extraordinary part of our mental life takes place outside our awareness is generally credited to Sigmund Freud, even if historically it goes back a long way. The unconscious mind is generally considered in general psy-chology as the shadow of the “real” conscious mind, but there is significant evi-dence that the unconscious is no less flexible, complex, and intentional than its conscious counterpart. Numerous unconscious systems regulate attentional, per-ceptual, emotional, mnestic, evaluative and motivational processes. These cogni-tive processes occur unconsciously and influence behavior and emotions (affects). Neuroscience has only recently begun to understand the neural correlates of such processes and their dynamic interactions with conscious processes. For example, how conscious impulses, thoughts and desires become unconscious (e.g., repres-sion, dissociation) and, on the other hand, how unconscious impulses, motivations and de-sires become conscious (e.g., Freudian slip and / or failed acts). There are no brain structures and circuits specifically dedicated to the processing of uncon-scious thought, but all brain regions participate in conscious and non-conscious thought. But what is the relationship between the unconscious and consciousness? We tend to believe that the deep roots of consciousness and the sense of self re-side in a large set of brain structures aimed at neural mapping of the body and homeostasis in an unconscious way. This would be the “Proto-Self” Unconscious (Damasio, 2003), from which the conscious experience would emerge. In this per-spective, it can be argued that the actions of the unconscious mind precede and influence the emergence of the conscious mind. We do not know if these implicit and automatic activities can be conceptualized and organized in a self-conscious mind to resemble the self-conscious mind. Although perceptions, feelings, motiva-tions and some decision-making processes may occur outside of awareness, what seems to be lacking is the ability and intensity of these implicit activities to self-organize, possibly through a bottom-up mechanism of neural coalitions, in a co-herent, meaningful and targeted representation of reality.

Keywords: unconscious, neural mechanisms, consciousness, relationship con-scious-unconscious mind.

  1. American Psychiatric Association (2013). DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. American Psychiatric Publishing.
  2. Bargh J., Morsella E. (2008). The Unconscious Mind. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(1): 73-79.
  3. Bell V., Oakley D., Halligan P., Deeley Q. (2011). Dissociation in hysteria and hypnosis: evidence from cognitive neuroscience. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 83(3): 332-339.
  4. Berlin H. (2014). The neural basis of the dynamic unconscious. Neuropsychoanalysis, 13(1): 5-31. DOI: 10.1080/15294145.2011.10773654
  5. Charcot J. (1882). Sur les divers états nerveux déterminés par l’hypnotisation chez les hystériques, Comptesrendushebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences. Paris: Gauthier-Villars.
  6. Damasio A. (2003). Alla ricerca di Spinoza. Milano: Adelphi.
  7. Dehaene S., Naccache L., Le Clec H., Koechlin E., Mueller M., Dehaene-Lambertz G. (1998). Imaging unconscious semantic priming. Nature, 395(6702): 597-600. DOI: 10.1038/26967
  8. Dehaene S., Changeux J., Naccache L., Sackur J., Sergent C. (2006). Conscious, preconscious, and subliminal processing: a testable taxonomy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10(5): 204-211.
  9. Dehaene S. (2014). Consciousness and the Brain. Deciphering how the brain codes our thought. New York: Penguin Books.
  10. Depue B., Curran T., Banich M. (2007). Prefrontal regions orchestrate suppression of emotional memories via a two-phase process. Science, 317(5835): 215-219.
  11. Dijksterhuis A., Bos M., Nordgren L., van Baaren R. (2006). On making the right choice: the deliberation-without-attention effect. Science, 311(5763): 1005-1007.
  12. Ellenberger H. (1980). La scoperta dell’inconscio. Storia della psichiatria dinamica. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri.
  13. Forrest K. (2001). Toward an etiology of dissociative identity disorder: a neurodevelopmental approach. Consciousness and Cognition, 10(3): 259-293.
  14. Freud S. (1892-1899). Progetto di una psicologia ed altri scritti. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri.
  15. Freud S. (1915). Introduzione alla psicanalisi. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri.
  16. Freud S. (1933). La scomposizione della personalità psichica. Rivista Italiana di Psicoanalisi, 152-172.
  17. Freud S. (1937). The ego and the mechanisms of defence. London: Hogarth Press.
  18. Greenfield S. Collins T. (2005). A neuroscientific approach to consciousness. Progress in Brain Research, 150: 11-23. DOI: 10.1016/S0079-6123(05)50002-5
  19. Hassin R., Uleman J., Bargh J. (2005). The new unconsciuous. New York: Oxford University Press.
  20. Janet J. (2013). L’automatismo psicologico. Milano: Raffaello Cortina.
  21. Jiang Y., Costello P., Fang F., Huang M., He S. (2006). A gender- and sexual orientation-dependent spatial attentional effect of invisible images. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(45): 17048-17052.
  22. Kinsbourne M. (2007). Integrated cortical field model of consciousness. Wiley Online Library.
  23. Koch C. (2004). The quest for consciousness: a neurobiological approach. Englewood: Roberts & Company.
  24. Koch C., Greenfield S. (2007). How does consciousness happen? Scientific American, 297(4): 76-83.
  25. Kris E. (1988). Ricerche psicoanalitiche sull’arte. Torino: Einaudi.
  26. Lamy D., Salti M., Bar-Haim Y. (2009). Neural correlates of subjective awareness and unconscious processing: an ERP study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21(7): 1435-1446.
  27. Libet B., Gleason C., Wright E., Pearl D. (1983). Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential). The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act. Brain, 106(3): 623-642.
  28. Loftus E., Klinger M. (1992). Is the unconscious smart or dumb? American Psychologist, 47(6): 761-765. DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.47.6.761
  29. Marshall J., Halligan P. (1988). Blindsight and insight in visuo-spatial neglect. Nature, 336(6201): 766-767.
  30. Mashour G., Hudetz A. (2018). Neural correlates of unconsciousness in large-scale brain net-works. Trends in Neurosciences, 41(3): 150-160.
  31. Newell B., Shanks D. (2014). Unconscious influences on decision making: A critica review. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(1): 1-19.
  32. Nieuwesnstein M., Wierenga T., Morey R., Wicherts J., Blom T., Wagenmakers E., van Rijn H. (2015). On making the right choice: A meta-analysis and large-scale replication attempt of the unconscious thought advantage. Judgment and Decision Making, 10(1): 1-17.
  33. Sanchez-Lopez J., Cardobi N., Pedersini C., Savazzi S., Marzi C. (2020). What cortical areas are responsible for blindsight in hemianopic patients? Cortex, 132: 113-134.
  34. Sar V., Unal S., Kiziltan E., Kundakci T., Ozturk E. (2000). HMPAO SPECT study of regional cerebral perfusion in dissociative identity disorder. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, 2 (2): 5-25.
  35. Sar V., Unal S., Ozturk E. (2007). Frontal and occipital perfusion changes in dissociative identity disorder. Psychiatry Research, 156 (3): 217-223.
  36. Schopenhauer A. (1851). Essays and aphorisms. London: Penguin.
  37. Scoville W., Milner B. (2000). Loss of recent memory after bilateral hippocampal lesions. 1957. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 12(1): 103-113.
  38. Smith S., Handy J. (2014). Effects of varied and constant environmental contexts on acquisition and retention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(6) 1582-1593.
  39. Vatansever D., Menon D., Stamatakis E. (2017). Default mode contributions to automated information processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(48):12821-12826.
  40. Vermetten E., Schmahl C., Lindner S., Loewenstein R., Bremner J. (2006). Hippocampal and amygdalar volumes in dissociative identity disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(4): 630-636.
  41. Weiskrantz L., Barbur J., Sahraie A. (1995). Parameters affecting conscious versus unconscious visual discrimination with damage to the visual cortex (V1). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 92(13). 6122-6126.
  42. Westen D. (1998). Implicit cognition, affect, and motivation: The end of a century-long debate. In Bornstein R., Masling J., ed., Empirical Studies of Unconscious Processes. Washington: American Psychological Association.
  43. Willingham D., Salidis J., Gabrieli J. (2002). Direct comparison of neural systems mediating conscious and unconscious skill learning. Journal of Neurophysiology, 88(3): 1451-1460.
  44. Winkielman P., Berridge K., Wilbarger J. (2005). Unconscious affective reactions to masked happy versus angry faces influence consumption behavior and judgments of value. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 31: 121-135. DOI: 10.1177/0146167204271309

Giuseppe De Benedittis, Esiste la mente inconscia? La (ri)scoperta dell’inconscio alla luce delle neuroscienze in "IPNOSI" 1/2023, pp 5-22, DOI: 10.3280/IPN2023-001001