Linking psychoanalysis with neuroscience: The concept of ego

  • Rizzolatti G
  • Alberto Semi A
  • Fabbri-Destro M
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Through his whole life Marc Jeannerod was fascinated by Freud's thinking. His interest in Freud is witnessed by several of his writings in which he expresses interest in building a bridge between psychoanalysis and cognitive neuroscience. Following Jeannerod's ideas we discuss here a fundamental point of Freud's construction, the concept of ego, from a neurophysiological point of view. We maintain that, in order both to act coherently and to have a basic, first person, understanding of the behavior of others, it is necessary to posit the existence of a neurophysiological "motor" ego similar to the "rider" of the Freudian metaphor. We review then a series of neurophysiological findings showing that the systems underlying the organization of action and conscious perception are both mediated by a cortical motor network formed by parieto-frontal circuits. In conclusion, we show that the activity of this network has strong similarities to that postulated by Freud for the conscious part of ego. We also propose that the default-mode network might represent that part of ego that is mostly involved in unconscious processes. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Conscious perception
  • Freud's ego
  • Parieto-frontal circuits
  • The neurological ego

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  • Giacomo Rizzolatti

  • Antonio Alberto Semi

  • Maddalena Fabbri-Destro

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