Neuropsychoanalysis of the Inner Mind
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Neuropsychoanalysis of the Inner Mind

A Biological Understanding of Human Mental Function

Teodosio Giacolini, Cristiana Pirrongelli, Teodosio Giacolini, Cristiana Pirrongelli

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eBook - ePub

Neuropsychoanalysis of the Inner Mind

A Biological Understanding of Human Mental Function

Teodosio Giacolini, Cristiana Pirrongelli, Teodosio Giacolini, Cristiana Pirrongelli

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This comprehensive and well-curated collection explores how neuroscience can be integrated into psychoanalytic thinking and practice, reexamining the biological science within psychological (sexuality, pleasure, and dreams), social (pornography), and psychopathological (learning and attention disorders, anhedonia) phenomena relevant to therapists and analysts.

Neuropsychoanalysis of the Inner Mind stands out for its focus on the emotional-motivational aspects of the mind, which are considered through the lenses of affective neuroscience, psychoanalytic theory and neuropsychoanalysis, and is important reading for scholars and psychologists interested in the topics originally addressed by Freud in his 1895 publication Project for a Scientific Psychology.

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Part One General aspects

1 Motivational/emotional systems Synoptic tables

Cristiana Pirrongelli, Chiara di Maggio, Francesca Fioriello, Sara Riezzo, and Teodosio Giacolini
DOI: 10.4324/9781003198741-2


This chapter aims to propose a quick and concise, albeit not exhaustive, view of what motivational/emotional systems are, according to Affective Neuroscience. As research shows, these systems are homologous among mammal species and are mainly wired in subcortical areas. We refer to the dimension of mental functioning that Freud described as Es. Certain areas of brain/mind functioning that were still unknown until a few years ago are now better known in their behavioral neurophysiology. Affective Neurosciences highlighted connections between emotional systems and cortical areas; these systems influence mental functioning much more through bottom-up mechanisms than through top-down connections from cortical to subcortical areas. Furthermore, these tables are also an attempt to translate psychopharmacological knowledge from the field of their use based on classical nosography to that of psychiatry, based on behavioral neurophysiological knowledge of motivational/emotional systems, in an endophenotypic analysis of the problem.
Seeking system
Anatomical localization Evolutionary function
The SEEKING system supports the activation of every act that we perform and that requires energy. Therefore, the “seeking system” is constantly involved with the world and its processes. In animals, the SEEKING system operates with no premeditation and strategic planning. In fact, this system requires more connections with the frontal neocortex, which is
more developed in humans. It provides a kind of “excited and euphoric anticipation”.
The emotional system that Panksepp presents as seeking is involved in procurement research, exploration, investigation, curiosity, interest and expectation (the system is called in English: foraging/exploration/investigation/curiosity/interest/expectancy/SEEKING system). The system, says Panksepp, responds unconditionally to homeostatic imbalances (states of body necessities) and environmental incentives. It represents the reward system (together with the RAGE and FEAR systems to achieve the set goals) and it mediates the primary processes known as appetitive solicitations which lead to research by environmental exploration. Even though the exhibited behavior is comparable to the one shown during the desire phase antecedent to the act of fulfillment, the positive emotion that comes from the activation of the seeking system (Wanting) is different from the sensation of pleasure that causes the realization of the goal (Liking), representing an “anticipatory euphoria” (appetitive/incentive behavior).
Both pleasure and reinforcement secondary to satisfaction (consummatory behavior/sensory pleasure reward) are associated with a reduction in the activity of this system. In this phase, the system deactivation allows the activation of both reinforcement processes and secondary learning, which act through motivation, thus intended as positive reinforcement. In this way, an initial neutral stimulus, thanks to the interaction with other systems, such as reinforcement, can be then classified as either irrelevant or relevant and stored in memory. At a third level, it generates specific expectations and desires, secondary to awareness. This system then mediates an intentionality that is intrinsically present within the action. The joy of the SEEKING system, identifiable with the so-called “enthusiasm”, has an energizing effect and can counteract several negative emotions. It is involved in creative activities. The energy boost towards both the exploration of the environment and the research of useful resources for survival is not much connected to the satisfaction for achieving a goal, but to the rewards expectation. In fact, it does not mediate the pleasure, but the desire for it. The anticipatory urgency of different activities shares a positive sense of wanting to do and being able to do, for example, the pleasant anticipation of finding the food and the positive feeling linked to find it, provide a sense of confident expectation that compensates the negative feelings related to hunger. In humans, unlike animals, it operates with strategic planning and premeditation, since there are connections with the frontal neocortex that allow a strategic thought to elicit the system, thus generating complex learned behaviors, both instinctive and counter-instinctive (the firefighter can neutralize the fear of fire and do his/her job by adopting learned strategies). The SEEKING system promotes, in addition to strategic practical thinking, purely intellectual neocortical capacities, energizing the entire human creativity. It is activated not only in response to simple homeostatic imbalances (thirst, hunger, sleep, temperature), but also when facing more complex social needs (mediated by different interoceptors), including the need to play the company. It is in a state of almost continuous operation that keeps both men and animals in a general state of involvement with the world.
Medial bundle of the forebrain (nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmental area, mesolimbic and mesocortical areas, lateral hypothalamus, periaqueductal gray matter of the midbrain). From the ventral tegmental area (VTA) the seeing system ascends, through mesolimbic and mesocortical dopaminergic pathways, to three destinations:
  1. medial fasciculus of the forebrain and lateral hypothalamus (MFB-LH).
  2. Nucleus accumbens.
  3. Medial prefrontal cortex. The dopaminergic neurons of the VTA (common to the CARE system: activation of research impulses to procure food, prepare the nest, recover the puppies) receive input from other regions of the brain and send output to upper brain areas, especially towards the nucleus accumbens (involved in the development of addictions; the medial frontal neocortical regions are focused on primary emotional needs. It explains how we seek pleasant experiences and escape the pitfalls) that interacts with the medial frontal cortex and promotes simple appetitive learning. Other regions involved in the functioning of the system:
  1. Noradrenergic and serotonergic system (control arousal).
  2. GABAergic, glutamatergic and aceticolin systems (for more specific attention functions). Specific types of interoceptors or “need detectors” located in different medial regions of the brain and in other body organs perceive homeostatic imbalances that indicate simple bodily needs (thirst, hunger, drowsiness, body temperature) and convey these specific homeostatic messages to the seeking system. In addition, some sensors report changes in sex hormones and are connected to the LUST system, promoting sexual desire.
The SEEKING emotional system is, according to Panksepp, the main and oldest motivational one. It generates drive impulses for exploring the world, becoming involved, interested in reality. Its activation results in intense processes of learning, producing adaptive behaviors (basal ganglia) and knowledge (neocortex). The neuronal SEEKING system includes a reward center related to enthusiasm and euphoria of involvement but not hedonistic satisfaction. It supports the expectation that, by activating itself, we can find something “good” for our well-being and provide the energy necessary to achieve it. It participates in appetitive phases (to search, find and acquire the necessary resources, not only those aimed at consumption) present in all systems. If the system is damaged, the animal can no longer take care of itself, it goes into depression and dies.
Neuromediators and endogenous activating substances Neuromediators and endogenous inhibitory substances Related emotions Psychopathology Drugs
It can be released in two different ways, through a “tonic” and “phasic” release. A recent research has highlighted the role of phasic dopamine release in reward processes. The tonic release refers to a slow diffusion of small concentrations of dopamine in the extracellular space, beyond the intersynaptic space, and is linked to the normal activation of dopaminergic neurons and to the release of independent-impulse dopamine in the terminal areas. In contrast, the phasic release follows a burst of activity of dopaminergic VTA neurons, following which elevated dopamine levels are released into the synaptic space to a millimolar concentration and then rapidly removed through the reuptake system.
If the phasic release of dopamine can generate a transient seeking signal, the tonic release seems more related to the sustained activation of the emotional state of seeking. It could be hypothesized that
Powerful and pervasive brain opioid that inactivates the system, causing a depressive state. It mediates a very distinct form of negative affect that is recruited by social loss, and demonstrably reduces the responsivity of the brain’s reward-SEEKING system.
Corticotropin (CRF):
Elevated levels of CRF promote stress and are responsible for psychological pain and a sense of loneliness, inactivating the production of endogenous opioids. GABAergics: They inhibit the impulse to SEEKING and GABA neurons are in turn inhibited by low doses of endogenous opioids.
Interest, craving, anticipatory craving and a heightened sense of self when man feels effective in making things happen in the world, frustration when he is not satisfied.
When the system is chronically hypo-activated, at behavioral, neurobiological and psychological levels, a form of hopeless depression is experienced, characterized by lethargy, anhedonia and lack of dynamism. Depression can be considered as a state of reduced involvement in aspects of the world, due to an endogenous hypofunction of the reward network or/and due to an inhibition of its secondary activity to other brain circuits, such as those involved in the processing of negative emotions (GRIEF/Separation disorder, FEAR or RAGE). Depression may also reflect an emotional despair phase following protracted PANIC arousal.
Personality disorder,
Obsessive compulsive disorder: When the dopaminergic pathways of the SEEKING system are stimulated for too long, they cause stereotyped behavior in the animal, even trivial repetitive activities in humans.
Buprenorphine: mixed mu-opioid receptor agonist/antagonist used at low doses in depressed clients who have had no relief from many accepted anti-depressants
Opioids at low doses: opioid drugs can yield dopamine-independent pleasures and promote dopamine-SEEKING urges, especially at low doses.
DBS /Deep Brain Stimulation treatment of the medial forebrain bundle (MFB): it might be a robust anti-depressant in treatment-resistant patients; DBS-induced affective shifts might restore “enthusiasm” in depressed patients, and help them to again engage positively with the world, alleviating amotivational dysphoria.
DA tonic levels usually strengthen the signal-to-noise ratio in neural networks, increa...

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