An attempt towards an integrative comparison of psychoanalytical and sensorimotor control theoriesof action

Document Type: 
Book Chapter
Article Type: 
Unconscious States Processing
psychoanalysis sensorimotor efference copy primary/secondary process dorsal/ventral pathway schizophrenia
Deposited by: 
Prof. Ariane Bazan
Date of Issue: 
Ariane Bazan
Title of Book: 
Sensorimotor Foundations of Higher Cognition
Series Name: 
Attention and Performance
Page Range: 
Number of Pages: 
Oxford University Press
Place of Publication: 
Oxford, UK
In his ‘Project for a scientific psychology’, Freud (1895) distinguishes two fundamental modes of mental functioning: primary processes, which aim at releasing received activations by the shortest pathways possible, and secondary processes, which aim at producing adequate actions in order to realize specific alterations in the external world. In the modern neurosciences of the last 30 years numerous studies also resulted in the converging conclusion that two visual pathways could be differentiated in the brain, a dorsal pathway hosting vision for action and a ventral pathway hosting vision for identification (e.g. Ungerleider and Mishkin, 1982; Milner and Goodale, 1995). In this paper these psychodynamic and sensorimotor models are compared. This analysis starts with the observation that Freud, who adhered to the school of physiology of Helmholtz, used a concept, called ‘indication of reality’, to characterize the function of the secondary process. It is proposed that this concept parallels the modern notion of ‘efference copy’. On the basis of this parallel it is then proposed that the secondary process is carried by the dorsal pathway which hosts a comparison mechanism involving the efference copies. In Freud’s model secondary process functioning has an inhibiting effect on primary processes. For this and other reasons, parallels are then proposed between the primary process and ventral pathway functioning, which is constrained by interferences from the dorsal pathway. In final, a brief case description of a psychotic patient is commented from both sensorimotor and psychodynamic perspectives.
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