|Empirical Evidence for Link Between Unconscious Conflict and Anxiety Symptoms|
|SciMed - Neuroscience|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Monday, 18 June 2012 09:00|
Ann Arbor, MI, USA. New data supports a causal link between unconscious conflicts and conscious anxiety disorder, lending empirical support to Freudian psychoanalysis.
An experiment that Sigmund Freud could never have imagined 100 years ago may help lend scientific support for one of his key theories, and help connect it with current neuroscience.
Howard Shevrin, Ph.D., a University of Michigan (U-M) professor, presented his data at the 101st Annual Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA). Many scientists have been skeptical of Freud's ideas, such as how conscious and unconscious perceptions are processed in different ways. Shevrin has spent decades applying scientific methods to the study of psychoanalysis. His previous findings are consistent with Freud's views. The new data supports a causal link between the psychoanalytic concept known as unconscious conflict and the conscious symptoms experienced by people with anxiety disorders (such as phobias).
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Data from the experiment shows that subliminal exposure to words related to a person's unconscious conflict, followed by supraliminal exposure to words related to their anxiety symptoms, led to different alpha wave patterns compared with other scenarios.
For more than 40 years, Howard Shevrin has led a team that has pushed at the boundaries between the disciplines of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and psychoanalysis.
He has looked for evidence that Freudian concepts such as the unconscious and repression could be documented through physical measures of brain activity.
In 1968 Shevrin published the first report of brain responses to unconscious visual stimuli in the journal Science.
The work provided strong objective evidence for the existence of the unconscious at a time when most scientists were skeptical of Freud's ideas.
In that same 1968 study, he showed that unconscious perceptions are processed in different ways from conscious perceptions, a finding consistent with Freud's views on how the unconscious works.In a previous experiment Shevrin had demonstrated that time-frequency features, a type of brain activity, showed that patients grouped the unconscious conflict stimuli together only when they were presented subliminally. But the conscious symptom-related stimuli showed the reverse pattern – brain activity was better grouped together when patients viewed those words supraliminally.
"Only when the unconscious conflict words were presented unconsciously could the brain see them as connected," Shevrin notes. "What the analysts put together from the interview session made sense to the brain only unconsciously." However, the experimental design in this first experiment did not allow for directly comparing the effect of the unconscious conflict stimuli on the conscious symptom stimuli.
To obtain evidence for that next level, the unconscious conflict stimuli were presented immediately prior to the conscious symptom stimuli and a new measurement was made, of the brain's own alpha wave frequency, at 8-13 cycles per second, that had been shown to inhibit various cognitive functions.
The experiments, performed in U-M's Ormond and Hazel Hunt Laboratory, involved 11 people with anxiety disorders who each received a series of psychoanalytically oriented diagnostic sessions conducted by a psychoanalyst.
Highly significant correlations, suggesting an inhibitory effect, were obtained when the amount of alpha generated by the unconscious conflict stimuli were correlated with the amount of alpha associated with the conscious symptom alpha -- but only when the unconscious conflict stimuli were presented subliminally. No results were obtained when control stimuli replaced the symptom words. The fact that these findings are a function of inhibition suggests that from a psychoanalytic standpoint that repression might be involved.
"These results create a compelling case that unconscious conflicts cause or contribute to the anxiety symptoms the patient is experiencing," says Shevrin, who also holds an emeritus position in the Department of Psychology in U-M's College of Literature, Science and the Arts. "These findings and the interdisciplinary methods used – which draw on psychoanalysis, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience -- demonstrate that it is possible to develop an interdisciplinary science drawing upon psychoanalytic theory."
He notes that a prominent critic of psychoanalysis and Freudian theory, Adolf Grunbaum, Ph.D., professor of the philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh, has expressed satisfaction that the new results, when added to previous evidence, show that fundamental psychoanalytic concepts can indeed be tested in empirical ways.
In recent years, exchanges between Grunbaum and Shevrin explored the nature of the evidence for the existence and impact of unconscious conflicts. In a 1992 publication, the first study referred to, Grunbaum agreed that Shevrin had obtained objective brain based evidence for the existence of unconscious conflict, but Grunbaum noted that he had not shown that these conflicts caused psychiatric symptoms.
Grunbaum's response to being informed of the new findings was an email stating: "I am satisfied".
|Last Updated on Monday, 18 June 2012 10:04|