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Letter to the Editor   |    
Kandel’s Challenge to Psychoanalysts
HOWARD SHEVRIN, PH.D.
Am J Psychiatry 1999;156:664a-664.

To the Editor: I am responding to a challenge issued to psychoanalysts by Eric R. Kandel, M.D., to provide experimental evidence for an unconscious related to instinctual strivings and sexual conflict now that a cognitive unconscious has been identified for memory. I believe my research group has met that challenge in a series of studies published in refereed experimental journals.

In one study (1), we showed that unconscious conflicts over sexual and aggressive impulses are associated with distinctive time-frequency features of event-related potentials that result in correct classification of stimuli related to these conflicts only when the stimuli are presented subliminally. When the stimuli are presented in full consciousness, the brain responses no longer correctly classify these stimuli, strongly suggesting that repression is at work. We also published a book in which our research is described in detail and is related to psychoanalytic, cognitive, and neurophysiological frames of reference (2).

In other studies (3, 4), we published evidence that raises serious questions about the relationship to the unconscious holding for explicit and implicit memories, cited by Dr. Kandel. Our evidence supports the claims that explicit memories can form unconsciously and that consciously formed explicit memories can prime—that is—have implicit effects in consciousness. Taken together, these findings imply that explicit memories need not form (or at least consolidate) in consciousness and, once out of consciousness, can act like implicit memories, thus blurring the line drawn between explicit and implicit memories. Our findings, however, agree with psychoanalytic theory’s bearing on the importance of screen memories and transferences that are not (or at least need not be) enactments of procedural or implicit memories but of repressed explicit memories that nevertheless remain unconsciously active and influence consciousness in the absence of any awareness of their unconscious source.

On the whole, I enjoyed Dr. Kandel’s article and look forward, as he does, to the inclusion of psychoanalytic insights into the exciting interdisciplinary efforts under way in psychiatry, molecular biology, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience. I believe that research such as ours can make a contribution to that integration.

Shevrin H, Williams WJ, Marshall RE, Hertel RK, Bond JA, Brakel LA: Event-related indicators of the dynamic unconscious. Consciousness and Cognition  1992; 1:340–366
[CrossRef]
 
Shevrin H, Bond JA, Brakel LAW, Hertel RK, Williams WJ: Conscious and Unconscious Processes: Psychodynamic, Cognitive, and Neurophysiological Convergences. New York, Guilford Press, 1996
 
Wong PS, Shevrin H, Williams WJ: Conscious and nonconscious processes: an ERPindex of an anticipatory response in a conditioning paradigm using visually masked stimuli. Psychophysiology  1994; 31:87–101
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Wong PS, Bemat E, Bunce S, Shevrin H: Brain indices of nonconscious associative learning. Consciousness and Cognition  1997; 16:519–544
 
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References

Shevrin H, Williams WJ, Marshall RE, Hertel RK, Bond JA, Brakel LA: Event-related indicators of the dynamic unconscious. Consciousness and Cognition  1992; 1:340–366
[CrossRef]
 
Shevrin H, Bond JA, Brakel LAW, Hertel RK, Williams WJ: Conscious and Unconscious Processes: Psychodynamic, Cognitive, and Neurophysiological Convergences. New York, Guilford Press, 1996
 
Wong PS, Shevrin H, Williams WJ: Conscious and nonconscious processes: an ERPindex of an anticipatory response in a conditioning paradigm using visually masked stimuli. Psychophysiology  1994; 31:87–101
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Wong PS, Bemat E, Bunce S, Shevrin H: Brain indices of nonconscious associative learning. Consciousness and Cognition  1997; 16:519–544
 
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