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The fMRI correlates of psychological ‘complexes’: those units of psychopathology of everyday life

The fMRI correlates of psychological ‘complexes’: those units of psychopathology of everyday life

The primary aim was to perform Jung’s original 100 Word Association Test (WAT) under fMR I conditions, to glimpse something of the neurobiological substrate of so-called ‘complex’ (emotionally disturbed) responses, and begin to evolve a generic neurobiological model for complexed reactions. 14 scans were collected. Subjects were all normal mental health professionals with some Jungian analytic training.
A version of Jung’s WAT adapted for fMRI conditions was performed in a 4 Tesla fMRI Unit at the Brain Research Centre Wesley Hospital, Brisbane. Two lots of 339 volumes (36 slices per volume) were acquired for each subject. Keeping to standard postperformance WAT protocols, a post-test interview allowed the identification, for each subject, of three (variably overlapping) sets of Index responses; a Time Delay (TD) Set (0.4 seconds above Probable Mean), a Self-Reported Complex (SRC) set, and a set of responses with Semantic Markers of Complexed activity (SMC).

For each subject, the TD SRC and SMC responses were pooled (P) , and contrasted with the remaining (presumably more neutral)  responses, the Neutral Set (NT). Since words were presented at 20-second intervals, and we know clinically that a complexed response can persevere to the next word presentation, we also excluded every word that followed either a TD or SCR response.
An SPM5 analysis of pooled data (one sample t test contrasting pooled (P) against neutral (NT)) revealed areas of interest at high levels of significance (p<.001, Z≡ ranging from 4.52 to 3.50). Five clusters stood out: L and R SMA extending to superior medial (252 voxels, MNI max –3 +23 +44, Z≡ 4.38) , R insula and pars orbitalis mainly area 45 (77 voxels, MNI max +4 +26 +0, Z≡ 4.22) , L insula and pars orbitalis and triangularis areas 44 and 45 (77 voxels, MNI max –37 +22 +5 Z≡ 4.52), R caudate (26 voxels, MNI max +4 +4 –0 Z≡ 3.78) , and L caudate (7 voxels, MNI max –13 +12 +11 Z≡ 3.50).
Both SMA and pre-Broca’s areas are known to have mirror neuron functions, SMA as a supra-modulator of more classical sites of mirror neuron activity. This system could serve as bio-substrate for those internalised representations of the ‘other’ that psychodynamic theory posits as the necessary reactive counter-pole of a complexed response.
Insular cortex, with its rich connections with to the limbic system, could mediate the unpleasant effect associated with a complexed response. And caudate activation typically occurs when attention gets fixated, as it does in our observed complexed responses.
A range of other areas were salient in individual scans but did not achieve levels of significance required for preliminary generic model construction. They included hippocampi and amygdala (affect and retrieval), supraorbital executive regions, and the highly interconnective Sylvian protuberance.
The data will also allow us to see what a neutral word association response looks like, and what the differences are between complexed responses that are conscious (self-reported) and unconscious (physiologically manifest but unremarked by the subject).
The work re-establishes psychodynamics on a biological footing, with its potential for more biologically based diagnostic and psychotherapy outcome measures.

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