Regular readers will know my opinion on fMRI research. Nothing but newfangled electronic phrenologic theory-discovering machines. Well, I take it all back.
Yes, the new paper “A Triple Dissociation of Neural Systems Supporting ID, EGO, and SUPEREGO” by Steven Z. Fisher and Stephen T. Student in the obscure journal Psyence has forced me to reconsider, recogitate, and finally recant.
Our authors chased after the elusive Id, Ego, and Superego, certain sure these were nestled, hidden from prying eyes, deep inside the skulls of college students. They gathered twenty-four of these creatures, “all 19-year-old white, undergraduates who sat near each other in an Introductory Psychology course and were raised in upper middle class suburban New England neighborhoods” and slipped them into an fMRI machine.
But they had to exclude 17 for “falling asleep in the scanner.”
The remaining seven were asked to view a “fixation cross” (shades of religion?) after which the prompt “MOTHER” would appear for twenty seconds, and participants were asked “to think about their mother” (Oedipal urges perhaps?) This cycle was repeated several times, with a “jittered intertrial time” from “2 to 34 seconds…drawn from an Erlang distribution.”
Why the Erlang? It “was selected because it is our favorite distribution plushie sold on Etsy.com by far: link” (pictured above).
The participants were video taped and—here is the unique experimental twist—“Two independent coders viewed the videotapes and made precognitive judgments of the onset of ID-related, EGO-related, and SUPEREGO-related control of current thoughts.” They selected just those coders who had the “highest scores of precognitive ability” (the scoring was based on work from a tenured professor at Cornell—ahem).
The “onset times were convolved with a canonical hemodynamic response function and used to predict neural activity across the whole brain. The three regressors (ID, EGO, SUPEREGO) seemed reasonably orthogonal”, although, they added, “we didn’t actually check to make sure.”
The results are pictured here: three regions of the brain lit up and were associated with the three regions of the brain sought after. Critics will say there are five regions glowing (count them), but these critics will have failed to realize only three regions were theorized.
Indeed, the authors say, “A large cluster of ID-related neural activity was located in the brainstem. No other regions of the brain showed ID-related activity. This result is not surprising given well known links between the brainstem and consciouness [sic].” The authors even reference another peer-reviewed work which backs this bold statement.
But it is no bolder than this:
This region is also ideally situated to translate the ID’s drives into behavioral action (10). Finally, SUPEREGO-related neural activity was localized to lateral prefrontal and parietal cortex. These effects are consistent with the top-down control aspects of the SUPEREGO.
Footnote (10) above (a common scientific source) was this: “Thus the ego, driven by the id, confined by the superego, repulsed by reality, struggles…[in] brining about harmony among the forces and influences working in and upon it, and readily ‘breaks out in anxiety’.” Standard Freudian stuff.
As always, more research is needed:
…Social Neuroscience, Neuroeconomics, and Developmental Social Cognitive Affective Clinical Neuroscience are just not cutting edge enough anymore. Do not despair. This study represents the first of what is likely to be a productive and active new field of Psychoanalytic Neuroscience.
This is undoubtedly true. Neuroanalysis will surely join neuroeconomics, neuroethics, neuropolitics, neuromarketing, neurolaw, neurophilosophy, and neurotheology and the sciences which prove, once and for all, that we are but slaves to our brains.
Update The creator of the plushies said, “I use the open-source program R to create the patterns.” This makes them reproducible, a key component of science. See also her Stat-O-Latern and the bat-winged “Standard” Normal Distribution.
Thanks to Sally Satel, co-author or the you-must-buy-it Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience for directing us to this paper.