Allan N. Schore, PhD

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The Right Brain Implicit Self Lies at the Core of Psychoanalysis

Allan N. Schore, PhD
UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

Implicit Processes in Early Development

The concept of the unconscious, once uniquely studied by psychoanalysis, is crossing interdisciplinary boundaries.  Infant researchers now assert, “Preverbal communication…is the realm of non-consciously regulated intuitive behavior and implicit relational knowledge. Whether information is transferred or shared, which information gets across, and on which level it is ‘understood’, does not necessarily depend on the sender’s intention or conscious awareness” (Papousek, 2007, p. 258).  A large body of experimental data and clinical findings supports the developmental principle that rapid acting and thus implicit psychobiological attachment interactions are essential to the human infant’s development, specifically the maturation of the child’s capacity for self-regulation. These implicit affective interactions support and indeed are necessary for the experience-dependent development of the right hemisphere, the locus of the highest regulatory centers in the brain.  It is by this right brain evolutionary imprinting mechanism that early attachment experiences impact the individual at all later stages of development (Bradshaw & Schore, 2007).

In 1994 I proposed that the core of the attachment bond of emotional communication is not purely psychological, but essentially psychobiological.  During spontaneous right brain–to-right brain visual-facial, auditory-prosodic, and tactile-proprioceptive emotionally charged attachment communications, the sensitive, psychobiologically attuned caregiver regulates, at an implicit level, the infant’s states of arousal (Schore, 1994). These nonverbal interactions with the social environment are occurring during the brain growth spurt, which is maximally expressed in the early developing right hemisphere. Thus the period in which the human unconscious system initially self-organizes is a stage of right brain dominance.

Three years after I offered this model Chiron and her colleagues (1997) published a developmental neurobiological study entitled “The right brain hemisphere is dominant in human infants.”  In subsequent neuropsychological research on emotional lateralization in the second year of life Schuetze and Reid (2005) stated, “Although the infant brain was historically reported to be undifferentiated in terms of cerebral lateralisation until 2 years of age, evidence has accumulated indicating that lateralised functions are present much earlier in development” (p. 207). They further observe “lateralisation of negative emotional production to the right hemisphere in infants as young as 12 months of age,” and “a developmental enhancement of right hemisphere control of negative emotional expression that is evident by 24 months.”  Most recently Howard and Reggia (2007) conclude, “Earlier maturation of the right hemisphere is supported by both anatomical and imaging evidence” (p. 112).

This right lateralized system stores a vocabulary of nonverbal affective facial expressions, prosody, and gestures, right brain signals used in implicit attachment communications. The output of the right hemisphere, “the emotional brain” is a conscious affect.  The highest centers of this hemisphere, especially the orbitofrontal cortex, the locus of Bowlby’s attachment system, act as the brain’s most complex affect and stress regulatory system.  At the end of the first year right cortical-subcortcial circuits encode in implicit-procedural memory, an internal working model of strategies of affect regulation that nonconsciously guides the individual through interpersonal contexts.   A just-published near-infrared spectroscopy study of infant-mother attachment at 12 months concludes, “our results are in agreement with that of Schore (2000) who addressed the importance of the right hemisphere in the attachment system” (Minagawa-Kawai et al., 2008).