jungs theories of complexes and the neurosciences

In 1905 Carl Gustav Jung published his “Experimental  Researches” related to the Word Association Test [3]. He had noticed that certain words administered in some subjects elicited an unexpected reaction of hesitations or an emotional component in non-verbal reactions of the person, or the associated word appeared incongruous with a tangential relationship to the stimulus word.


Jung suggested that there is an emotional involvement of the subject in this particular behaviour, in some way triggered by the stimulus word. 

In 1934 Jung published “General considerations on the theory of complexes”, a theory which, starting from observations on experiments related to verbal associations, is supplemented by clinical observational data from his patients.


Jung speaks of feeling-toned complexes, referring to those situations where there is an excess of psychic energy, exaggerated affection compared to the context, trends to act out, an autonomy from ego functions [4].


A complex is „a set of representations, thoughts, memories, partially or totally unconscious, with a strong emotional charge” [1], which limits the freedom of the ego. A kind of black hole that absorbs energy.


The Neurosciences


It’s interesting to associate these clinical aspects of Jung’s complex theory with the results of the latest research in neurosciences. Those studies were made possible by neuroimaging techniques in the course of audio-visual stimulation of the subject, the techniques used since the early 90s. What I’m particularly referring to arevan der Kolk studies [8], an active psychiatrist and clinician, researcher and teacher in the area of post-traumatic stress since the 1970s. He is the founder of the Trauma Center in Brookline (Massachusetts) and director of the Complex Trauma Treatment Network.



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Paola Palmiotto

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