Edinburgh Imaging

MSc projects 1112 002

The Ego Concept analysed through neuroimaging research: a reflective essay


This paper sets out to reflect upon the ego; firstly, because it is a fascinating key element in psychoanalysis and an organising structure of psychic content associated with the conscious subjectivity necessary for us to be “in” the world. Secondly, the description of the ego in Freud’s work is functional; it has left us an all-encompassing concept, but at the same time provides clear objectives that allow us to conceive an organisation capable of relating to memory, perception, learning, consciousness and emotions. Thirdly, as it is a functional theory that was developed from Freud’s neuroscientific knowledge, it is possible to contrast Freud’s model with modern neuroscientific models of the mind. Fourthly, as the ego is defined in terms of its functions, and these functions have been explored through neuroimaging techniques, it would be possible to take a broad look across the spectrum of research projects to see how well they fit the ego concept. Finally, at least from a practical standpoint, the ego is a virtual field in which one can explore and probe the patient’s psyche, and carry out interventions and analyses to determine to what extent his mind/brain is working properly or defectively, thereby exploiting the therapeutic set-up with its strong patient-therapist relationship to rearrange and improve defective attachment patterns.

The ego concept channels us towards a vast and complex literature that encompasses neuroimaging research into the self, cognitive functions like working memory, resting-state networks and conceptual representations. Furthermore, it allows us to think about how the brain is not an inert piece of machinery, primarily reflexive to incoming stimuli, but more like a humming machine, continuously working and making predictions in a Bayesian fashion about what might have pricked its sensory perceptions and, when not carrying out specific tasks, may delight in its internal elaborations, re-creating the past and fantasising about the future. In this sense it is an active organ, imposing its intrinsic activity upon stimuli to be processed. It is the dynamic synchronisation among and between different neural networks that begets the interesting process that makes us human, which is to say, our ego, self or mind.

Project type:
  • Reflective review
Imaging keywords:  
Application / disease keywords:
  • The ego concept
  • Dr Mick Power
  • 11-12