fMRI responses to Jung’s Word Association Test. Implications for Theory, Treatment, and Research. Leon Petchkovsky, Michael Petchkovsky, Philip Morris, Paul Dickson, Danielle Montgomery, Jonathan Dwyer, Patrick Burnett.

We are presenting a version of this at the RANZCP Psychotherapy Conference in Sydney (Coogee Crown Plaza) 24th of Aug. 

The research looks at “internal conflict”…how the “Internal I” interacts with the “Internal Other”…what emerges is that the mindfulness and empathy circuits light up.  See the pretty picture.

Details are in the Abstract below. Image


 Jung’s Word Association Test was performed under fMRI conditions by 12 normal subjects. Pooled complexed responses were contrasted against pooled neutral ones.  The fMRI activation pattern of this generic “complexed response” was very strong (corrected Z scores ranging from 4.90 to 5.69).  The activation pattern in each hemisphere  includes mirror neurone areas  that track “otherness” (perspectival empathy), anterior insula (both self-awareness and emotional empathy), and cingulate gyrus (self-awareness and conflict-monitoring). These are the sites described by Seigel and colleagues as the “resonance circuitry” in the brain which is central to mindfulness (awareness of self) and empathy (sense of the other),   negotiations between self awareness and the “internal other”.  

But there is also an interhemispheric dialogue. Within 3 seconds, the left hemisphere over-rides the right (at least in our normal subjects).

Mindfulness and empathy are central to good  psychotherapy, and complexes can be  windows of opportunity if  left-brain hegemony is resisted. 

This study sets foundations for further research:  (i) QEEG studies (with their finer temporal resolution)  of complexed responses in normal subjects  (ii) QEEG and fMRI studies of complexed responses in  other conditions, like schizophrenia, PTSD, disorders of self organisation. 

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3 Responses to fMRI responses to Jung’s Word Association Test. Implications for Theory, Treatment, and Research. Leon Petchkovsky, Michael Petchkovsky, Philip Morris, Paul Dickson, Danielle Montgomery, Jonathan Dwyer, Patrick Burnett.

  1. Thanks for sharing this fascinating research. It’s interesting that the left hemisphere normally ‘over-rides’ the right hemisphere within 3 seconds in neurotypical people. What is your prediction for disordered selves?

    To me it seems plausible, either that these people would have less left-hemispheric over-riding (less top-down self-organisation), or that they would exhibit more rapid left-hemispheric over-riding (less receptivity — e.g. strong self-confabulation). I guess that makes it an interesting avenue for further research, and I look forward to seeing where this leads. What is your own hunch about the differences we might expect? And why three seconds?

    • Dear Russell

      thank you for your interest. If you send me an email on I can send you copies of publications on the subject.

      The reason L hemisphere “wins” when a complex is activated is simply because, as Don Winnicott wrote so many years ago, there are two fundamental psychological “defences”; “splitting” and “thinking”.

      Splitting is an extremely primitive process, is VERY unconscious, and leads to dissociation (This is how we deal with things when we are babies and infants).

      “thinking” in Winnicott’s sense, becomes available when the Left hemisphere comes on line about the 3rd year. We deal with the pain of the complex by various processes of pseudo-justication, intellectualisation.

      The point of most psychodynamic psychotherapy is to enable the patient to hang on in there with the pain of the complex and grow, come to an overarching view if you like that is no longer locked in either right or left hemisphere.

      The Australian and NZ Soc of Jungian Analysts is running a one day Personal Development seminar in Melbourne soon, where some of my colleagues will be detailing the stuff that is in my papers.

      Google ANSJA for the details.

      All warm good wishes from Leon

      • Thanks for your response, Leon, belated though my acknowledgement is. Thanks also for pointing me to the seminar in Melbourne. I didn’t end up going, as I’ve been saving up for the long road ahead that awaits me this year (I’m doing a clinical masters). But in good time I’d like to explore that paradigm further. If you have anything relevant to email me, please do (at my first and last names, separated by a dot, at gmail). Anyway, I look forward to chatting in person again. Hope 2014 goes well for you.

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