The experience of pleasure: A perspective between neuroscience and psychoanalysis

Lorenzo Moccia, Marianna Mazza, Marco Di Nicola, Luigi Janiri

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

Pleasure is more than a mere sensory event, but rather it can be conceptualized as a complex, multiform experience involving memory, motivation, homeostasis, and, sometimes, negative affects. According to Freud, affect is a perceptual modality that registers the internal drive state of the subject rather than the objective experience of the external world, and the quality of this perceptual modality is calibrated in degrees of pleasure and displeasure. Within this conceptual framework, the aim of drive is always pleasure, and objects become significant in so far as they provide a way of discharging drives pressure. Subsequent conceptual psychoanalytic developments have partially rejected such metapsychological theorizations, postulating that other intrinsic motivations that are independent from libido can be observed in humans. Intrinsic motivation broadly refers to a set of psychological concepts including the inherent propensity to pursue one’s choices, to seek out novelty and challenges, to satisfy curiosity and competence, and to extend one’s capacities and control over events. What these concepts have in common is an inner endorsement of one’s action, which is the sense that action is self-generated and is one’s own. The notions of pleasure, drives, and affects are all of utmost importance for a neuropsychoanalytic understanding of mental functioning, due to their capability to explain desire, thought, and behavior from the perspective of human subjective experience. The purpose of this paper is thus to discuss psychoanalytic conceptual developments that have addressed pleasure, drives, and affects, in the light of recent findings coming from neurosciences. In particular, we will explore for insights from Panksepp’s theory of primary-process emotional feelings, including the notion of “wanting” and “liking” as dissociable components of reward. In the last part of the paper, we will indicate possible theoretical implications for a neuropsychoanalytic understanding of libido-independent intrinsic motivations and their relationship with the self, including neuroscientific observations on self-related processes, agency, body-ownerships, and attachment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number359
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Volume12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 4 2018

Keywords

  • Affect
  • Displeasure
  • Experience
  • Neuropsychoanalysis
  • Neuroscience
  • Pain
  • Pleasure
  • Psychoanalysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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