In honor of the special friendship of three men – Alfred Pritchard Sloan, William Clare Menninger and Karl Augustus Menninger – and in honor of Howard Shevrin, who died in Ann Arbor on January 18, 2018, a one thousand dollar prize was awarded to an emerging researcher and a two thousand dollar prize to an established researcher at the occasion of the 20th International Neuropsychoanalysis Congress in Brussels, 18-20 July, 2019.
In making this award, priority was given to research paradigms that connected to empirically testable areas of Freudian classical metapsychology. The winners, Vittorio Gallese (established researcher) and Martina Wernicke (emerging researcher), were announced on the 20th of July in the presence of Aliza Shevrin.
Vittorio Gallese is currently professor of Psychobiology at the University of Parma, Italy. He was visiting professor at various prestigious universities, and has an impressive publication record.
Gallese’s research deals with neurophysiology, cognitive neuroscience, social neuroscience, and philosophy of mind. His major scientific contributions are the discovery of mirror neurons together with his colleagues in Parma, and the development of a new unified model of perception and intersubjectivity known as Embodied Simulation Theory. Through his empirical investigation of the neural basis of social cognition, Vittorio Gallese has made a great contribution in shedding new light on the role of the body in the development of the bodily self, not only in relation to more common intersubjective situations, but also in relation to psychopathological disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and eating disorders. His theoretical and empirical investigation of embodied cognition has also been applied to aesthetics and language.
The importance for psychoanalysis of Gallese’s mirror neuron theory, and in particular the idea that language understanding goes through a mechanism for recognizing actions made by others, cannot be overestimated. This system, first discovered in the precursor of Broca’s area, shows how being into language activates the proper language motor areas, and that speech understanding is close to action representation. What is mentally effective is also heavily organized along motor organizational lines: the mental world of a subject is the result of its action intentions and not the mere product of the imprinting of impressions. This account allows for an understanding of the Freudian word presentation and the Lacanian signifier as a phonemic motor fragment, leading, then, to applying motor logics to the mental, including action prediction and predictive attenuation (coding). The epistemological potential of the idea that the representational, mental world is grounded in sensorimotor patterns – the importance of which cannot be underestimated for (Freudian and Lacanian) psychoanalysis – is huge, and there is no doubt that Gallese is one of the most prominent figures to have promoted it, thereby realizing a close connection between the neurosciences, psychoanalysis and philosophy.
Martina Wernicke is a psychologist who works in the field of experimental neuroscience. After defending her thesis “Approaching Consciousness with Masked Priming” in 2014, she started training as a psychological psychotherapist and began working in the field of paraphilia. In 2018 she joined Prof. Dr. Kristian Folta-Schoofs’ “Neurodidactics & NeuroLab” at the University of Hildesheim. For the past 10 years she has also worked in socio-psychiatric assistance and counselling.
The study “Neural correlates of subliminally presented visual sexual stimuli” (Wernicke et al., 2017) reveals differences in the processing of preferred versus non-preferred, as well as explicit versus non-explicit sexual stimuli. Performances in an objective visibility test indicate that especially preferred explicit stimuli are more likely to reach consciousness. Taking into account recent literature, hemodynamic responses to these stimuli shed light on this process.