Archetypes Reconsidered as Emergent Outcomes of Cognitive Complexity and Evolved Motivational Systems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Advances in contemporary cognitive science suggest that our internal representational systems are powerfully shaped by interacting evolutionary, developmental, and neuro-computational processes. Although Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious are largely dismissed by modern psychological science, something very much like them emerges from the intersection of these perspectives. Functional analysis suggests that a variety of conserved systems—basic biological ones, like self-protection and mating, as well as more complex social ones, like cheater-detection—need to make use of more general representational systems (like face perception) to simulate and predict adaptive responses to recurring environmental problems. Furthermore, analogous to the capacity to develop language, these systems depend on specific input at critical developmental stages. Archetypes reflect the interaction of domain-specific challenges and domain-general simulations. They are dynamic patterns of perception, memory, and action, resonating with ancient motivational and emotional systems. They shed light on how the symbolic emerges from the subsymbolic. Archetypes are thus the natural consequence of our fundamental social goals playing out in three nested dynamics: the online representation of reality by mental simulation systems, the history of personal experiences that build a particular instantiation of these systems, and the evolutionary dynamics that selected the web of cognitive and affective capacities that all normally developing humans share. This modern elaboration of the idea of archetypes fuses disparate conceptual perspectives, provokes methodological reorientations, generates novel hypotheses, and will likely open whole new lines of integrative inquiry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-75
Number of pages17
JournalPsychological Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 3 2019


  • Archetype
  • Jung
  • emotion
  • evolutionary psychology
  • mental representation
  • motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Archetypes Reconsidered as Emergent Outcomes of Cognitive Complexity and Evolved Motivational Systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this