Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Reading :: A Handbook of Contemporary Soviet Psychology

A handbook of contemporary Soviet psychology
Edited by Michael Cole and Irving Maltzman


This 1969 collection is 856 pages without the indexes. I didn't read all of it, since my specific interests are cultural-historical theory and activity theory. Instead, I selected chapters with the following characteristics:

  • I recognized the authors as belonging to one or both of these schools.
  • I saw Vygotsky, Luria, or Leontiev in a chapter's references. 
That methodology yielded 15 of the 30 chapters. I won't cover all of the 15. 

Editors' Introduction
In Cole and Maltzman's Editors' Introduction, they cover the historical background of the volume. They note that in the mid-1930s, psychological testing was outlawed and psychological journals were discontinued, so "psychologists who wanted to publish their work had to turn to educational journals for an outlet." And the conventional wisdom was that "the discipline went into a deep decline during the period 1935-1950" (p.6). But, the editors argue, important work was being done, just not published. That situation changed in 1959-1960 with a "two-volume handbook of Soviet psychology" referencing "work done during the 1930's and 1940's which was unpublished at the time or appeared only in the form of zapiski (notes) of the institution where the research was done" (p.6). That handbook "forms the backbone of the present volume" (p.7).

The editors note something that I mention in recent reviews, that in 1950—the 100th anniversary of Pavlov's birth—"Pavlov was elevated to the position of a demigod of Soviet biological science" due to Stalin's political involvement (p.7). "The 1950 Joint Session was convened with the explicit purpose of forcing deviant physiologists back into the fold and effecting total Pavlovianization of psychology" (p.7). But Stalin's death in 1953 resulted in sudden changes, including a decrease in dogmatism (p.9). The editors also note that the 1950 Joint Session was not as severe as the 1948 genetics purge (p.9). In fact, one result was to encourage empirical research rather than philosophical declarations (p.9). 

Importantly, Pavlov argued shortly before he died that "language acts as a 'second signal system'" (p.10); this endorsement was a boon to psychologists working on "verbal behavior and language learning" (p.10). (Look through the recent reviews on this blog and you'll see that Luria uses this Pavlovian term liberally to validate his work with language, work that proceeds theoretically and methodologically from Vygotsky.)

At the 23rd Congress of the Communist Party in 1964, "there was a re-emphasis of the Leninist principle of objective scientific examination of reality" and "no reference to Pavlovian principles" (p.11). 

Zaporozhets, A.V. "Some of the psychological problems of sensory training in early childhood and the preschool period."
The editors note that this chapter comes from a 1963 book he edited with Usova. For this chapter, I want to highlight only one thing: "interiorization," which he characterizes as being proposed by Vygotsky, then developed by Leontiev in Problems of the development of mind (pp.115-116). This theory is "of cardinal import" (p.116).

Luria, A.R. "Speech development and the formation of mental processes."
The editors call Luria "perhaps the best known of the psychologists represented in this volume" and note his friendship and work with Vygotsky (p.121). They also note his "prolonged 'vacation' from neuropsychological research" in the early 1950s—he "was required to leave his position at the Institute of Neurosurgery for work at the Institute of Defectology" (p.122). 

Luria overviews the history of research in speech development in the USSR, starting with Rybnikov, Kornilov, Ivanov-Smolenskii, and his own early work (p.123). He emphasizes Vygotsky's "significant contribution in the materialistic solution" of the question of "the role of speech in the formation of consciousness and thinking": the child was seen "from the very beginning[] a social being" (p.127). Luria discusses the work of Vygotsky and his students at some length, then concludes that "Vygotskii proceeded to a new and most important branch of psychology—the basic regularities of conscious forms of human thinking" (p.137). 

Vygotsky also shows up in Luria's discussion of children's written speech: his and El'konin's work "indicated that written speech represents an entirely new psychological phenomenon, different from oral speech in its origin and in its structural and functional features" (p.141). Whereas oral speech is "insufficiently conscious, unseparated by the child from general speech activity," written speech is "always the product of special training" (p.141). Indeed, "the functional and structural features of written speech ... inevitably lead to a significant development of inner speech" because it "delays the direct appearance of speech connections, inhibits them, and increases requirements for the preliminary, internal preparation for the speech act" (p.142). 

In the subsection "The role of speech in the development of higher psychological functions," Luria argues that in the view of Soviet psychology, the mind is the "product of social life" and is treated "as a form of activity which was earlier shared by two people (that is, originated in communication) and which only later, as a result of mental development, became a form of behavior within one person" (p.143). Luria portrays dyadic relation as an adult-child relation (p.143). "Complex forms of conscious activity ('higher psychological functions') are least of all initial 'properties' of mental life or inherent qualities of the brain. They are functional systems formed by the social experience of the child" (p.143). Luria goes on to discuss his twin study coauthored with Yudovich, and dates the study to 1935-1936 (p.145). 

In the subsection "complex functional systems mediated by speech: Voluntary attention," Luria defines the phenomenon: "By 'voluntary attention' we should understand a reflex act, social in origin and mediated in its structure, in the presence of which the subject begins to guide himself by the very changes which he has produced in the environment; and in this way he masters his own behavior" (p.149). Here, he credits Vygotsky's and Leontiev's earlier works (p.149). 

In the subsection "The role of speech in imagination and thinking," Luria refers to Pavlov's claim that "the word is a 'signal of signals' which constitutes the foundation of the second signal system. Close interaction between the first and second signal systems is a distinctive feature of human higher nervous activity" (p.151). Specifically, humans use speech to self-regulate; animals do not self-regulate but must be constantly reinforced (p.152). 

El'konin, D.B. "Some results of the study of psychological development of preschool-age children."
The editors' note does not date this entry, which perhaps comes from the two-volume handbook they referenced in the introduction. They do note El'konin's long discussion of the 1936 pedology decree and his use of "testing" as an epithet (p.163). El'konin does indeed discuss pedology at length, approving of the Decree and claiming that pedology "deprived" psychology of "an outlet into pedagogical practice and of the use of genetic analysis of the developmental process" (p.165). He claims that "Vygotskii, one of the Soviet Union's most able psychologists, was in the vanguard of the fight against mechanism and behaviorism and produced many valuable works. In the last years of Vygotskii's life (he died in 1934), in his work on the development of the infant's psychological processes, he was drawn into the stream of pedology. In spite of this, Vygotskii produced a number of studies of the utmost value for child psychology" (p.167).

El'konin goes on to praise Vygotsky's work on thinking and speaking (specifically the 1934 Thinking and speaking) and adds that "Vygotskii was the first in Soviet child psychology to direct attention to the problem of instruction and development and to emphasize the leading role of instruction in the development of the child" (pp.167-168; note that El'konin is more or less defending Vygotsky from Rudneva's charge that he embraced the withering away of school). Yet "he had an erroneous conception of the origin of various aspects of the child's development, which he considered to be the result of a change in the structure of consciousness. On the contrary, the change in the structure of the mind, which occurs during preschool age, is the consequence of the new relations which are coming into being, of a new type of activity on the part of the preschool-age child" (p.168). 

He adds that "during the last years of his life (when he had been drawn into the current of pseudoscientific pedology), Vygotskii was distinguished from the pedologists by his psychological orientation; for him the problem of the concrete psychological characteristics of consciousness and of its development remained the central problem, on which he worked until the last days of his life" (p.168). Meanwhile, other psychologists "had been working on the question of the relation between the development of consciousness and activity, of thought and practice" (p.168), specifically Rubinshtein (p.169). And "about the time Rubinshtein was doing his work, another group of psychologists under the direction of Leont'ev in Kharkov, was carrying out an experimental project aimed at explaining the role of practical 'object' activity in the development of generalization and of other aspects of mental development. This work, begun in the 1930's, sought to extend Vygotskii's research on the development of children's thought, more specifically, the development of generalization. These projects were also directed against Vygotskii's tendency to overestimate the role of speech and communication in this development" (p.169). He quotes Leont'ev's 1935 unpublished manuscript "The mastery of scientific concepts as a problem for educational psychology," which characterized changes in word meaning as following changes in activity (p.170). 

Later, he notes Gal'perin's work in emphasizing "the fundamental difference between tools as used by man and auxiliary instruments used by animals" (p.191). Under the heading of personality, he notes that "Leont'ev (1945, 1948) was the first after Vygotskii to propose a general theory of preschool personality development," based on changes in the structuring of activity (p.201). 

Some brief commentary. In Rehabilitation of hand function, Leont'ev and Zaporozhets argue that after trauma (such as a gunshot wound), a person's functional system reorganizes around protecting the affected limb, and that reorganization can impede rehabilitation. Analogically speaking, Soviet psychology experienced severe trauma with the 1936 Pedology Decree and related events during the Stalinist crackdown, and 20 years later, El'konin is still protecting the affected limb: defending Vygotsky's work while keeping a clear separation. Really, when you delve into the critique of Vygotsky here, it comes down to Vygotsky's focus on word meaning and his refusal to view it as a result of practical activity. This move allows El'konin to draw freely from Vygotsky's works while cutting out some of the later (post-instrumental, holistic) work coinciding with his pedological writings. We can see similar moves going on in other works written around the same time by Soviet psychologists in the cultural-historical and activity theory traditions (including Luria's continued focus on higher psychological functions, as seen earlier in this collection).

Bozhovich, L.I. "The personality of schoolchildren and problems of education."
The editors identify Bozhovich's work as an outgrowth of Vygotsky's work on personality development (pp.209-210). According to Bozhovich, "life conditions per se do not directly and immediately determine a child's personality," but rather "the child's interaction with these external conditions," a principle first expressed by Vygotsky (1934) (p.211). But, Bozhovich says, Vygotsky's main factor—"the level of development of generalization"—is just one of the factors involved (p.213). 

After some discussion, Bozhovich concludes by noting the tendency of Soviet psychologists to "overlook Freud's 'unconscious' and, in general, 'depth psychology'"—understandable (p.242)—but Bozhovich argues that the unconscious does exist: "the child's social needs are the major incentives for study" and "generally the child is not consciously aware of this motivation" (p.243). 

Luria, A.R. "The neuropsychological study of brain lesions and restoration of damaged brain functions"
Those who have read recent reviews of Luria's books on this blog will find this chapter familiar, so I'll just hit the highlights. Luria credits Vygotsky for showing that higher mental processes develop from "the child's interaction with adults"; "Vygotskii brought the problem of instruments which organize psychological processes into the foreground of psychological research," especially speech (p.282). Specifically, Luria overviews Vygotsky's method of double stimulation and highlights the changes in word meaning over a person's life, where it "plays a different role both in the reflection of reality and in the mediation of mental activity at various stages of development" (p.282). Luria states that Vygotsky's theoretical position "made the objective study of human consciousness feasible and placed it at the center of Soviet clinical and general psychology" (p.283). Furthermore (as Luria demonstrates elsewhere), in some cases of neuropsychological damage, speech becomes the basic instrument of compensation (p.284). 

Leont'ev, A.N. "On the biological and social aspects of human development: The training of auditory ability."
"This chapter was taken from A.N. Leont'ev's speech at the 16th International Congress of Psychology in Bonn, Germany, in 1960," the editors tell us (p.423). Leontiev reports on the training of auditory ability, but the interesting thing (for me) was how he positioned the subject vis-a-vis activity theory. He begins by arguing that the development of psychological functions could be passed along, not just biologically, but culturally: once society developed, "progress in the sphere of man's psychological abilities was established and transmitted from one generation to another in a unique form, one that was esoteric, that expressed itself through the phenomena of objective reality. The new form of accumulating and transmitting phylogenetic or, more precisely, historical experience emerged because of certain features which are typical of human activity—namely, its productive, creative aspect, which is most apparent in the basic human activity that work represents" (p.425). "By effecting the process of production, both material and cultural, work is crystallized or assumes final form in its product" and thus "the conversion of human activity into its product appears to be a process whereby man's activity, the activity of human qualities, is embodied in the product produced. The history of material and cultural development thus appears to be a process which, in its external objective form, gives expression to the growth of human abilities" (p.425). The use of tools and instruments "can be thought of as expressing and consolidating the gains man has made with respect to the motor functions of the hand" (p.425; cf. Engels' origin story of humanity). The cultural heritage transcends individuals. The world of objects, developed over the course of history through human activity, must be discovered by the individual in the course of relating them to the activity for which they have been developed (p.425). 

Side note: Vygotsky saw psychological tools as giving new abilities of individuals; Leontiev saw psychological and physical tools as objectifications of human ability, passed down as a heritage and activated by using them in the appropriate activity.

The "individual's relationships to the world of human objects [must] be mediated by his relationships with people, so that these relationships are included in the process of exchange. ... The child is not simply thrown into the human world; he is introduced and guided in this world by people in his environment" (p.426). Through this process, "the individual reproduces abilities which the species Homo sapiens acquired in its social and historical evolution"—what animals acquire through biological inheritance, humans acquire through learning (p.426). 

After discussing his experiments with auditory training, Leontiev concludes that the human cortex is "an organ which is capable of forming organs" (p.438, his emphasis; I'm reminded of Vygotsky's early formulation of consciousness as a reflex of reflexes). Such functional organs, once they form, "appear to manifest elementary innate abilities" such as "spatial, quantitative, or logical structures (gestalts)" (p.438—notice the interaction with Lewin and the gestalt school here). Functional organs function as a single organ; are stable; develop differently from simple chains of reflexes; and can differ even if they perform the same task (pp.438-439). Like Vygotsky in his 1931 book on higher mental functions, Leontiev argues that higher psychological functions are socially determined, but built on lower mental functions which are biologically determined (p.440). "The process of mastering or learning the world of objects and phenomena created by people during the history of society is one in which the individual develops distinctly human abilities and functions," he concludes (p.440). 

Solokov, A.N. "Studies of the speech mechanisms of thinking." 
Solokov based his studies on Vygotsky, Blonskii, and Rubinshtein, arguing that "thought is not only expressed in speech but is formed and carried out in it" (pp.531-532). In fact, abstract thinking is impossible without language—but language is not the same as thought (p.532). Drawing (again) on Pavlov's notion of the second signal system (p.533), Solokov sets up his discussion of Vygotsky's work. In mild criticism, he says that Vygotsky did not always adhere to his own materialist position, but did understand that speech is not simply a mirror reflection of thought (p.534). Blonskii, Solokov reports, criticized Vygotsky's 1934 Thinking and speaking in his own 1935 book Memory and thought, arguing that "thought and speech originate from one source"—work (p.536). Anan'ev later criticized both Vygotsky and Blonskii for not considering "the entire systems of speech activity"—including reading and writing (p.537). 

Solokov then gets into more recent investigations, noting that one can detect differences in electrical potentials of the muscles of the tongue and lower lip when silently reading; of finger extensors and the tongue when recalling events and chess figures; and of the lip and tongue when silently counting and solving math problems (pp.547-551). In fact, "when the motor aphasic clamps his tongue between his teeth, his writing instantly deteriorates" (p.563). Solokov discusses implications for rehabilitation.

In all, this book was a fascinating (and massive) overview of different parts of Soviet psychology, and more directly relevant to my current project, an overview of how Soviet psychologists framed and justified work in the cultural-historical and activity theory traditions between 1959 and 1969. If you're interested in this history, definitely pick up this book. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reading :: A Dynamic Theory of Personality

A Dynamic Theory of Personality
By Kurt Lewin


Yes, I actually read a book that wasn't written by a Soviet psychologist. But don't worry, there's a direct connection: Lewin and Vygotsky were familiar with each other's work, Vygotsky quoted Lewin, and some of Lewin's students worked with Vygotsky and Leontiev. Yasnitsky even claims that activity theory is a mutant or hybrid of Vygotsky's and Lewin's works, although Lewin was not credited for political reasons (although Yasnitsky only sketches this thesis rather than substantiating it).

In any case, this book is a collection of articles by Lewin, published in 1935, the year after Vygotsky's death. The source material had been published during Vygotsky's life, including the lead essay, "The conflict between Aristotelian and Galileian modes of thought in contemporary psychology" (1931). Commentators have said that this essay impacted Vygotsky. (Currently I'm reading Vygotsky's Development of Higher Mental Functions, which mentions Lewin, but characteristically does not provide a cite, and the mention is brief enough that I can't tell whether this lead essay is the one being discussed.)

I'll spend most of my time on this lead essay, which is essentially a manifesto for the development of psychology. Lewin uses the analogy of physics. Aristotelian physics, he says, was anthropocentric, inexact, and normative. It classified phenomena in terms of values: perfect and imperfect. Similarly, he argues, psychology currently draws a value distinction between "normal" and "pathological"; thus it "separated the phenomena which are fundamentally most nearly related" (p.3).

In contrast, Galileian physics changed the interpretation of classification. Whereas Aristotelian physics differentiated dichotomously by class, Galileian physics used continuous gradations and functional rather than substantive concepts (p.5).

Similarly, Aristotelian physics expected things to have a "tendency": it looked for regularity, and peculiarity was understood entirely in historical terms (p.7). It has a notion of "lawfulness," which has a historical or temporal significance set against the sweep of eternity (pp.8-9). In contrast, Galileian physics tends toward quantification, not just because of clocks, but because of a new concept of the physical world (p.10). It relies on the homogenization of the world (p.10)—treating all things with the same laws rather than assuming that things of specific classes had specific tendencies.

Lewin charges that psychology is currently more Aristotelian than Galileian in this sense as well. In terms of lawfulness, it divides cases into common and unusual (p.13). It understands lawfulness in terms of frequency (p.14). It overrelies on class and essence: "Whatever is common to children of a given age is set up as the fundamental character of that age" (p.15; cf. Vygotsky, Leontiev re the same argument). Psychology's use of statistics is Aristotelian, intensifying the tendency to classify cases as common vs. unusual (p.17). Psychology doesn't regard exceptions as counterarguments if they're infrequent (p.19).

This state of affairs does not please Lewin, who wants a Galileian revolution for psychology. "Even psychological law must hold without exception," he argues (p.23). Specifically, he notes that dynamic problems are foreign to Aristotelian physics (and psychology), while they are central to Galileian physics (and psychology) (p.27). Aristotelian physics is teleological, with vectors determined by the object; Galileian physics recognizes that a vector depends on mutual relations of physical facts (p.28). That is, like Vygotsky, Lewin wants to understand the mutual interaction of the object and environment; we can see Leontiev's turn to labor as a general explanatory principle for such a system.

Also like Vygotsky, Lewin believes that a Galileian psychology should not try to control all factors in a series of experiments, but rather it should "comprehend the whole situation involved, with all its characteristics, as precisely as possible" (p.31; compare the bare sketches of experiments that Vygotsky conducted and his discussion of method). And "Instead of a reference to the abstract average of as many historically given cases as possible, there is a reference to the full concreteness of the particular situations" (p.31). (Compare Luria's detailed case studies and his "Romantic science.")

In fact, Lewin argues that it's fine to rely on historically unusual, rare, and transitory events, just as a Galileian physics does (p.35). Indeed, in what Lewin calls a Galileian psychology, you can't validate a case by repetition; you have to refer to "the totality of the concrete whole situation" (p.42). This proposition, frankly, would seem quite counterintuitive to me without the examples from the Vygotsky school!

This lead essay was the most accessible and directly applicable for me, so I'll stop here. It's well worth reading, but I'm separate enough from psychology that I can't evaluate it well. I can, however, see strong resonance with the Vygotsky school. And now I have to read more Lewin.

Reading :: Human Brain and Psychological Processes

Human Brain and Psychological Processes
By A.R. Luria


I just reviewed Luria's Higher Cortical Functions in Man, and if you read that review, this book will sound familiar. Luria published this present book in Russian in 1963, the year after Higher Cortical Functions; both books were published in English in 1966. We see many of the same themes, and Luria notes that the present book was also based on his work from 1938-1963.

In the introduction, Luria notes that interrupted higher mental functions such as writing, reading, and speech can be reconstructed along different paths (p.16). Drawing on Anoshkin, he uses the word "function" to "denote a complex adaptive activity of a whole system, and sometimes of a whole organism" (p.17). Again, he credits Vygotsky and Leontiev for their insights into the social-historical origin of human mental activity (p.21). He argues that an animal's behavior is a result of (a) inborn tendencies and (b) direct, individual experience; but humans can also tap into (c) the experience of mankind in general (p.21). This general experience is incorporated into activity, language, work products, and forms of social life. In fact, mediation—and Luria once again uses the example of the knot in the handkerchief—involves changing one's environment to control one's behavior from the outside, deliberately and socially. "All complex forms of voluntary attention and logical memory, conceptual perception and abstract intellectual activity are the result of the assimilation of socially-formulated activity and have a similar, complex structure. ... all these processes must be interpreted as products of social life, passing through a complex period of historical evolution, organized at different levels and carried out by means of highly involved forms of reflex activity, and all established through the conditions of existence of human society" (p.22).

Indeed, he quotes Vygotsky's Development of the Higher Mental Functions to argue that a function, initially social and shared by two people, gradually crystallizes to become a way to organize the individual's mental life (p.23). "The social-historical conditions of life do not abrogate the laws of reflex processes" developed during biological evolution, "but enrich and reorganize these processes, converting them into more complex functional systems, formed under the influence of objective activity, and with the close participation of language" (p.24).

A bit later in the book, Luria discusses functional location, drawing on Vygotsky, Leontiev, and Zaporozhets to argue "that individual behavioral processes are consistently interconnected during development and that in the process of ontogenesis, not only the structure of individual mental processes, but also their relationship to each other may change" (p.56). Interestingly, here he evokes the idea of "the concrete reflection of the outside world," arguing that this "reflection" "serves as the basis for the construction of new and more complex behavioral processes" (p.56). This interests me in that Soviet psychologists incorporated Lenin's theory of reflection, but understood it differently; Luria is using the term "reflection" here to denote senses, but keeping it separate from the construction of higher mental functions. See also p.3, in which Luria seems to say that direct senses are not psychological processes.

In discussing voluntary memory, Luria cites Vygotsky and Leontiev, noting that memory is compensated by the organizational role of the intellect (p.58).

And that's it for this review. The book becomes more complex here and delves into specific disturbances in thinking, which are fascinating but a bit far afield for my purposes. Like Higher Cortical Functions of Man, this book provides us with a good sense of how Luria applied Vygotsky's insights in his development of a new field, and for that reason, I recommend it.

Reading :: Higher Cortical Functions in Man

Higher Cortical Functions in Man
By A. R. Luria


I'm not actually going to review this entire book—the version I read, the 1966 Basic Books version, is massive—but I do want to touch on the framing. The book is based on Luria's neuropsychological work from the 1930s to the time of writing, and it was a landmark book for the neurosciences, exploding the myth that higher mental functions were associated with specific parts of the brain (the reading center, the writing center, etc.). Rather, Luria argues that these higher functions result from the networking together of different parts of the brain. A disruption of that network—say, a gunshot wound in a specific part of the brain—can interrupt that higher mental function, not because it has destroyed the function's brain center, but because that part of the brain is part of a larger chain. Excitingly, that meant that patients could learn to route around the affected area, reconstructing the chain with a substituted brain area. (If you've read The Man with a Shattered World, you have a concrete example of how such rehabilitation might work.)

Of specific interest to me at present: Luria lavishly credits Vygotsky for the basic insights on which his work is built (and dedicates the book to him). In the Foreword, Luria ties "higher cortical processes" to the "higher mental functions" that Vygotsky described (p.1). Luria bases the generalizations on observations over "the past 25 years" (which would be 1937-1962, since the Russian version was published in 1962, a date range beginning with Luria's internship at Burdenko Institute of Neurosurgery. Luria notes that he "first began his clinicopsychological investigations of local brain lesions more than 30 years ago under the guidance of his friend and teacher L.S. Vygotskii. Much of what is written in the following pages may therefore be looked upon as a continuation of Vygotskii's ideas" (p.2).

Luria continues that line in Section I, "The problem of localization of functions in the cerebral cortex." After reviewing early conceptions of brain localization (e.g., brain centers), he argues that "no formation of the central nervous system is responsible for solely a single function"—rather, there are networked functional systems (p.27). In fact, as was well known, a brain lesion can disturb voluntary performance while leaving involuntary performance intact; Luria argues that the result of such a brain lesion is not loss but disorganization (cf. Leontiev and Zaporozhets). Indeed, Luria argues that
The principal achievement of modern psychology may be considered to be the rejection of both the idealistic notion that higher mental functions are manifestations of a certain 'mind' principle, distinct from all other natural phenomena, and the naturalistic assumption that these functions are natural properties bestowed by nature upon the human brain. One of the major advances in modern materialistic psychology has been the introduction of the historical method by means of which higher mental functions are regarded as complex products of sociohistorical development. (p.31)
He goes on to cite Vygotsky—specifically his book Development of the Higher Psychological Functions, of courseand Leontiev, and "to a certain extent" Janet and Wallon (p.31). Specifically, he notes Vygotsky's argument that "social contaact between the child and adults always lies at the root of such forms of activity as paying attention or voluntary movement" (p.33). This social genesis "determines the second fundamental characteristic of these functions, their mediate structure"; here, Luria uses the example of an external sign such as a knot or note to organize a mental process. Speech, he notes, "plays a decisive role in the mediation of mental processes," a claim that he supplements with a quote by Lenin (p.33). Indeed, he praises Pavlov for recognizing "the 'second signal system,' which is based on speech" (p.34). And:
The fact that systems of speech connections are necessary components of the higher mental functions makes the cerebral organization of these functions an extremely complex matter. We therefore suggest that the material basis of the higher nervous process is the brain as a whole but that the brain is a highly differentiated system whose parts are responsible for different aspects of the unified whole. (p.35)
He goes on to endorse Leontiev's "functional brain organs," which are "formed in the process of social contact and objective activity by the child" (p.35). The "upper associative layers of the cerebral cortex, the vertical connections arising in the secondary associative nuclei of the thalamus, and the overlapping zones uniting different boundaries of cortical analyzers evidently constitute the apparatus that performs this highly complex task. It is in man that this apparatus of the brain has attained its highest development, sharply distinguishing the human brain from that of animals. We, therefore, agree with the view that evolution, under the influence of social conditions, accomplishes the task of conversion of the cortex into an organ capable of forming functional organs (Leont'ev, 1961, p.38)" (p.35).

Luria again credits Vygotsky's insight that "higher mental functions may exist only as a result of interaction between the highly differentiated brain structures and that individually these structures make their own specific contributions to the dynamic whole and play their own roles in the functional system. This hypothesis ... is a thread running through the whole of the book" (p.36). In their early stages, higher mental functions "depend on the use of external evocative signs" (here he cites Leont'ev and Vygotsky), and "Only when this is complete do they gradually consolidate, so that the whole process is converted into a concise action, based initially on external and then on internal speech" (p.36). In fact, we can conclude that higher mental functions's structure "does not remain constant but that they perform the same task by means of different, regularly interchanging systems of connections" (p.36).

The foundations of higher mental functions are in simple sensory processes, so disturbing these senses or their integration will cause underdevelopment. In fact, Vygotsky formulated a rule: in early stages of ontogenesis, a brain lesion will primarily affect a higher center, i.e., a function that is developmentally dependent on the area where the lesion is located. But in the stage of fully formed functional systems, a lesion in the same area will primarily affect a lower center, one regulated by that function (p.37).

We'll stop here. Luria goes on to discuss agnosia, apraxia, and various other issues associated with brain lesions as well as his diagnostic methods. But for we humble non-neurologists, the central insights of the book are in the review above. Luria clearly took Vygotsky's book on the higher mental functions as his starting point, he is unstinting with his praise for Vygotsky's work, and he used it to illuminate a new field. If you are even marginally interested in these issues, or in Soviet psychology, I highly recommend the book.

Reading :: Rehabilitation of Hand Function

Rehabilitation of hand function
By A.N. Leont'ev and A.V. Zaporozhet͡s

What does hand rehabilitation have to do with psychology? More than I expected. In this book (published in Russian in 1945 and in English in 1960), the authors recount experiments in hand rehabilitation from the perspective of Soviet psychology. And in the process, they lay down markers for what would become the dominant framework for Soviet psychology, activity theory.

Let's put this book in context. Leontiev had worked under Vygotsky in the early 1930s, but then took a job at Kharkov along with other members of the Vygotsky-Luria network. Throughout the early 1930s, Leontiev and Vygotsky differed in their ideas of how Soviet psychology should develop: Vygotsky thought that the root phenomenon to study was word meaning or sense, while Leontiev argued that the root phenomenon was actually labor. Vygotsky died in 1934, and the Vygotsky-Luria network (the "cultural-historical school") came under Stalinist attack in 1936-1937 for being insufficiently adherent to the party line. Leontiev's angle of focusing on labor was easier to defend. In 1940, Leontiev defended his dissertation and in his article "The Genesis of Activity," he laid the tenets for activity theory. (He has been accused of lifting these tenets from Rubinshtein, who sat on his committee.)

When Nazi Germany violated its nonaggression pact with the USSR in June 1941, the Soviet Union moved to a war footing. On February 5, 1943, the USSR established a system of rehabilitation hospitals—and, according to the foreword of this book, by Col.-General E. Smirnov, "it was forbidden to discharge officers and men who were capable of rehabilitation" (p.ix). Luria and Leontiev were assigned to head two of these rehabilitation hospitals.

The book at hand was written based on two research cycles, in 1943 and 1944, focusing on rehabilitation of hand function. Both involved Zaporozhets directly, while Leontiev supervised as scientific director; others were involved, including Gal'perin (first cycle) and Rubinshtein (second cycle) (p.xiii). Zaporozhets wrote Ch.4-9, while Leontiev wrote Ch.1-3 and 10.

In Ch.1, Leontiev sets out the task at hand (no pun intended). He begins by noting that people with restricted movements will perform differently depending on the conditions: telling them to "raise your arm as high as you can" gives poorer results when their eyes are closed compared to when they have their eyes open and are against a ruled screen—and the results are even better when they are asked to "take this object" (p.5). Beginning with the basics of activity theory—actions, motives, object, and activity—Leontiev argues that the differences in performance have to do with the meaning of the action. That is, the "same" action will be invested with a different attitude and orientation depending on the framing activity (p.14). Specifically, the person being rehabilitated may integrate the action into an "activity of self-defence" or "an activity with a difficult motive" (p.14). (In a footnote: "The term 'object' is used here, of course, in its widest sense meaning everything towards which the action is directed" (p.14)).

And this is why hand rehabilitation comes under the heading of psychology. "The character of a movement is determined not by its own motor task and not by the original orientation of the patients' own personality but by the concrete relationship of the one to the other in the given action" (p.16, his emphasis). This insight leads Leontiev to developing occupational therapy. OT already existed before the Soviets got to it, of course, but it had two virtues. First, it got results. Second, it fit the Soviet focus—and specifically Leontiev's focus—on labor. In later chapters, we'll see how this focus on labor plays out.

In Ch.2, Leontiev examines "the co-ordination of deranged movement" (p.17). He argues, following Anokhin and Sherrington, that in trauma such as gunshot wounds, the motor experience is disorganized, and "even when there is complete anatomical preservation of the central and peripheral system, the co-ordination of the movement may be disturbed to some degree" (p.18). Thus rehabilitation should first focus on restoring coordination (p.18). To improve coordination, the researchers used a kymograph (crediting Luria's work with the combined motor method) to provide feedback to patients as they undertook tasks with the uninjured and injured limbs (p.19; the method is quite vague). When patients had this visual feedback, they were able to smooth out their movements in moments (p.21). The task had been reorganized around different stimuli. (I was reminded of the work Leontiev later published in Problems of the Development of Mind in which he supposedly trained people to detect light with their hands—work that A.A. Leontiev later characterized as parapsychology.) The researchers found that the degree of discoordination was not directly correlated to the range of movement (p.26).

Just a note here. Leontiev's experiments (well, the ones he supervised) were not as elegant and clean as Vygotsky's or Luria's. They involved elaborate mechanisms, sketchy statistics, and in places, endless case studies.

Also in this chapter, Leontiev reports on rehabilitation after Krukenberg's operation — an operation for someone whose hand has to be amputated. Essentially, the radius and ulna are separated and the Pronator teres muscle is wrapped around both, allowing the patient to use the two bones as an elongated pincer. Obviously, this operation requires the patient to substantially reconstruct both motor and sensory impulses. In their experiments, the research team concluded that this reconstruction does not simply involve elementary sensation — untrained patients couldn't tell if they were feeling a cube or a cylinder, while trained patients could. (Notice the implications for applying Lenin's reflection theory—you can see them in Leontiev's application.)

Moving on. In Ch.4, Zaporohets discusses "the problem of motor organization and the restoration of movement" (p.63). Here, he argues that trauma leads to a new functional system to protect the injured organ. This functional system should be temporary, but can become fixed.

Interestingly, Zaporozhets emphasizes the practical importance of the work, especially in its aims of putting people back to work (p.64)—the theme of labor as well as the practicality that characterized Stalinist science. In a later chapter, Zaporozhets lauds "the general tonic and encouraging power of rational work activity" in comparison to gymnastic movements and occupational therapy meant to rehabilitate limbs, but without a framing activity (p.146). He quotes Luria along these lines as well (p.148), and he notes that the motivation of activity has a large impact on outcomes—"casual and meaningless orders" can have a "chilling effect" on recovery, while "more consequential and complicated tasks" can accelerate it (p.149).

Leontiev and Zaporozhets, then, wanted to put the occupation back into occupational therapy. One can see how this line of research would be welcome to the overtaxed war leadership of the USSR: not only can the wounded be put back to work, it was good for them! They even give the example of dispirited patients reviving when they were given the meaningful task of manufacturing "window frames and furniture to replace that destroyed by the Germans at Stalingrad" (p.150). Labor, which had created humanity, could also rehabilitate it.

Interestingly, some occupational therapists have also explored this link, although I haven't had the chance to read that literature.

In any case, I found the book interesting in terms of understanding what Leontiev was up to during the war years and how that experience bore on his development of activity theory. For activity theorists not working in OT, I think the book is primarily interesting for historical purposes, but it's still interesting!