Alexander Luria — life, research and contribution to neuroscience. Kostyanaya, M. International Journal of Neuropsychotherapy , 1 2 , Abstract This article focuses on the Soviet psychologist and founder of Russian neuropsychology, Alexander Romanovich Luria, and his contribution to the development of neuroscience globally. It has been regretfully noted that a dearth of documentary materials exists on both the origins of Soviet neuropsychology and the life of its founder, Alexander Romanovich Luria Akhutina, , p. Among the possible reasons for this are the restricted nature of the political and scientific environments of the time, a deficit in translation, the complexity of theoretical principles involved, and perhaps the modesty or reserved character of the author himself Luria, , p.

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Alexander Luria — life, research and contribution to neuroscience. Kostyanaya, M. International Journal of Neuropsychotherapy , 1 2 , Abstract This article focuses on the Soviet psychologist and founder of Russian neuropsychology, Alexander Romanovich Luria, and his contribution to the development of neuroscience globally.

It has been regretfully noted that a dearth of documentary materials exists on both the origins of Soviet neuropsychology and the life of its founder, Alexander Romanovich Luria Akhutina, , p. Among the possible reasons for this are the restricted nature of the political and scientific environments of the time, a deficit in translation, the complexity of theoretical principles involved, and perhaps the modesty or reserved character of the author himself Luria, , p.

However, it seems that recognition could have extended far beyond these areas. Acknowledging the deep interest and fascination for the figure of Luria shared by many of his contemporaries and disciples, we aim to present here a brief overview of his scientific achievements.

The immediate family of Luria resided in Kazan, an old university town and major commercial center on the Volga River, miles southeast of Moscow. Refusing to embark on a purely medical career, Alexander Romanovich nevertheless always maintained a connection with medical schools, and shared with his father a particular interest in German psychosomatic science.

The climate of intellectual development that dominated his family as well as a profound knowledge of German, French and English enabled Luria to reconcile major scientific ideas of his predecessors and contemporaries. Following gymnasium study from to , Luria was accepted into the Faculty of Social Sciences at Kazan University. Being especially interested in psychoanalysis, Luria organized the Kazan Psychoanalysis Study Group, with the first meeting held in In his answer, Freud expressed much surprise and gave authorization to translate his work Glozman, , p.

After publishing in a monograph on the basic tendencies of modern psychology, Luria began to write articles for the journal Problems of Psychophysiology of Labor and Reflexology. It was this that attracted the attention of Professor K.

Kornilov, the Director of the Moscow Institute of Psychology, who subsequently invited the young Luria to conduct research in Moscow. During the late s, Luria worked at the Institute of Psychology with another remarkable Russian psychologist, Alexei Nikolaevich Leontiev, on the combined motor method for the purpose of understanding complex human behavior or the influence of affective reactions on motor reactions.

As the result of their work, several articles were published, leading to further development of the first lie detector in the criminal justice setting Luria, , p. Petersburg , Luria first met Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky. At that time, Luria and Vygotsky also started their first experiments on patients with brain impairment. Initially they tried to determine the relationship between the elementary and higher forms of mental activity as well as their cerebral representation in healthy adults.

Further on, the young researchers focused on the processes that might appear in the conditions of brain impairment in early abnormal ontogenetic development Glozman, , p.

In the end, they came up with some first ideas on the social-historical approach to the origins of human mind. Concurrently, a group of five students including L. Bozhovich, R. Levina, N. Morozova, L. Slavina, and A. In addition to the work with Vygotsky, this period was significant for Luria in establishing his ideas on the planning and regulating role of speech and aphasia as the first developments of Russian neuropsychology.

In Luria presented two of his works at the Psychological Congress in the United States: the first on the combined motor method, and the second on egocentric speech in children.

It was on a trip to Germany during this time that he also met Levin, Kohler, and Zeigarnik, and participated in the experiments of Dembo. In Luria carried out his first expedition to the Central Asian region of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Uzbekistan, with a second expedition following in As a result of hostile interrogation by the government, however, Luria was first accused of research based on racism theories, and by the Vygotsky group had to cease their investigation of the social-historical development of mental processes.

In Luria married Lana Linchina, a scientist, who remained his wife for the rest of his life. Due to censorship persecution, Luria had to leave Moscow for Kharkov along with some of his colleagues, where he started lecturing at the Academy of Psychoneurology as well as studying at the Medical Institute and working at the clinic. At that time, Luria continued his investigation of the changes of mental processes in patients with brain impairments.

This period of scientific work is remarkable for the study of the development of identical and fraternal twins and the role of heredity and external factors in mental processes.

However, due to yet another governmental restriction on genetic psychology in , Luria was forced to leave all his places of work and became a full-time student of the First Medical Institute, while he worked on his doctoral dissertation. In Luria presented his dissertation on sensory aphasia at the Tbilisi Institute of Psychology and graduated with a medical degree from the First Moscow Medical Institute. During the period from to , Luria worked at the neurological clinic of the Institute of Experimental Medicine as head of the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, with a focus on the study of three forms of aphasia.

This time enabled Luria to assemble an enormous collection of data, facilitating work in two main directions: firstly, devising methods for the diagnosis of local cerebral lesions and the side effects caused by the brain damage involved, and secondly, developing rational scientific methods for the rehabilitation and treatment of patients.

Back in Moscow in , Luria began working at the clinic of the Neurosurgical Institute and lecturing at Moscow University. Soon, however, in , the harshness of the political environment in the Soviet Union prompted Luria along a different pathway once again. There he expressed interest in research into the planning and regulatory role of speech in human behavior, and particularly in the development of verbal regulation in mentally retarded children.

While concurrently lecturing at Moscow University, Luria managed to develop specific tests for children for diagnostic and treatment purposes. The main focus of these psychological tools remained on speech development in special education settings.

In the years following the death of Stalin in , there was an easing of restrictions behind the Iron Curtain, and from it became possible to exchange knowledge and experience between the Soviet Union and other countries.

In Luria was elected to re-establish the Neurosurgical Institute, where, with the help of his former students Fillipicheva, Homskaya, Pradina, and Tsvetkova, the laboratory continued the study of the organization of mental functions in the brain. The work was dedicated to the methods and procedures of localization and the restoration of cerebral impairments and corresponding functions. From the time of the re-establishment of the laboratory in the Neurosurgical Institute until the end of life, Luria primarily concentrated on the cerebral organization of human mental processes.

In the late s, Luria shifted his interest to the dysfunction of the frontal lobes, leading to the second volume of Human Brain and Psychological Processes Later, Luria set out to write Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations b , where he could finally discuss openly his research conducted in Central Asia. The late s and s were fruitful in terms of publications in Russia and abroad.

Just weeks after his 75th birthday, on August 14, , Alexander Romanovich Luria died from a heart attack in Moscow.

At the time, he was writing what would be his last work, entitled Paradoxes of Memory , the English volume of which was published only in Homskaya, , p. Luria posited that human mental processes represented complex functional systems that involved groups of brain areas working in concert, each making a unique contribution to the organization of a functional system.

Thus, Luria designated three principal functional units of the brain necessary for human mental processes in general and conscious activity in particular Luria, , p. Each of these three units appears to have a hierarchical structure comprising three cortical zones based one upon the other: the primary projection area, which receives impulses from or sends impulses to the periphery, the secondary projection-association area, where incoming information is processed and programs are prepared, and the tertiary zones of overlapping areas—the latest systems of the cerebral hemispheres to develop, which are responsible for the most complex forms of mental activity requiring the concerted involvement of many cortical areas.

Luria argued that the organized course of mental activity—when one is receiving and analyzing information, the activity is programmed, and the mental processes are checked by mistake correction—cannot be obtained without the waking state. Luria mentioned in this regard Magoun and Moruzzi, who in showed that the reticular formation in the brain stem, with the structure of a nerve net, gradually modulates the whole state of the nervous system Luria, , p. This finding showed that the structures maintaining and regulating cortical tone are located in the subcortex and brain stem, and have a double relationship with the cortex.

Specifically, the ascending reticular system activates the cortex and regulates the state of activity, while the descending reticular system subordinates the lower structures to the control of the cortex. Luria claimed that this discovery was suggestive of a vertical organization to all structures of the brain, with the first functional unit of the brain maintaining cortical tone and the waking state and regulating these states in accordance with the conditions confronting the organism.

Importantly, the reticular formation had both activating and inhibiting portions Luria, , p. The first of three principle sources of activation of the reticular formation was the metabolic processes leading to the maintenance of homeostasis. The higher nuclei of the mesencephalic, diencephalic, and limbic reticular formation also took part in more complex systems of instinctive or unconditioned-reflex food-getting, sexual and defensive behavior.

These two subdivisions of activation sources were similar in that they occurred in the body, but different in their level of complexity. The second source of activation related to the arrival of stimuli from the outside world and represented an orienting reflex Luria, , p. Here Luria referred to the experiments of Hebb and the human need for incoming information. He further elaborated on the investigative activity of humans as well as the need for increased alertness as the form of mobilization in a constantly changing environment.

It is noteworthy that Luria viewed these highest forms of organizational activity as subject to the vertical principle of construction in the functional systems of the brain.

In summarizing his findings concerning this first functional unit, Luria asserted that impairments showed the relation between disturbances of memory and disturbances of consciousness Luria, , p. This unit is characterized by high modal specificity of the primary and projection areas.

Those modally-specific zones are built in accordance with a single principle of hierarchical organization articulated by Campbell as cited in Luria, , p. The core projection areas of this unit are surrounded by systems of secondary or gnostic cortical zones that contain more associative neurons to implement the synthetic function of converting the somatotopic projection of impulses into their functional organization.

Luria defined three fundamental laws of the work structure of the cortical zones of the second and the third brain units Luria, , p. With the occurrence of right-handedness in humans, due to processes such as work and speech, some degree of lateralization of functions takes place Luria, However, this dominance of the left hemisphere is relative in character Luria, The third principal functional unit is responsible for human intentions, the formation of plans and programs of actions, inspection of performance, verification of conscious activity, and regulation of behavior Luria, The motor cortex and the parts of the great pyramidal tract are core brain structures of the unit this cortical area is projectional in character.

However, a tonic background is also requited, delivered by the basal motor ganglia and the fibers of the extrapyramidal system. The impulses should be well prepared with the help of superposed secondary areas of the motor cortex, and only after that can they be sent out to the precentorial gyrus and then to the giant pyramidal cells. Other structures responsible for preparation of motor programs include the upper layers of the cortex and the extracellular grey matter of dendrites and glia that controls the giant pyramidal cells of Betz.

This unit, therefore, as an efferent system, runs in the descending direction, starting from the highest levels of the tertiary and secondary zones where the motor plans are formed, to the structures of the primary motor area and periphery Luria, Importantly, the premotor areas can be allocated to the secondary divisions of the cortex.

These areas play an organizing role for movements. The second distinctive feature of this unit is that it works under the influence of the second or afferent brain unit and consists entirely of systems of efferent zones.

Luria asserted that complex psychological processes have systemic structure and that each form of conscious activity represents a complex functional system and takes place through the concerted working of all three brain units Luria, In conclusion, one should say that the fascinating work of Alexander Luria is greatly underappreciated in neuroscience.

While his compatriots Lev Vygotsky and Ivan Pavlov received much recognition and many accolades for their contributions in the fields of psychology and the biology of behavior, Luria remained relatively unknown. His description of the bottom-up development of the brain and indicators for treatment provided critical direction for future research and are in line with later neural research by Paul D. MacLean , who developed the theory of the triune brain.

The resemblances with the development of the paleomammalian and neomammalian complexes are also clearly identifiable. One can only marvel at the insights of Luria and speculate on the possible advances in neuroscience had the effects of ideological isolation not been the global phenomenon that they were.

Akhutina, T. Vygotsky and A. Luria: Foundations of neuropsychology. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, 41 , —


A.R. Luria

Luria has left an enduring legacy that is widely respected in the scientific community [ 2 ]. Although he is often referred to as the father of neuropsychology, this interest developed much later in his professional career. Luria has been widely celebrated and honored outside of the Soviet Union, yet his contributions have not been fully recognized by his native country of Russia [ 3 ]. Luria was born in Kazan, Russia in


Alexander Luria: life, research & contribution to neuroscience

Luria , born July 3, , Kazan , Russia—died , Soviet neuropsychologist. After earning degrees in psychology , education, and medicine, he became professor of psychology at Moscow State University and later head of its department of neuropsychology. Influenced by his former teacher L. Vygotsky, he studied language disorders and the role of speech in mental development and intellectual disability.

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