L.Vygotsky, A.Luria and Developmental Neuropsychology

By Akhutina, Tatyana, V; Pylaeva, Nataly M. | Psychology in Russia, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

L.Vygotsky, A.Luria and Developmental Neuropsychology


Akhutina, Tatyana, V, Pylaeva, Nataly M., Psychology in Russia


Lev Vygotsky is a founder of cultural-historical psychology. His name is commonly associated with general and developmental psychology, educational psychology, defectology, and psychology of art. Alexander Luria is known as a founding father of neuropsychology. According to the survey of neuropsychologists, conducted by Charles Long in the 1980s, Luria was named ?1 among the ten founders of neuropsychology (Puante, 1998). Why do contemporary neuropsychologists call the approach that they are developing the Vygotsky-Luria approach? There are two reasons for it. First, theoretical foundations of neuropsychology, its main principles were created by both scientists on the basis of cultural - historical concepts suggested by Vygotsky (Luria, 1967, 1980; Khomskaya, 1996; Akhutina, 2003; Achutina, 2004; Glozman, 2002). A second reason is that Vygotsky made a significant contribution to our understanding of child mental development in its norm and pathology and, consequently, a number of advancements in child neuropsychology are particularly closely connected with his ideas (Akhutina, 2010).

The following facts illustrate the joint efforts of both researchers to lay the foundation of neuropsychology. In 1925, Lev Vygotsky joined Alexander Luria in the Clinic of Nervous Diseases of Moscow University, which today is a part of the I.M. Sechenov Medical University of Moscow. There was a small laboratory headed by Luria who investigated neuroses with the help of "conjugated motor tests". Vygotsky posed another - more fundamental - problem: he wanted to discover the arguments for a new natural-scientific psychology that could explain not only elementary but also higher mental functions proper to human beings in adults, pathology, as well as in child development. He set a task to combine the paradigms of "Naturwissenschaften" and "Geisteswissenschaften". It was described in his early program (1924): "This new psychology will be a branch of the general biology and at the same time the basis of all sociological sciences. It will be the knot that ties the science of nature and the science of man together" (Vygotsky, 1997a, vol. 3, p. 61).

In November of 1930 at the "inner conference" in the same clinic Vygotsky set a goal of studying "psychological systems and their fates", i.e. their genesis, functioning and disintegration (Vygotsky, 1997a, vol. 3, pp. 91-107). In 1931 Vygotsky and Luria resumed their medical studies having been accepted at the same time to the Kharkov Medical Institute. They study together for the exams and discuss clinical cases that Vygotsky carried in Moscow (there are notes in his archive on a number of patients, some of which are presented in: Zavershneva, 2010) and Luria - in Kharkov. In his letter (June 26, 1933) from Kharkov to L.P. Linchina, his future wife, Luria wrote the following:

"I am completing my studies of aphasia patients, I keep trying to convince the old sweets that father's brother is not the same as brother's father. <...> Currently, very interesting material comes in plenty: cases of agnosia, agraphia, postnatal psychosis with aphasia <...> we are drowning in the abundance of unique cases. I am head over heels in medicine. I spend all time with Vygotsky studying pathophysiology, and, of course, thinking about you" (E.A. Luria, 1994, pp. 80-81).

Thus, it is not surprising that on November 21, 1933 in reply to Luria's question concerning the possibility of publishing a series of articles on the "investigation of higher psychological functions in their development and disintegration" Vygotsky wrote: "Finally, about the series. If they are going to actually publish it and publish regularly (from issue to issue without fail), it is necessary to take it with all responsibility. I have [the articles] 1) The classification of aphasia; 2) Birenbaum and Vygotsky. Aphasia and dementia; 3) Birenbaum and Zeigarnik. Agnosia; 4) Vygotsky - written speech in cases of brain lesions; 5) Vygotsky - grammar disorders - 'ohne Zahl' [here: without number, numberless] as our patient answers the question 'How many fingers are there on one hand? …

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