Luria, Alexander


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Luria (1902-1977) was born in Kazan, Russia of Jewish descent. He defied a parental wish that he should read medicine in order to study Social Sciences. His fascination with psychology led him to found a psychoanalytical circle when still an undergraduate, though he later rejected Freud. He encountered Pavlov while conducting early experimental research into the effects of stress on hum an motor reactions. He admired Pavlov's physiological work, but could never accept his view that human behaviour could be reduced to reflexes and conditioned reflexes. In 1924 Luria found a kindred spirit in Vygotsky, who probably stimulated his interest in how brain damage and disease affect human intellectual capacities. After graduating in medicine, Luria developed sophisticated methods for the assessment and rehabilitation of individuals (particularly servicemen) with brain injuries. He was dismissed from his post in 1950. This was probably because of what in communist USSR would ha ve been viewed as 'politically incorrect' opposition to Pavlov's rejection of mind and consciousness. Fortunately he was reinstated and thereafter published extensively in neuropsychology and neurolinguistics (the study of language disorders and their organic bases), and made many contacts in the West, before his death in 1977. Luria is best known outside Russia for contributions in two areas. The first of these is his extensive work on the systematic description and assessment of language disorders and their basis in brain dysfunction. In this area Luria was an influential figure and much quoted figure in the foundation of modern neuropsychology. He is also acclaimed for his 30-year single-case study of the mnemonist 'S'. In this he combined extensive laboratory-type tests with records based on S's introspections about his methods. His study was additionally enriched by his clinical interest, which led him to relate the odd functioning of S's memory to his fragile integrity as a person. All of this took place spanning a time when both Western and Russian psychology were dominated by a narrow interpretation of the scientific method, a rejection of the relevance of introspective reports, and a refusal to engage with the workings of the human mind. In his methodological eclecticism and his acceptance of mind as a legitimate focus of psychological theory, and in common with his countryman Vygotsky, Luria was arguably many generations ahead of his time. Sources: Gregory, R.L. The Oxford Companion to the Mind, Oxf ord, Oxford University Press; Luria, A.R. (1968) The Mind of a Mnemonist, New York, Basic Books.