Alexander Luria

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Alexander Luria
Born (1902-07-16)16 July 1902
Kazan, Russian Empire
Died 14 August 1977(1977-08-14) (aged 75)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet
Fields Psychology
Alma mater Kazan State University
Influences Lev Vygotsky
Influenced Oliver Sacks
Roman Jakobson[1]

Alexander Romanovich Luria (Russian: Алекса́ндр Рома́нович Лу́рия; 16 July 1902 – 14 August 1977) was a famous Soviet neuropsychologist and developmental psychologist. He was one of the founders of Cultural-Historical Psychology, and a leader of the Vygotsky Circle. Luria's magnum opus was his textbook on neuropsychology titled Higher Cortical Functions in Man (1962) which has been translated into multiple languages, and which was supplemented with his book titled The Working Brain in the 1970s. Apart from his work with Vygotsky, Luria is widely known for his later work with two extraordinary psychological case studies, his study of a man with a highly advanced memory, published as "The Mind of a Mnemonist", and the study of a man with traumatic brain injury, published as "The Man with a Shattered World".


Luria was born in Kazan, a regional center east of Moscow, to Jewish parents. He studied at Kazan State University (graduated in 1921), Kharkiv Medical Institute and 1st Moscow Medical Institute (graduated in 1937). He was appointed Professor (1944), Doctor of Pedagogical (1937) and Medical Sciences (1943). Throughout his career Luria worked in a wide range of scientific fields at such institutions as the Academy of Communist Education (1920-1930s), Experimental Defectological Institute (1920-1930s, 1950-1960s, both in Moscow), Ukrainian Psychoneurological Academy (Kharkiv, early 1930s), All-Union Institute of Experimental Medicine, Burdenko Institute of Neurosurgery (late 1930s), and other institutions. In the late 1930s, Luria went to medical school. Following the war, Luria continued his work in Moscow's Institute of Psychology. For a period of time, he was removed from the Institute of Psychology, mainly as a result of a flare-up of anti-Semitism and shifted to research on intellectually disabled children at the Defectological Institute in the 1950s. Additionally, from 1945 on Luria worked at the Moscow State University and was instrumental in the foundation of the Faculty of Psychology at the Moscow State University, where he later headed the Departments of Patho- and Neuropsychology.

Early life and childhood[edit]

Luria was born on 16 July 1902 in the city of Kazan into a medical family. According to Luria's biographer Evgenia Homskaya, his father, Roman Albertovich Luria "worked as a professor at the University of Kazan; and after the Russian Revolution, he became a founder and chief of the Kazan institute of Advanced Medical Education."[2] Two monographs of his father's writings were published in Russian under the titles, Stomach and Gullet Illnesses (1935) and Inside Look at Illness and Gastrogenic Diseases (1935).[3] His mother, Evgenia Viktorovna Haskin (maiden name), became a practicing dentist after finishing college in Poland. Luria was one of two children and his younger sister Lydia became a practicing psychiatrist.[4] While still a student in Kazan, he established the Kazan Psychoanalytic Association and exchanged letters with Sigmund Freud.

Early education and move to Moscow[edit]

Luria completed his adolescent education ahead of schedule and was also published in Bekterev's scientific journal before reaching the age of twenty. As stated by Homskaya, "At the end of 1921, Luria moved to Moscow, settling ... on the Arbat street near Smolenskaya. His parents also lived in the Arbat area, which allowed Luria to maintain close relationships with them."[5] Simultaneously, Luria "was offered a position at the Moscow Institute of Psychology, run at that time by Professor K.N. Kornilov."[6] Luria wrote three books during the 1920s after moving to Moscow titled, The Nature of Human Conflicts, Speech and Intellect in Child Development, and Speech and Intellect of Urban, Rural and Homeless Children. Only this second title was published in the 1920s, in 1928, while the other two were published in the 1930s. Luria met a large number of scholars in Moscow during the 1920s, which included Leontiev, Zaporozhets, Vygotsky, Slavina, Levina, Bozhovich, and Morozova, some of whom would remain lifelong colleagues.[7] During the writing of these three books during the 1920s, Homskaya reports that "Luria demonstrated that syntagmatic verbal connections appear earlier in ontogenetic development than paradigmatic connections. This was an important discovery for neurolinguistics."[8] In 1923, his work with reaction times related to thought processes earned him a position at the Institute of Psychology in Moscow.

While at the Institute of Psychology in Moscow, Luria developed the "combined motor method," which helped diagnose individuals' thought processes, creating the first ever lie-detector device. This research was published in the US in 1932 as The Nature of Human Conflicts (published in Russian for the first time only in 2002, other than Luria's defense of it as a doctoral dissertation at the Institute of Tbilisi in 1937). In 1924, Luria met Lev Vygotsky, who would influence him greatly. Along with Alexei Nikolaevich Leont'ev, these three psychologists launched a project of developing a psychology of a radically new kind. This approach fused "cultural", "historical", and "instrumental" psychology and is most commonly referred to presently as cultural-historical psychology. It emphasizes the mediatory role of culture, particularly language, in the development of higher mental functions in ontogeny and phylogeny within the domain of cognitive-mediation theory.

Multiculturalism and neurology[edit]

The 1930s were significant to Luria due to his prescient studies of indigenous people as opening the field of multiculturalism to his general interests.[9] This interest would be revived in the later twentieth century by a variety of scholars and researchers who began studying and defending indigenous peoples throughout the world. Luria's work continued in this field with his psychological expeditions to Central Asia. Under the supervision of Vygotsky, Luria investigated various psychological changes (including perception, problem solving, and memory) that take place as a result of cultural development of undereducated minorities. In this regard he has been credited with a major contribution to the study of orality.[10]

Also, Luria decided to pursue a degree as a medical doctor which he completed with honors in the summer of 1937. After rewriting and reorganizing his manuscript for The Nature of Human Conflicts, Luria defended it as a doctoral dissertation at the Institute of Tbilisi in 1937, and, "At the age of thirty-four, he was one of the youngest professors of psychology in the country."[11] In 1933, Luria married Lana P. Lipchina, a then well-known specialist in microbiology with a doctorate in the biological sciences.[12] The couple lived in Moscow on Frunze Street where their only daughter Lena (Elena) was born.[13]

Luria also studied identical and fraternal twins in large residential schools to determine the interplay of various factors of cultural and genetic human development. In his early neuropsychological work in the end of the 1930s as well as throughout his postwar academic life he focused on the study of aphasia, focusing on the relation between language, thought, and cortical functions, particularly on the development of compensatory functions for aphasia.

The war years[edit]

For Luria, the war with Germany which ended in 1945 resulted in a number of significant developments for the future of his career in both psychology and neurology. Of specific importance for Luria was his being assigned by the government to the care of a very large number of hospitalized patients suffering from traumatic brain injury caused by the war.[14] As Homskaya states, Luria's treatment methods dealt with "dysfunctions (which) varied from minor problems of sensitivity and perception to severe intellectual disabilities."[15] Luria's research notes on these nearly 800 patients were kept with meticulous thoroughness and Luria defined his three possibilities of functional recovery as: "(1) disinhibition of a temporarily blocked function; (2) involvement of the vicarious potential of the opposite hemisphere; and (3) reorganization of the function system," which he described in his book titled Functional Recovery From Military Brain Wounds, (Moscow, 1948, Russian only.) A second book titled Traumatic Aphasia was written in 1947 in which "Luria formulated an original conception of the neural organization of speech and its disorders (aphasias) that differed significantly from the existing western conceptions about aphasia."[16] Soon after the end of the war, Luria was assigned a permanent position at the central Moscow State University in General Psychology where he would predominantly stay for the remainder of his life. By 1946, his father, Roman Albertovich the chief of the gastroenterological clinics at Botkin Hospital had himself died of stomach cancer. Luria's mother Evgenia Viktorovna survived him by several years before she died in 1950.[17]

Luria in the 1950s[edit]

The 1950s provided an opportunity for Luria to do his most pioneering research in child psychology during his lifetime, and allowed him to permanently disassociate himself from the primary influence which Pavlov's early research was still exerting in the Soviet Union during the 1950s.[18] Luria was able to effectively disassociate himself from this early influence of Pavlov by publicly asserting that his own interests were limited to a specific examination of "Pavlov's second signal system" and not with Pavlov's simplified primary explanation of human behavior as based on a "conditioned reflex by means of positive reinforcement."[19] Luria's continued interest in the regulative function of speech was further revisited in the mid-1950s and was summarized in his 1957 monograph titled, The Role of Speech in the Regulation of Normal and Abnormal Behavior. In this book Luria summarized his principle concerns in this field through three succinct points summarized by Homskaya as: "(1) the role of speech in the development of mental processes; (2) the development of the regulative function of speech; and (3) changes in the regulative functions of speech caused by various brain pathologies."[20]

Luria's main contributions to child psychology during the 1950s are well summarized by the research collected in a two volume compendium of collected researchers published in Moscow in 1956 and 1958 under the title of Problems of Higher Nervous System Activity in Normal and Anomalous Children. Homskaya summarizes Luria's approach as centering on, "The application of the Method of Motor Associations (which) allowed investigators to reveal difficulties experienced by (unskilled) children in the process of forming conditioned links as well as restructuring and compensating by means of speech ... (Unskilled) children demonstrated acute dysfunction of the generalizing and regulating functions of speech."[21] Taking this direction, already by the mid-1950s, "Luria for the first time proposed his ideas about the differences of neurodynamic processes in different functional systems, primarily in verbal and motor systems."[22] Luria presented the three stages of language development in children by stating that the "three general stages can be defined in the formation of the mechanisms of voluntary actions: actions in the absence of a regulative verbal influence, actions with a nonspecific influence, and, finally, actions with a selective verbal influence."[23] For Luria, "The regulating function of speech thus appears as a main factor in the formation of voluntary behavior ... at first, the activating function is formed, and then the inhibitory, regulatory function."[24]

Luria at the height of the Cold War[edit]

The 1960s, during the height of the Cold War, saw Luria's career expand significant beyond his previous accomplishments with the publication of several new books. Of special note was the publication in 1962 of Luria's magnum opus, Higher Cortical Functions in Man and Their Impairment Caused by Local Brain Damage. The book has been translated into multiple foreign languages and it was recognized as the principle book establishing Neuropsychology as a medical discipline in its own right.[25] Previously, at the end of the 1950s, Luria's noted charismatic presence at several international conferences had attracted a good deal attention to his research on a nearly global basis which created a significantly receptive medical audience for his book when it was published in 1962.

Luria's other books written or co-authored during the 1960s included: Higher Brain and Mental Processes (1963), The Neuropsychological Analysis of Problem Solving (1966, with L.S. Tzvetkova; English translation in 1990), Psychophysiology of the Frontal Lobes (first published in 1973), and Memory Disorders in Patients with Aneurysms of the Anterior Communicating Artery (co-authored with A.N. Konovalov and A.N. Podgoynaya). In studying memory disorders, Luria oriented his research to the distinction of long-term memory, short-term memory, and semantic memory. It was important for Luria to differentiate neuropsychological pathologies of memory from neuropsychological pathologies of intellectual operations.[26] These two types of pathology were often characterized by Luria as; "(1) the inability to make particular arithmetical operations while the general control of intellectual activity remained normal (predominantly occipital disturbances)... (2) the disability of general control over intellectual processes (predominantly frontal lobe disturbances."[27] Another of Luria important book-length studies from the 1960s which would only be published in 1975 (and in English in 1976) was his well-received book titled Basic Problems of Neurolinguistics.

Late writings[edit]

Luria's productive rate of writing new books in psychology remained largely undiminished during the 1970s and the last seven years of his life. Significantly, volume two of his Human Brain and Mental Processes appeared in 1970 under the title Neuropsychological Analysis of Conscious Activity, following the first volume from 1963 titled The Brain and Psychological Processes. The volume confirmed Luria's long sustained interest in studying the pathology of frontal lobe damage as compromising the seat of higher-order voluntary and intentional planning. The book Psychopathology of the Frontal Lobes, co-edited with Karl Pribram, was published in 1973.

Luria published his well-known book The Working Brain in 1973 as a concise adjunct volume to his previous 1962 book Higher Cortical Functions in Man. In this volume, Luria summarized his three-part global theory of the working brain as being composed of three constantly co-active processes which he described as the; (1) Attentional system, (2) Mnestic system, and (3) Cortical activational system. The two books together are considered by Homskaya's account as "among Luria's major works in neuropsychology, most fully reflecting all the aspects (theoretical, clinical, experimental) of this new discipline."[28] During the 1970s, Luria wrote his second of two books directed towards the popular press and a general readership which are among his most popular writings. The Man with the Shattered World was published in 1971 and documented a soldier's recovery from a brain wound suffered in WW II. Luria's other short book for the popular press was titled The Mind of the Mnemonist which studied the operation of a mind with prodigious memory skills sometimes referred to as "flashbulb" memory in contemporary literature. These works presented some of the results of major advances in the field of Clinical neuropsychology. These two central case studies were both published a few years before Luria's death and described S.V. Shereshevskii, a Russian journalist with a seemingly unlimited memory (1968), in part due to his fivefold synesthesia as presented in The Mind of a Mnemonist; and Luria's other book for the popular press, The Man with a Shattered World, which was a penetrating account of L.S. Zasetsky, a man who suffered a traumatic brain injury (1972) and who went through extensive rehabilitation examinations and treatment with Luria.

In 1974 and 1976, Luria presented successively his two-volume research study titled The Neuropsychology of Memory. The first volume was titled Memory Dysfunctions Caused by Local Brain Damage and the second volume was titled Memory Dysfunctions Caused by Damage to Deep Cerebral Structures. Luria's book written in the 1960s titled Basic Problems of Neurolinguistics was finally published in 1975, and was matched by Luria's last book was titled Language and Cognition, published postumously in 1970. Luria's last co-edited book was titled Problems of Neuropsychology from 1977 and was done with Homskaya.[29] In it, Luria was critical of simplistic models of behaviorism and indicated his preference for the position of "Anokhin's concept of 'functional systems,' in which the reflex arc is substituted by the notion of a 'reflex ring' with a feedback loop."[30] In this approach, the classical physiology of reflexes was to be downplayed while the "physiology of activity" as described by Bernshtein was to be emphasized concerning the active character of human active functioning."[31]

Luria's death is recorded by Homskaya in the following words: "On June 1, 1977, the All-Union Psychological Congress started its work in Moscow. As its organizer, Luria introduced the section on neuropsychology. The next day's meeting, however, he was not able to attend. His wife Lana Pimenovna, who was extremely sick, had an operation on June 2. During the following two and a half months of his life, Luria did everything possible to save or at least to soothe his wife. Not being able to comply with this task, he dies of a myocardial infarction on August 14. His funerals were attended by an endless number of people -- psychologists, teachers, doctors, and just friends. His wife died six months later."[32]

Summary of main areas of research[edit]

In her biography about Luria, Homskaya summarized the six main areas of Luria's research over his lifetime in accordance with the following outline: (1) The Socio-historical Determination of the Human Psyche, (2) The Biological (Genetic) Determination of the Human Psyche, (3) Higher Psychological Functions Mediated by Signs-Symbols; The Verbal System as the Main System of Signs (along with Luria's well-known three part differentiation of it), (4) The Systematic Organization of Psychological Functions and Consciousness (along with Luria's well-known four part outline of this), (5) Cerebral Mechanisms of the Mind (Brain and Psyche); Links between Psychology and Physiology, and (6) The Relationship between Theory and Practice.[33]

Main trends in principal areas of research[edit]

As examples of the vigorous growth of new research related to Luria's original research during his own lifetime are the fields of linguistic aphasia, anterior lobe pathology, speech dysfunction, and child neuropsychology.

Linguistic aphasia[edit]

Luria's neuropsychological theory of language and speech distinguished clearly between the phases which separate inner language within the individual consciousness and spoken language intended for communication between individuals intersubjectively. It was a special significance for Luria to not only distinguish the sequential phases required to get from inner language to serial speech, but also to emphasize the difference of encoding of subjective inner thought as it develops into intersubjective speech. This was in contrast to the decoding of spoken speech as it is communicated from other individuals and decoded into subjectively understood inner language.[34] In the case of the encoding of inner language, Luria expressed these successive phases as moving first from inner language to semantic set representations, then to deep semantic structures, then to deep syntactic structures, then to serial surface speech. For the encoding of serial speech, the phases remained the same, though the decoding was oriented in the opposite direction of transitions between the distinct phases.[35]

Neuropsychological research of the anterior (frontal) lobes[edit]

Luria's studies of the frontal lobes were concentrated in five principal areas which are: (1) attention, (2) memory, (3) intellectual activity, (4)emotional reactions, and (5) voluntary movements. Luria's mian books for investigation of these functions of the frontal lobes are titled, (a) The Frontal Lobes (1966), Problems of Neuropsychology (1977), and (c) Functions of the Frontal Lobes (1982, postumously published).

Neuropsychological research of speech dysfunction[edit]

The research which Luria did in the study of speech dysfunction was principally done in the areas of (1) expressive speech, (2) impressive speech, (3) memory, (4) intellectual activity, and (5) personality.[36]

Child neuropsychology[edit]

This field was formed largely based upon Luria's books and writings on neuropsychology integrated during his experiences during the war years and later periods. In the area of child neuropsychology, "The need for its creation was dictated by the fact that children with localized brain damage were found to reveal specific different features of dissolution of psychological functions. Under Luria's supervision, his colleague Simernitskaya began to study nonverbal (visual-spatial) and verbal functions, and demonstrated that damage to the left and right hemispheres provoked different types of dysfunctions in children than in adults. This study initiated a number of systematic investigations concerning changes in the localization of higher psychological functions during the process of development."[37] Luria's general research was mostly centered on the treatment and rehabilitation "of speech, and observations concerning direct and spontaneous rehabilitation were generalized."[38] Other areas involving "Luria's works have made a significant contribution in the sphere of rehabilitation of expressive and impressive speech (Tzvetkova, 1972), 1985), memory (Krotkova, 1982), intellectual activity (Tzvetkova, 1975), and personality (Glozman, 1987) in patients with localized brain damage."[39]

Luria-Nebraska Neuropsychological Test[edit]

The Luria-Nebraska is a standardized test based on the theories of Luria regarding neuropsychological functioning. Luria was not part of the team which had originally standardized this test. Luria was only indirectly referenced by other researchers as a scholar who had published relevant results in the field of neuropsychology. Anecdotally, when Luria first had the battery described to him he commented that he expected that someone would eventually do something like this with his original research.


  • Luria, A.R. (1932). The Nature of Human Conflicts - or Emotion, Conflict, and Will: An Objective Study of Disorganisation and Control of Human Behaviour. New York: Liveright Publishers.
  • Luria, A.R. (1962) Higher Cortical Functions in Man. Moscow University Press. Library of Congress Number: 65-11340
  • Luria, A.R. (1963). Restoration of Function After Brain Injury. Pergamon Press. 
  • Luria, A.R. (1966). Human Brain and Psychological Processes. Harper & Row. 
  • Luria, A.R. (1970). Traumatic Aphasia: Its Syndromes, Psychology, and Treatment. Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 90-279-0717-X.  Summary at BrainInfo
  • Luria, A.R. (1973). The Working Brain. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-09208-X. 
  • Luria, A.R. (1976). The Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-13731-0. 
  • Luria, A.R.; (1987). The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About A Vast Memory. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-57622-5. 
  • Luria, A.R.; Solotaroff, Lynn (1987). The Man with a Shattered World: The History of a Brain Wound. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-54625-3. 
  • Luria, A.R. (2005). Autobiography of Alexander Luria: A Dialogue with the Making of Mind. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. ISBN 0-8058-5499-1. 

In cinema[edit]

  • Chris Doyle's auteur film Away with Words is largely inspired by Luria's The Mind of a Mnemonist.
  • Jacqueline Goss's 28-minute feature How to Fix the World (2004) is a digitally animated lighthearted parody that "draws from Luria's study of how the introduction of literacy affected the thought-patterns of Central Asian peasants,"—description taken from the cover of the DVD Wendy and Lucy (2008), OSC-004, which includes it as an independent supplement to the unrelated feature film. Educational parody.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Linguistic Disorders and Pathologies: An International Handbook, Walter de Gruyter, 1993, p. 162.
  2. ^ Evgenia Homskaya (2001). Alexander Romanovich Luria: A Scientific Biography, Plenum Publishers, New York, NY, p.9.
  3. ^ Homskaya, p. 9.
  4. ^ Homskaya, p. 9-10.
  5. ^ Homskaya, p. 15.
  6. ^ Homskaya, p. 15.
  7. ^ Homskaya, p. 22.
  8. ^ Homskaya, p. 19.
  9. ^ Homskaya, p. 25.
  10. ^ Ong, Walter J. (2002). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (Second ed.). London and New York: Routledge. pp. 49–54. ISBN 0415281296. 
  11. ^ Homskaya, p. 31.
  12. ^ Homskaya, p. 33.
  13. ^ Homskaya, p. 33.
  14. ^ Homskaya, p. 36.
  15. ^ Homskaya, p. 36.
  16. ^ Homskaya, p. 38.
  17. ^ Homskaya, p. 39.
  18. ^ Homskaya, p. 41-42.
  19. ^ Homskaya, p.42.
  20. ^ Homskaya, p. 48.
  21. ^ Homskaya, p. 46.
  22. ^ Homskaya, p. 45.
  23. ^ Homskaya, p. 48.
  24. ^ Homskaya, p. 47.
  25. ^ Homskaya, p. 55.
  26. ^ Homskaya, p. 61.
  27. ^ Homskaya, p. 62.
  28. ^ Homskaya, pp 70-71.
  29. ^ Homskaya, p. 77.
  30. ^ Homskaya, p. 79.
  31. ^ Homskaya, p. 79.
  32. ^ Homskaya, p. 82.
  33. ^ Homskaya, Chapter VIII, pp. 82-101.
  34. ^ Luria, Alexander. Neuropsychology of Neurolinguistics.
  35. ^ Luria, Alexander. Neuropsychology of Neurolinguistics.
  36. ^ Homskaya, closing chapter.
  37. ^ Homskaya, p. 108.
  38. ^ Homskaya, p. 108.
  39. ^ Homskaya, p. 108.
  • The Conscious Brain by Steven Rose, Vintage Books, NY, 1976, pp. 268–9
  • Mecacci, L. (2005). Luria: A unitary view of human brain and mind, Cortex, 41, 816-822.

External links[edit]