Luria archive sheds light on ‘father of neuropsychology’

Luria_examining_patient.jpgThe University of California, San Diego have created an extensive online archive of material related to the pioneering Russian neuropsychologist A.R. Luria, who is often considered the ‘father’ of the modern neuropsychology.

Like another famous neuroscientist, Eric Kandel, he originally intended to look for a scientific basis for Freudian concepts of the mind.

As time went on, he began to develop short tasks designed to tap specific mental skills and abilities – a technique now almost universally used in cognitive and neuropsychology. The photo on the right shows Luria (in the white coat) testing a patient with one of his tasks.

His encounters with the large number of brain-injured soldiers returning from World War Two led Luria to make links between specific areas of the brain and certain mental functions, which he could test by using his tasks and testing their diagnostic accuracy.

Some of the tasks he developed to make and test these links are still used by neuropsychologists today.

As well as writing some of the most influential books on the practise of neuropsychology, he also wrote up detailed neuropsychological biographies of two remarkable patients.

The Mind of a Mnemonist was a case study of ‘S’, who had a striking form of synaesthesia that gave him a memory so reliable that one of his main problems was being unable to forget – meaning he often became overwhelmed by detail of his memories and could not focus on the most important aspects.

In contrast, The Man with a Shattered World recounted the story of a soldier who suffered selective impairments to memory, perception and language after suffering a head wound in battle.

Luria recounted the personal experiences and histories of these remarkable individuals alongside his scientific investigations into their brain function.

He called this deeply personal form of scientific investigation ‘romantic science’, and is cited by Oliver Sacks as a major influence on his own style of writing and subject matter.

The UCSD Luria archive has everything from essays on his work, to a video documentary about the man himself, and is a crucial resource for those interested both in this hugely influential figure and the history of neuropsychology.

Link to UCSD Luria archive.

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