Soviet Psychology and Psychophysiology

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Science  14 Nov 1958:
Vol. 128, Issue 3333, pp. 1187-1194
DOI: 10.1126/science.128.3333.1187


Pavlov's experiments, begun long before the revolution, have always been generously supported by the Soviet state. However, their far-reaching ontological and methodological implication gained an official and commanding position to Soviet biomedical and psychosocial (as distinct from socioeconomic) sciences only in 1950 with the Resolution of the 28 June-4 July Joint Pavlovian Session of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and Academy of Medical Sciences. In the biomedical sciences, present-day Soviet Pavlovianism may best be conceived of as (i) a doctrine of nervism (a Russian term)—the ubiquity of neural control of bodily reactions (neural, neurosomatic, neurovisceral, and neurohumoral) and (ii) a doctrine of what might be called concomitantism (my term )—the ready and radical modification of these reactions by concomitant reactions; or, viewed more generally and somewhat differently, as (iii) a far-reaching physicalistic psychosomaticism or, rather, a neuroviscerosomaticism. Psychophysiology—or higher nervous activity—is the key discipline here. With scores of research institutes, it is indeed a very well-established, wide-scoped, and faradvanced faradvanced science that, in both present achievements and future capabilities, is a challenge to American and Western equivalents.

On the other hand, in the psychosocial sciences and the key discipline of psychology proper, unmitigated Pavlovian physicalism and objectivism is met head on by (i) the unbending postulate of dialectical materialism of "the specific emergent efficacy of consciousness and subjective conscious categories" as well as by (ii) the simple consideration that a consistent Pavlovianism is a fully autarchic psychology and needs no other science of psychology on top of it. A large portion of current Soviet psychological theory in psychology proper is thus primarily a textual and exegetic collation and conciliation of the views of Pavlov with those of Marx, Engels, and Lenin (until recently and, to some extent even now, also of Stalin), just as most current Soviet psychological experimentation in psychology proper is primarily a duplication of what Soviet psychophysiology could do as well, if not better. Moreover, there is the longstanding drastic ban on intelligence testing, psychoanalysis, Gestalt psychology, and other to-be-shunned "bourgeois-psychological" thought-and-practice systems, so that, in all, psychology proper is a much constricted and, per se, more ancilliary than basic discipline of Soviet empirical research—a state of affairs plainly reflected in the fact that the number of its research institutes and publications (as well as the number of psychologists proper) is but a small fraction of the number in psychophysiology. Yet, in evaluating our efforts in the area vis-à-vis those of the Soviets, we must, obviously, take full account of both disciplines, Soviet psychophysiology being in all respects a psychology in American terms (60). Indeed, it is Soviet psychophysiology, and not Soviet psychology proper, that is the homolog not only of American behavioristics but also, to a large extent, of all American experimental psychology.