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Method of studying higher mental functions

The technique of the modern psychological experiment is closely tied to the general fundamental questions of psychological theory and, in the final analysis, has always been only a reflection of how the most important problems of psychology were solved. That is why the criticism of the basic views on the nature and development of mental processes inevitably should lead to a revision of the main provisions related to the method of research.

The two psychologies described by us above as the psychology of pure spiritualism, on the one hand, and the psychology of pure naturalism, on the other, led to the construction of two completely independent methods of psychological research, which took over complete forms and are completely subject to fundamental revision as soon as philosophical basis is criticized.

In fact, if the first psychology saw in the states of consciousness a specific subject of research, considering that these higher forms are a special property of the human spirit that is inaccessible to further analysis, then pure phenomenology, internal description and self-observation turned out to be the only adequate method for psychological research. One moment turned out to be fatal for spiritualistic attempts to build a method for studying mental processes: higher mental functions always eluded spiritualistic attempts to establish their origin and structure. Precisely because they were sociohistorical in their genesis and mediated in structure, they were forever inaccessible to a spiritualist description. In child psychology, these techniques met a particularly unfavorable ground, and it can be said that they suffered an actual defeat there even earlier than the main philosophical background behind them were criticized and revised.

The second group of psychological systems turned out to be much more stable in the field of child psychology. Based on the assumption that the higher forms of child's behavior are a continuous continuation of those forms that are already known from the study of the animal, and differing from them in greater complexity, remain fundamentally the same in structure, this system found that as the main mechanism of children's behavior is quite suitable It turns out that the mechanism of the response movement to the external stimulus emanating from the environment, which is already known from zoopsychology and physiology. The S-R ratio was preserved, as these psychologists believed, both in the simplest and in the most complex acts of behavior and, being a universal scheme, it was thus possible to ensure the unity of psychological research in a significant field.

It is perfectly clear that such a general idea of ​​the structure of mental processes was specified in the research methodology, which the authors considered adequate for their purposes. This technique has historically been a simple transfer to the psychology of childhood age techniques used in animal physiology and psychology, and strengthened in most psychological laboratories over the past decade, which were decades of special progress of the psychological experiment. Primarily directed towards the study of primitive or complex responses that the organism adapted to the environment, it always remained a technique built according to the type already known in the experiment with simple reflexes: presenting the stimulus to the subject, the psychologist carefully studied the responses and considered the task exhausted if these reactions described with sufficient completeness and natural science objectivity.

Two points remained very doubtful in this technique. Being objective, it was not, however, objectifying: the fundamental task facing the psychologist and consisting in bringing out the latent psychological mechanisms with the help of which complex mental reactions were carried out remained unresolved here. If, in studying simple reflex acts, the method remained adequate, then when trying to understand with its help the structure of complex mental processes (all internal techniques that they were used to remain hidden here, could not be brought out), the researcher was forced to refer to the subject's verbal response, wanting to know more about these processes.

The second defect of the stimulus-response method that dominated the child's experimental psychology was undoubtedly his profound antigenetic attitude. Approaching with the same scheme of the experiment to different functions in complexity and to different stages of the child’s history, repeating essentially the same experiments with the child that were done on animals, this method was doomed to ignore the very development associated with the appearance of qualitatively new formations and the introduction of mental functions in a fundamentally new relationship. Following in the wake of V. Wundt in the stability of the applied technique, in the repeated and monotonous repetition of the same experiment in possibly unvaried conditions, the method of studying reactive behavior cut off all the way to the study of ratios specific for development.

Finally, which also seems important to us, any methodology based on this principle turned out to be inadequate to the very tasks of studying higher mental functions; revealing the reactive mechanism, she described only the removed category, available in all, including elementary, mental processes, and thus made the study a priori meaningless and fruitless, effectively dismissing what is characteristic of higher psychological systems that distinguish them from elementary that makes them higher. The originality of the genesis, structure and functioning of higher mental processes remained, therefore, completely inaccessible to this elementary psychological methodology.

In our research, we went differently. Studying the development of the child, we have established that it follows the path of a deep change in the very structure of children's behavior and that at each new stage the child not only changes the form of the reaction, but also carries it out in a new way, drawing on new means of behavior and replacing some functions by others. A lengthy analysis gave us the opportunity to establish that development proceeds primarily in the direction of mediating those psychological operations that were carried out in the first steps by direct forms of adaptation. The complication and development of forms of children's behavior is reduced to a change in the means attracted for this task, to the inclusion of previously uninterested psychological systems in the operation and to a corresponding restructuring of the mental process. It is easy to see, as we have already indicated above, that the creation and use of a number of artificial stimuli that play a supporting role and allow a person from the outside (and then more complex internal operations) to master their own behavior is an essential mechanism for such a restructuring.

It is perfectly clear that with such a structure of mental development the process does not fit into the elementary S — R scheme and the method of simply studying reactive responses ceases to be adequate to the complexity and originality of the process we are studying.

This technique, which easily fixes the reciprocal movements of the subject, however, becomes completely impotent when the main problem is the study of the means and methods by which the subject organizes his behavior in specific forms that are most appropriate for each given task.
Directing our attention to the study of precisely these (external or internal) means of behavior, we must make a radical review of the very methodology of the psychological experiment.

We consider as the most adequate for our task the functional method of double stimulation. Wanting to study the internal structure of higher mental processes, we do not usually limit ourselves to the presentation of simple stimuli to the subject (all the same, elementary stimuli or complex tasks), to which we await a direct answer. At the same time, we present the second row of stimuli to the subject, which functionally should play a special role — serve as a means for organizing his own behavior. Thus, we study the process of solving a problem with the help of well-known aids, and the whole psychological structure of the act is available to us throughout its development and in all the uniqueness of each of its phases. The examples of our experiments show that it is this way of bringing out the aids to behavior that makes it possible to trace the entire genesis of the most complex forms of higher mental processes.

Do we study the development of memorization in a child, giving him external aids and observing the degree and nature of indirect mastery of the task; Do we use this technique to study how the child organizes his active attention through well-known external means; Whether we investigate the development of a child's account, forcing a child to manipulate with any external objects, to apply to them the techniques proposed by the child or the techniques “invented” by him, everywhere we go in one fundamental way, studying not the final effect of the operation, but the specific psychological structures of the operation. In all these cases, the psychological structure of the developing process is revealed to us with incomparably greater wealth and originality than with the classical method of a simple S – R experiment.

Two points seem to us worthy of special mention. If the “stimulus-response” technique was an objective psychological technique that limited the study to only those processes that were already external in human behavior, then our methodology can rightly be called objectifying: its main focus is just on internal ones hidden from direct observation psychological techniques and structures. However, setting the task to study them, bringing out those auxiliary operations, with the help of which the subject masters one or another task, our methodology makes them available for objective study, in other words, objectifies them. We consider the path of objectification of internal psychic processes to be incomparably more correct and adequate to the goals of psychological research than the path of studying ready-made objective answers, because only the first provides for scientific research the actual identification of specific forms of higher behavior, not filmed.

In one respect, the method we use differs sharply from those that prevailed in modern child psychology. If the experiment was usually cut off from the comparative genetic method of study and investigated only relatively stable forms of behavior, and the comparative genetic method was usually not connected with the experiment, then we go the opposite way, linking both lines of research into a single experimental genetic method. Using the method of double stimulation, we can present the subject with tasks designed for different phases of development, and in abbreviated form cause him the processes of mastering them, which allow the experiment to trace successive stages of mental development.

Shifting our conditions according to the difficulty, bringing the techniques of mastering the task out and stretching the experiment to a series of consecutive series, we are able to observe in laboratory conditions the development process in its main features, and therefore come to an analysis of the factors involved in it. Turning speech on and off from the operation, giving the subject signs and means that he has not yet used, taking away these signs from an already developed subject, we get a fairly complete picture of the individual stages of development, their characteristic features, their sequence and basic laws of building higher psychological systems .

Using a series of experimental genetic techniques, the psychology of childhood for the first time raises a number of specific questions related to the genesis of higher psychological structures and the structure of their very genesis.

In experimental studies, we do not necessarily have to present each time the subject with a ready-made external means by which he will solve the proposed problem. The concept of our experience will not suffer at all if, instead of giving the child a ready-made external tool, we will wait for him to spontaneously apply an assistive device, including some kind of auxiliary system of symbols in the operation.

A significant part of our experiments was carried out exactly according to this method. Offering the subject to memorize something (stimulus), we asked him to draw something so that the material would be easier to keep in memory (auxiliary symbol). By this we created conditions for the reconstruction of the mental process of memorizing and applying a known aid. Without giving the child a ready-made symbol, we could see how all the essential mechanisms of the child’s complex symbolic activity manifest themselves in the spontaneous deployment of the techniques used.

Perhaps the best example of the technique of active mediation can be our experiments with the use of speech and the restructuring with its help of the entire structure of children's behavior.

If speech was usually observed either as a system of reactions (behaviorists), or as a way to comprehend the inner world of the subject (objectivist psychologists), then we treat speech as a system of auxiliary symbols, tools that help the child rebuild their own behavior. Observations related to the genesis and active use of these tools allow us to simultaneously trace the real social roots of higher mental processes and to analyze the role that mediated operations play at various levels of child development.

All that we have said about the specificity of the technique used by us leads to the same conclusion: it is with its help that we are able to get out of the collision that psychology was put to because of the collision of spiritualistic and mechanistic concepts. If the first of them inclined the psychologist to a simple description of spontaneous behavior, considering it to be a special and irreducible form of life processes, and the second led to the study of reactive behavior, essentially representing an experimental mechanism already present at the lowest levels of the genetic ladder, our statement of the question leads us to the study of a peculiar form of human behavior, different from both spontaneous and reactive processes. We see this peculiar form in those mediated (higher) mental functions which, having arisen historically (rather than being a product of the free spirit), transferred the behavior from elementary to higher forms, creating the complex behavior of an animal from elementary forms of animal behavior.
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Method of studying higher mental functions

  1. The problem of the development of higher mental functions
    The history of the development of higher mental functions is a completely unexplored area of ​​psychology. Despite the tremendous importance of studying the processes of development of higher mental functions for the correct understanding and understanding of all aspects of the child’s personality, the limits of this area have not been clearly outlined, methodologically or
  2. Genesis of higher mental functions
    The third plan of our research is closest to the historical method of considering higher forms of behavior adopted by us. Analysis and structure of higher mental processes lead us close to clarifying the basic question of the entire history of a child’s cultural development, to clarifying the genesis of higher forms of behavior, that is, the origin and development of those mental forms that make up
  3. The origin and development of higher mental functions
    The foundation of modern domestic age psychology is the formulated by L.S. Vygotsky (1896-1934) fundamental ideas and the system of basic concepts. In the 1920–1930s he developed the foundations of the cultural - historical theory of the development of the psyche. Although Vygotsky did not have time to create a complete theory, but a general understanding of mental development in childhood, contained in the writings of a scientist,
  4. The social genesis of higher mental functions
    If, therefore, a sign organization is the most important distinguishing feature of all higher mental functions, then it is natural that the first question facing the theory of higher functions is the question of the origin of this type of organization. While traditional psychology was looking for the origin of symbolic activity in a series of "discoveries" or other intellectual operations of a child,
  5. Basic rules for the development of higher mental functions
    The general provisions underlying the historical theory of higher mental functions developed by us allow us to draw some conclusions related to the most important rules that govern the development process we are interested in. 1. The history of the development of each of the higher mental functions is not a direct continuation and further improvement of the corresponding elementary function, but
  6. The problem of the sign in the formation of higher mental functions
    The collected materials lead us to psychological positions, the significance of which goes far beyond the limits of analyzing a narrow and specific group of phenomena, which until now has been the main subject of our study. The functional, structural, and genetic patterns that are found in the study of evidence are, upon closer examination, of more general patterns and
  7. The structure of higher mental functions
    The concept of psychological analysis that we sought to develop in the previous chapter leads us to a new understanding of the mental process as a whole and its nature. The most significant change that has occurred recently in psychology is to replace the analytical approach to the mental process with a holistic, or structural, approach. Most influential
  8. The problem of development and decay of higher mental functions
    The problem of higher mental functions is the central problem of all human psychology. In modern psychology, even the basic theoretical principles on which human psychology must be built as a system are still insufficiently highlighted, and the development of the problem of higher mental functions should be central to solving this problem. In modern foreign psychology
  9. Analysis of Higher Mental Functions
    We have already said that the first and main form of our research is the analysis of higher forms of behavior; but the situation in modern psychology is such that, before approaching the analysis of problems, we face the problem of analysis itself. In modern psychology, as a result of a crisis affecting its very foundation, we are changing its methodological foundations before our very eyes. In this regard, in
  10. Arbitrary structure of higher mental functions
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