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The technique of studying higher mental functions

The methodology of the modern psychological experiment is closely connected with general questions of principle in psychological theory and always was ultimately only a reflection of how the most important problems of psychology were solved. That is why criticism of the basic views on the essence and development of mental processes inevitably should entail a revision of the main provisions related to the research methodology.

The two psychologies that we described 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 complete forms over time and are completely subject to a fundamental review as soon as The philosophical foundation is criticized.

Indeed, if the first psychology saw a specific subject of research in states of consciousness, assuming that these higher forms are a special property of the human spirit 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 methodology for studying psychic processes: higher mental functions always eluded spiritualistic attempts to establish their origin and structure. Precisely because they were socio-historical in genesis and mediated in structure, they forever remained inaccessible to a spiritualistic description. In child psychology, these techniques have found particularly unfavorable soil, and we can say that they suffered an actual defeat there even before the basic philosophical premises hidden 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 animals, and, differing from them in greater complexity, remain fundamentally the same in structure, this system has found that it’s quite suitable as the main mechanism of children's behavior it turns out to be already known from zoopsychology and physiology the mechanism of response movement to external stimulation emanating from the medium. The S – R ratio was maintained, as these psychologists believed, in both the simplest and most complex acts of behavior and, being a universal scheme, thus made it possible to ensure the unity of psychological research in a significant field.

It is 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 of the techniques used in the physiology and psychology of animals, and has been strengthened in most psychological laboratories over the past decades, which were decades of special progress in a psychological experiment. Going primarily to the study of primitive or complex responses by which the body adapted to the environment, it always remained a technique built according to the type already known in the experiment with simple reflexes: presenting the subject with an irritant, the psychologist carefully studied the responses and considered the task to be completed if these reactions described with sufficient completeness and natural objectivity.

Two points remained very doubtful in this technique. Being objective, it was not, however, objectivating: the fundamental task confronting the psychologist and consisting in bringing out those hidden psychological mechanisms by which complex mental reactions were carried out remained unresolved here. If, while studying simple reflex acts, the method remained adequate, then when trying to understand with it the structure of complex mental processes (all the internal methods by which they were carried out, remained hidden here, not brought out), the researcher was forced to involuntarily refer to the subject’s verbal answer, wanting to know something more specific about these processes.

The second defect of the “stimulus - reaction” method that prevailed in experimental psychology of the child, undoubtedly, was its deep antigenetic attitude. Approaching the same experimental design to functions of different complexity and different stages of a child’s history, repeating essentially the same experiments on a child as on an animal, this method was doomed to ignore the very development associated with the appearance of qualitatively new formations and the entry of mental functions into fundamentally new relationships. Following V. Wundt in the stability of the applied method, in the multiple and uniform repetition of the same experiment in possibly unevaluated conditions, the method of studying reactive behavior forever cut off its path to studying development-specific relationships.

Finally, which also seems important to us, any methodology built on this principle turned out to be inadequate to the very tasks of researching higher mental functions; revealing the reactive mechanism, she described only the category that was withdrawn, which is present in all, including elementary, mental processes, and thereby made the study a priori meaningless and fruitless, actually sweeping away what is characteristic of higher psychological systems, which distinguishes them from elementary that makes them supreme. The originality of the genesis, structure and functioning of higher mental processes remained, therefore, completely inaccessible to this elementary psychological technique.

In our research, we went differently. Studying the development of the child, we found that it follows the path of a profound change in the very structure of children's behavior and that at each new stage the child not only changes the form of reaction, but also implements it in a significantly new way, attracting new means of behavior and replacing some mental functions by others. A lengthy analysis gave us the opportunity to establish that development is 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 involved for this task, to the inclusion of previously uninterested psychological systems in the operation, and to the corresponding restructuring of the mental process. It is easy to see, as we have already indicated, that the essential mechanism of such a restructuring is the creation and use of a number of artificial stimuli that play an auxiliary role and allow a person to first master his own behavior from the outside (and then with more complex internal operations).

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 methodology for the simple study of reactive responses ceases to be adequate to the complexity and originality of the process we are studying.

This technique, which easily captures the subject's response movements, becomes, however, completely powerless when the main problem is the study of those means and techniques with 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 carry out a radical revision of the methodology of psychological experiment itself.

The most adequate to our task, we consider the functional technique of double stimulation. Wanting to study the internal structure of higher mental processes, we do not usually confine ourselves to presenting the subject with simple stimuli (all the same - elementary stimuli or complex tasks), to which we are waiting for a direct response. At the same time, we present the subject with a second series of stimuli, which functionally should play a special role - to serve as means for organizing his own behavior. Thus, we study the process of solving the problem with the help of well-known auxiliary means, and the entire psychological structure of the act is available to us throughout its development and in the originality of each of its phases. The examples of our experiments show that it is precisely this way of bringing out auxiliary means of behavior that allows us to trace the entire genesis of the most complex forms of higher mental processes.

Do we study the development of memorization in a child by giving him external aids and observing the degree and nature of mediated mastery of the task; Do we use this technique to study how a child organizes his active attention using well-known external means; Whether we study the development of the children's account, forcing the child to manipulate any external objects, apply the methods proposed to the child or the methods “invented” by him, everywhere we go along the same principle path, 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 methodology of a simple S – R experiment.

Two points here seem worthy of special mention here. If the “stimulus – reaction” methodology was an objective psychological methodology that limited the study to only those processes that were already external in human behavior, then our methodology can rightfully be called objectivizing: its main focus is precisely on internal ones that are hidden from direct observation psychological techniques and structures. However, by setting the task to study precisely them, taking out those auxiliary operations by means of which the subject masters a particular task, our technique makes them accessible for objective study, in other words, it 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 one provides for scientific research to really identify specific forms of higher behavior, not removed, but specific.

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

By shifting our conditions of difficulty, taking out the methods of mastering the task outside and stretching the experiment to a series of consecutive series, we are able to observe the development process in its basic features in a laboratory setting, 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 used yet, taking these signs from the already developed subject, we get a fairly complete picture of the individual stages of development, their characteristic features, their sequence and the basic laws of building higher psychological systems .

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

In experimental studies, we do not have to present each time a test subject with a ready-made external tool with which he will solve the proposed problem. The conceptual framework of our experience will not suffer at all if, instead of giving the child a ready-made external tool, we will wait until he spontaneously applies an auxiliary technique, including some auxiliary symbol system in the operation.

A significant part of our experiments was carried out precisely by this technique. Inviting the subject to remember something (stimulus), we asked him to draw something so that the material would be easier to keep in memory (auxiliary symbol). In this way, we created the conditions for the reconstruction of the mental process of memorizing and using a well-known auxiliary means. Without giving the child a ready-made symbol, we could trace how in the spontaneous deployment of the applied techniques all the essential mechanisms of the child’s complex symbolic activity will manifest.

Perhaps the best example of an active mediation technique is our experience with the use of speech and the restructuring with it of the whole structure of children's behavior.

If speech was usually observed either as a system of reactions (behaviorists), or as a way of comprehending the subject’s inner world (objective psychologists), then we regard speech as a system of auxiliary symbols-means that help a child rebuild his 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 analyze the role that mediated operations play at various stages of child development.

All that we said about the specificity of our methodology leads to one conclusion: it is with its help that we get the opportunity to get out of the collision that psychology was put into because of the clash of spiritualistic and mechanistic concepts. If the first of them led 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, which in essence is an experimental mechanism that is already at the lowest steps of the genetic ladder, then our formulation of the problem 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 (and not being a product of a free spirit), and have translated behavior from elementary to higher forms, creating from the elementary forms of animal behavior complex behavior of a cultured person.
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The technique of studying higher mental functions

  1. The problem of the development of higher mental functions
    The history of the development of higher mental functions represents a completely unexplored area of ​​psychology. Despite the great importance of studying the processes of development of higher mental functions for the correct understanding and understanding of decisively all aspects of the child’s personality, the boundaries of this area have not yet been clearly outlined, nor have the methodological realization of the main problems or
  2. The genesis of higher mental functions
    The third plan of our study is closest to the historical method we have adopted of considering higher forms of behavior. The analysis and structure of higher mental processes lead us closely to elucidating the basic issue of the entire history of the cultural development of the child, to elucidating the genesis of higher forms of behavior, i.e., the origin and development of those mental forms that make up the subject
  3. The origin and development of higher mental functions
    The foundation of modern Russian developmental psychology is formulated by L.S. Vygotsky (1896-1934) fundamental ideas and a system of basic concepts. In the 1920-1930s. he developed the foundations of a cultural - historical theory of the development of the psyche. Although Vygotsky did not manage to create a complete theory, the general understanding of mental development in childhood, contained in the writings of a scientist,
  4. The social genesis of higher mental functions
    If, therefore, the sign organization is the most important distinguishing feature of all higher mental functions, then it is natural that the first question that arises before the theory of higher functions is the question of the origin of this type of organization. While traditional psychology looked for the origin of symbolic activity in a series of “discoveries” or other intellectual operations of the child,
  5. Основные правила развития высших психических функций
    Общие положения, лежащие в основе развиваемой нами исторической теории высших психических функций, позволяют нам сделать некоторые выводы, связанные с важнейшими правилами, которые управляют интересующим нас процессом развития. 1. История развития каждой из высших психических функций является не прямым продолжением и дальнейшим усовершенствованием соответствующей элементарной функции, но
  6. Проблема знака в формировании высших психических функций
    Собранные материалы приводят нас к психологическим положениям, значение которых выходит далеко за пределы анализа узкой и конкретной группы явлений, бывшей до сих пор главным предметом нашего изучения. Функциональные, структурные и генетические закономерности, которые обнаруживаются при изучении фактических данных, оказываются при ближайшем рассмотрении закономерностями более общего порядка и
  7. The structure of higher mental functions
    The concept of psychological analysis that we strove 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 in psychology recently is the replacement of the analytical approach to the mental process with a holistic, or structural, approach. Most influential
  8. Проблема развития и распада высших психических функций
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  10. Arbitrary structure of higher mental functions
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