A Trip to the Past

The brain is my favorite part of the human body. I have been fascinated by the brain since I studied about the nervous system in the third grade. There is just something so intriguing about something that controls who we are.

This whole fascination with the brain led me to pursue a degree in Psychology because I was interested to understand the brain as well as people because let’s face it, people impact us and we impact them, so it is interesting to know how the brain works in order to understand how a human works.

Considering the history of psychology, one comes to be aware of how the primitive thinking led people to believe that people suffering from mental disorders were possessed by demons and methods such trepanning were used.

Soon enough, in the 19th century the focus shifted to the physiological aspect of psychology where scientists started to believe that the brain was responsible for the behavior of people.

Tell Your Story, Researchers

Franz Gall was one of the earliest theorist who came up with the concept of phrenology. Now this theory is fairly interesting because it suggested that if a trait—any trait—was developed significantly, then that part of the brain would grow in size, pushing the boundary of the skull, which would result in a bulge protruding out of the head. So if an individual was good at math—which I am not—then the part of the brain which is responsible for math would grow in size and when the person died, the researchers could examine the shape of the skull to determine which trait was well developed in the individual.

It is pretty obvious why this theory was rejected, however, this set the wheels in motion of the train that would take us through the journey of physiological psychology; as this theory resulted in researchers looking deeper into the brain to understand the link between the functions of the brain and the behavior of humans, which led to Pierre Flourens coming into the spotlight.

Pierre Flourens was the first one to study the various functions of the brain by using the technique known as extirpation. This procedure involves surgically removing parts of the brains in order to see the behavioral changes which occur as a result. He did this mostly on pigeons and reached the conclusion that different areas of the brain are responsible for different behaviors and if one area is removed, it weakens the brain, which makes us understand how the brain areas are interconnected just like the various systems of the human body.

Flourens studying to understand the functions of the brain paved the path for William James’ research on how the brain functioned in different environments in order to adapt because adapting is a crucial factor when it comes to the survival of a specie.

Welcome Functionalism

William James gave birth to the school of thought known as functionalism; which focuses on the impact of mental processes on the individual’s ability to adapt to his or her environment.

John Dewey is another popular name when it comes to the school of thought of functionalism, who criticized the concept of reflex arc, which focuses on the response to pain in specific areas.

According to Dewey, one should study the organism in its entirety and how it functions to change in response to the surrounding environment because changes from the inside take place as a whole and not individually.  

Paul Broca contributed to this field of psychology by discussing that damage to the brain lesions in any specific part of the brain could lead to a lot of functional impairments in the person. He studied an individual who was unable to produce speech due to the damage to the brain lesions in the left side of the brain which is also the area responsible for the production of speech. That area soon came to be known as Broca’s area, thanks to this man here.

Providing evidence for Broca’s work, Phineas Gage was an individual who had a serious accident and sustained injuries to the brain. Though he survived, Gage’s personality took a drastic turn, so much so that people often said that he was no longer himself. So damage to the brain really does have an impact on a person as a whole.

Brain and Psychology

Following the discoveries being made in regards to the connection between the brain and behavior, Johannes Muller came up with the law of specific nerve energy. This law is interesting as it states that the stimulus which excites a nerve is not as important as the nerve it excites. Confused? I was too when I first got to know about it; but all he is saying that organisms respond differently to each stimuli and one is only able to perceive the changes happening around by how one responds to it.

That is why each one of us has a different reality, because we all experience different stimuli and even if we experience the same stimuli the way we respond to it is different, which thus becomes our reality.

Now that research into the brain is increasing, Hermann von Helmholtz was the first one to measure how fast a nerve impulse travels by measuring the speed in accordance to the response. We can see how psychology is transitioning towards natural science.

And this blog post would not be completed without the mention of Sir Charles Sherrington who gave us the term of synapse, which is the area where two neurons communicate. Moreover, he contributed to this field by studying the concept of reflexes along with movement and proprioception and how our day to day movement and survival would not be possible without the connection between the neurons.

Food for Thought

After reading this blog post, there are a few things I would like for you to ponder over:

  1. Which theory would you agree with and why?
  2. Which theory would you criticize and why?
  3. What is the one thing that fascinates you most about the brain? Let me know in the comments below.

References

http://www.victorianweb.org/science/phrenology/intro.html

https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/psychologists/pragmatism-functionalism-and-william-james-psychology/

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dewey/

http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/paulbroca

https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/history-of-neuroscience-charles-scott-sherrington

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