1.1 A Brief History of Neuropsychology - A Brief History of Neuropsychology

MCAT Behavioral Sciences Review - Kaplan Test Prep 2021–2022

1.1 A Brief History of Neuropsychology
A Brief History of Neuropsychology


After Chapter 1.1, you will be able to:

· Recall the major contributions to early neuropsychology

· Connect the major contributors of early neuropsychology to their contributions

Researchers in the 19th century began to think about behavior from a physiological perspective. Many of these early thinkers formed the foundation of current knowledge about neuroanatomy, linking the functions of specific areas of the brain with thought and behavior.

Franz Gall (1758—1828) had one of the earliest theories that behavior, intellect, and even personality might be linked to brain anatomy. He developed the doctrine of phrenology. The basic idea was that if a particular trait was well-developed, then the part of the brain responsible for that trait would expand. This expansion, according to Gall, would push the area of the skull that covered that part of the brain outward and therefore cause a bulge on the head. Gall believed that one could thus measure psychological attributes by feeling or measuring the skull. Although phrenology was shown to be false, it did generate serious research on brain functions and was the impetus for the work of other psychologists through the remainder of the 19th century.

Pierre Flourens (1794—1867) was the first person to study the functions of the major sections of the brain. He did this by extirpation, also known as ablation, on rabbits and pigeons. In extirpation, various parts of the brain are surgically removed and the behavioral consequences are observed. Flourens’s work led to his assertion that specific parts of the brain had specific functions, and that the removal of one part weakens the whole brain.

William James (1842—1910), known as the father of American psychology, studied how the mind adapts to the environment. His views formed the foundation for the system of thought in psychology known as functionalism, which studies how mental processes help individuals adapt to their environments.

John Dewey (1859—1952) is another important name in functionalism because his 1896 article is seen as its inception. This article criticized the concept of the reflex arc, which breaks the process of reacting to a stimulus into discrete parts. Dewey believed that psychology should focus on the study of the organism as a whole as it functioned to adapt to the environment.

Around 1860, Paul Broca (1824—1880) added to the knowledge of physiology by examining the behavioral deficits of people with brain damage. He was the first person to demonstrate that specific functional impairments could be linked with specific brain lesions. Broca studied a man who was unable to speak and discovered that the man’s disability was due to a lesion in a specific area on the left side of the man’s brain. This area of the brain is now referred to as Broca’s area.

Hermann von Helmholtz (1821—1894) was the first to measure the speed of a nerve impulse. He also related the measured speed of such impulses to reaction time, providing an important early link between behavior and underlying nervous system activity. Because Helmholtz provided one of the earliest measurable links between psychology and physiology, he is often credited with the transition of psychology out of the realm of philosophy and into the realm of quantifiable natural science.

Around the turn of the century, Sir Charles Sherrington (1857—1952) first inferred the existence of synapses. Many of his conclusions have held over time—except for one. He thought that synaptic transmission was an electrical process, but we now know that it is primarily a chemical process.


Solutions to concept checks for a given chapter in MCAT Behavioral Sciences Review can be found near the end of the chapter in which the concept check is located, following the Concept Summary for that chapter.

MCAT Concept Check 1.1:

Before you move on, assess your understanding of the material with this question.

1. Briefly list the main contributions of each of the following scientists to neuropsychology.

o Franz Gall:

o Pierre Flourens:

o William James:

o John Dewey:

o Paul Broca:

o Hermann von Helmholtz:

o Sir Charles Sherrington: