Aleksandr Romanovich Luria
Russian psychologist who conducted groundbreaking work on brain function.
Aleksander Luria's research on normal versus abnormal brain function was critically important in the understanding of how to approach brain injuries. Through his work, much was learned about the impact of head injuries, brain tumors, and the effects of mental retardation. He also studied brain activity among children in an attempt to understand how to minimize abnormal behavior.
Luria was borm in Kazan, Russia, on July 16, 1902, where he attended local schools. He went on to the University of Kazan and the Moscow Medical Institute. He received both an M.D. and a doctorate in education. Initially he worked with the educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky at Moscow University. Luria researched the role speech plays in how children develop their conceptual thought processes. Upon Vigotsky's death in 1934, Luria continued this research. In particular, he was interested in finding out how different functions, such as speech, were controlled in normal and abnormal brains.
Memory fascinated Luria—both what people did and did not remember. One of his earliest subjects, a newspaper reporter identified as S., was sent to Luria because of what seemed to be a nearly perfect memory. Over the course of many years Luria conducted experiments on S., trying to pinpoint precisely what it was that accounted for this exceptional memory. He concluded that S's brain was able to process information in a unique way, using perception as well as memory. Luria wrote about his experiments with S. in The Mind of a Mnemonist.
During the Second World war Luria's research and experimentation were put into action, as he developed new ways to treat soldiers suffering from head wounds. Specifically, his research into speech and the brain helped him to treat soldiers whose injuries had robbed them of the ability to speak. He developed new programs for rehabilitation over the next three decades. Another famous patient of Luria's was the physicist Lev Landau. Landau had been severely injured in an automobile crash, and other doctors pronounced him dead and rescuscitated him four times. Thanks to the work of Luria and his assistants, Landau was revived and able to restore much of his normal brain function.
Luria also continued his work with children. His research led him to the conclusion that retarded children could make the most progress in an environment that focused on their specific handicap, and he advocated the creation of special schools for this function.
Luria was recognized in his own country with the Order of Lenin, and he received several other awards from the Soviet Union and other countries. Fluent in English, he made several trips to the United States to lecture. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Education.
He was married in 1933 to Lana Lipchina; the couple had one daughter. Luria continued his work into the 1970s; he died on August 16, 1977.
George A. Milite
Luria, Aleksandr R. The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory. New York: Basic Books, 1968.