Guest Post: Memories of Soviet Neuropsychology During the Great Terror – Susanna Blumenshtein and Bluma Zeigarnik

I previously wrote a short piece on Bluma Zeigarnik, the Zeigarnik Effect and Memories from the Great Terror which also mentioned Susanna Blumenshtein, a Russian neuropsychologist, and very brave friend of Bluma Zeigarnik. I mentioned I didn’t speak Russian – but happily my friend @laurenceknell does.

This is of Rubinshtein and is from the website of a Russian child psychology portal.  The specific page is advertising the conference from 2011 I mentioned in an earlier mail.  Link = http://childpsy.ru/conf/25122/.
This is of Rubinshtein and is from the website of a Russian child psychology portal. The specific page is advertising the conference from 2011 I mentioned in an earlier mail. Link = http://childpsy.ru/conf/25122/.

 This next photo is a group shot and is from this site: http://www.mprj.ru/archiv_global/2012_1_12/nomer/nomer02.php The site is the for the journal “Medical Psychology in Russia” (Медицинская психология в России).   It is an article dedicated to Rubinshtein on the 100th anniversary of her birth by Natalya Zvereva, a member of the editorial board of the journal and also a practicing clinical psychologist.  The article goes into much greater depth about Rubinshtein and her life and work (especially the latter) and the comment is made that “According to Valentina Nikolaeva [pictured below], the close cooperation between Zeigarnik and Rubinshtein also manifested itself in the fact that it was not always possible to accurately determine the authorship of their texts or of separate authorial positions in their joint work”.  Unfortunately, I am unable to ascertain from the article where or when this photo was taken.   The people in the photo are as follows: Back Row (L to R): Susanna Rubinshtein, Yurii Polyakov Front Row (L to R): Valentina Nikolaeva, Bluma Zeigarnik, Tatyana Tepenitsyna

This next photo is a group shot and is from this site: http://www.mprj.ru/archiv_global/2012_1_12/nomer/nomer02.php
The site is the for the journal “Medical Psychology in Russia” (Медицинская психология в России). It is an article dedicated to Rubinshtein on the 100th anniversary of her birth by Natalya Zvereva, a member of the editorial board of the journal and also a practicing clinical psychologist. The article goes into much greater depth about Rubinshtein and her life and work (especially the latter) and the comment is made that “According to Valentina Nikolaeva [pictured below], the close cooperation between Zeigarnik and Rubinshtein also manifested itself in the fact that it was not always possible to accurately determine the authorship of their texts or of separate authorial positions in their joint work”. Unfortunately, I am unable to ascertain from the article where or when this photo was taken.
The people in the photo are as follows:
Back Row (L to R): Susanna Rubinshtein, Yurii Polyakov
Front Row (L to R): Valentina Nikolaeva, Bluma Zeigarnik, Tatyana Tepenitsyna
Laurie did some digging around, and found a Russian Wiki page, and has translated it below:

Susanna Blumenshtein was born on the 3rd June, 1911.  In 1932 she graduated from the Pedagogical Faculty of Moscow State Pedagogical University.  In 1938 she commenced graduate work with A.R. Luria.  During WW II she worked in the Urals at a neuro-surgical rehabilitation hospital.  In 1945 she defended her Masters dissertation on the subject of “Rehabilitation of capabilities following trauma to the brain during war”.  From 1946 she worked in the pathopsychology laboratory of the Serbsky Forensic Psychiatry Research Institute.   In1956, under the leadership of KK Platonov, she took part in the creation of one of the first laboratories focussing on aviation psychology.  From 1957 to 1977 she worked in the pathopsychology laboratories of the Moscow Psychiatric Research Institute.  In 1972 she defended her doctoral dissertation.   Her dissertation focussed on the experimental-psychological research of auditory illusions and hallucinations during various psychiatric illnesses.

From 1952 she lectured on the psychology of mental retardation children at the Moscow State Pedagogical Institute the Moscow State Humanities University.  From 1977 to 1987 she worked at the Moscow Children’s Psycho-neurological Sanatorium no. 44.  Rubinshtein died in Moscow on 18th February, 1990.

Contribution to the Development of Soviet/Russian Psychology

Rubinshtein worked on the question of the rehabilitation of capabilities following trauma and injuries to the brain during war.   Together with AV Zaporozhets she worked on methods of rehabilitative occupational therapy following injury to the upper limbs.  Rubinshtein carried out psychological analysis of the capabilities of patients with various brain injuries.  She demonstrated that even patients with significant brain lesions were capable of acquiring the skills required for new jobs.  She noted that these patients had a suitable relationship to work, they could correctly evaluate knowledge and foresee that the new knowledge they had gained would be beneficial to their subsequent life.  A completely different process occurred for those patients with trauma to frontal lobes.  Rubinshtein demonstrated that these patients did not have difficulty mastering various specific methods of work and they could master simple technical operations.  They did not display the same exhaustion which limited the working capabilities of other patients.  However these very patients proved to be the only group of patients who did not gain the necessary skills.  Analysing the results for these patients, Rubinshtein showed that they did not have a persistent attitude to their activities or a critical attitude to themselves.  The patients did not have any internal corrective mechanism for their actions.

Rubinshtein wrote significant works on the experimental-psychological research of auditory illusions and hallucinations during various psychiatric illnesses.   She noted that in the majority of cases it was impossible to establish a direct link between the hallucination and an object, much less the absence of an object.  The link between an object and the emerging form could be opaquely obscured or indirect.  While a link may be apparent, the situation in which external irritation is the initial reason for any mental act also relates to an impairment of the activities of the analyst [???].  Rubinshtein came to the conclusion that one of the most important pathogenetic conditions for the formation of hallucinations is difficulty in listening to and recognising sounds.

On the basis of her experimental data, Rubinshtein confirmed that it is incorrect to define hallucinations as false perceptions which emerge without the presence of irritants from the internal or external spheres.  Various irritants can arouse the contents [of a hallucination] via a complex chain of associations or intermediate forms which can dissipate.  The form of the links with various irritants is difficult  to ascertain and is often obscured, but it does exist.

Rubinshtein developed many pathopsychological methods for the research of people of people with various psychiatric illnesses.  She undertook research in the area of mental retardation of children and wrote the classic text: “Mental Retardation in School Children”.

Her findings regarding frontal lobe function and what is now called dysexecutive syndrome seem absolutely accurate, especially the comment that “The patients did not have any internal corrective mechanism for their actions”, which would describe both the disinhibition and perseverative behaviour that accompany compromised frontal lobes very accurately indeed.

Author: Shane O'Mara

Neuroscientist

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