165th anniversary of Vladimir Bekhterev, founder of Russian psychophysiology

Vladimir Bekhterev, renowned psychiatrist, neurologist, physiologist and psychologist, was born on 1 February (old style – 20 January) 1857. In 1885 – 1893, he worked at Kazan University.

Leonid Popov, Chair of the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychology of Personality, agreed to shed light on the milestones of Bekhterev’s years in Kazan, Bekhterev was on an overseas internship when he was invited to become Chair of the Department of Mental Illnesses at Kazan University in 1885. After graduating from the Academy of Medicine and Surgery and defending his thesis, he was given the chance to move around Europe and visit the continent’s prominent centers of psychophysiology, which he was happy to use. Bekhterev planned to stay longer, so he put forth a number of requirements which were purportedly difficult to meet. However, all of the requirements, including those to procure new equipment for the laboratory of psychophysiology, were fulfilled, and he had no other option than to relocate here.

The scientist worked at the then university clinic building – now the University’s Media Center and the Higher School of Journalism.

At Imperial Kazan University, Bekhterev started familiarizing himself with the research conducted by local biologists, physicians, physiologists, therapists, and psychologists – he aimed to unite everyone who studied the brain in order to make advancements in the treatment of mental disorders. When he worked at the Department of Mental Illnesses, his team studied the human brain, etiology of diseases, and created new devices to study psychophysiological processes. He invented a dead blow hammer and other tools,explains Popov.

In 1886, Bekhterev opened the first ever laboratory of psychophysiology in Russia. In the next years, over thirty experiments and tests were performed there to investigate the anatomy and physiology of nervous system and to seek objective methods of psychological research. This resulted in his monograph Pathways of Brain and Bone Marrow. Bekhterev drew a map of brain pathways – the first ever such three-dimensional picture of the brain.

In 1888, Bekhterev presented his report Consciousness and Its Borders,says Popov. “I analyzed his speech and found that it contains the foundations of contemporary cognitive and behavioral psychology. Moreover, much earlier than Sigmund Freud did the same, Bekhterev noted that the human consciousness is drawn not only to development but also to disruption, that they both are the sides of the same coin.

Bekhterev founded the Kazan Society of Neuropathologists and Psychiatrists, which in turn established the Neurological Messenger magazine. It ceased publishing in 1918 but was revived in 1993 and is still in print.

After eight years, the renowned scholar move to Saint-Petersburg, but his influence has been ever felt at Kazan University since then. He is memorialized in his native village – called Bekhterevo in his honor since 1929 (currently in Yelabuga District in Tatarstan). There are also monuments in Yelabuga and Kazan, several streets with his name, educational institutions, etc.

Source text: Larisa Busil

Translation: Yury Nurmeev

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