Donald Hebb: biography of the father of biopsychology

Donald Hebb: biography of the father of biopsychology

Psychobiology is a discipline within psychology that studies behavior through biological principles.

Donald Hebb is considered its creator, an influential 20th century neuropsychologist. Hebb understood behavior through the functioning of neurons, which are responsible for transmitting different signals at the brain level.

In this article we will see a biography of Donald Hebb , we will know some of his most important contributions related to behavior, motivation and some higher psychological processes, which served as a basis for the creation of modern neurophysiology.

Donald Hebb: a short biography

Donald Olding Hebb, born in Chester (Nova Scotia, Canada) in 1904 and who died in the same place at the age of 81, was a neuropsychologist interested in writing novels, who ended up working especially in the field of psychobiology. In fact, he is considered the founder of this discipline. Moreover, many consider that Hebb laid the foundations of modern neurology .

Hebb was born to a medical mother and father. In addition, his mother was especially influenced and interested by Maria Montessori and her pedagogical stream. Hebb attended school until the age of 8, and at the age of 10 she entered high school, being at an advanced level because of her great abilities.

Academic Career

Donald Hebb enrolled at Dalhousie University (Canada) and graduated in 1925 . In addition, he became very interested in psychology and began to study it at McGill University, especially thanks to authors such as William James and Freudy Watson.

Thus, entered McGill University and obtained a master’s degree in Psychology . It was then that she started a doctorate with Karl Lashley, an American behavioural psychologist. At that stage, Donald Hebb met Sigmund Freud.

Hebb went on to earn his doctorate at Harvard University, and there he completed it, in 1936, at the age of 32. In his thesis Hebb talked about the perception of brightness and size in rats , studying this group of animals in light and dark conditions.

Career path

Later, Donald Hebb returned to Canada, specifically to Montreal, and began working as a research assistant for Wilder G. Penfield , a leading American neurosurgeon.

Penfield was by then studying nerve deficits in people who had suffered some kind of brain injury. Later, Hebb went to Florida with Lashley to study primate behavior, where he spent 5 years. Finally, he returned to Montreal and wrote his most famous work: The Organization of Behavior (1948).

It should be noted that prior to his journey, Donald Hebb initially opted for the educational field , becoming the director of a school in Quebec. However, his steps led him to the world of psychobiology and neuroscience, as we shall see.

Initiator of Psychobiology

Donald Hebb was one of the most important creators of psychobiology , a discipline that straddles biology and psychology; specifically, the latter is concerned with the study of human and animal behaviour through the principles of biology.

Psychobiology was considered a neuroscientific discipline around the 20th century. One of the key works that helped to make this happen was The Organization of Behavior .

The Organization of Behavior

The Organization of Behavior is considered the culmination of the great Hebb research. In this famous work, Donald Hebb deals with phenomena and concepts of basic psychology , such as emotions, memory, thought and perception.

It was a work that was “against” behaviorism; that is why the behaviorists criticized it, since for them explaining behavior through the association of ideas was simply “mentalism”.

In the work, Donald Hebb considered that these phenomena (memory, emotions …) arise thanks to brain activity . Specifically, in this work Hebb elaborates the first reasonable and accepted theory about these phenomena.

Throughout the book, Hebb talks about the possibility that these basic phenomena could arise from groups of neurons in the brain. In addition, The Organization of Behavior includes other theories of the author, especially of a behavioral nature.

Research and Works

Donald Hebb developed his theories in the field of psychobiology through different experiments . He developed them in animals and in human beings, through clinical studies and observations.

Specifically, Donald Hebb specialized in psychobiology and neuropsychology, and studied the emotional processes that occur in chimpanzees. He was also interested in the effects of brain damage and surgery on animals, as well as in the evaluation of animal intelligence.

Some of his outstanding works were: Manual of Psychology (1966) and Essay on the Mind (1980).

Hebb’s Law

Another of Donald Hebb’s great contributions was the “Hebb Law”. According to this law, the brain’s synaptic connections are reinforced (they become stronger) at the moment when two or more neurons are activated in a contiguous way, both in time and space.

In fact, according to Hebb’s Law, what happens is that the firing of the cell (presynaptic) is associated with the activity of the other neuron (post-synaptic). This association creates changes in the brain structure that contribute to the development of neural networks.

Final synthesis

It can be said that Donald Hebb was a very influential psychologist in his time, who left an important legacy through which to continue research. Although at the beginning he wanted to be a novelist and write, eventually his career focused more on the field of psychobiology and animal research.

Thus, Hebb spent more than 20 years researching, since he considered that he needed all that training to be a novelist . With his great work, The Organization of Behavior , he acquires greater recognition, and the doors of modern neurophysiology open.

In it he speaks especially of cellular networks (which he also calls cellular assemblies), and of the relationship between brain activity and important higher functions (such as behavior).

Death and Legacy

Donald Hebb died in the same Canadian province where he was born (Chester, Nova Scotia), at the age of 81. Hebb’s legacy continues to be transmitted in universities and schools , and he is considered one of the great figures of psychology.

Their contributions served as a basis for further research in the field of psychobiology and neuropsychology.

Bibliographic references:

  • Hebb, D. O. (1949). The Organization of Behavior: A neuropsychological theory. New York: Wiley.
  • Milner, P.M. (1993). Donald O. Hebb, Theoretician of the Mind. Research and science.
  • Pinel, J. (2006). Biopsychology. 6ED. Editorial: Prentice Hall.

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