Neurophysiological and Evolutionary Theories

Neurophysiological and Evolutionary Theories


The questions of the nature of human thinking and learning always possessed very important place in the history of science. Since the time when Aristotle made an attempt to understand and explain what is a soul (in his work On the Soul, which was the first psychological treatise in human history), psychology was based on general positions of philosophy. Therefore, with changes in the main philosophical paradigms, the perspectives on the main psychological problems changed as well. Certainly, the questions of thinking and learning also were answered in different ways in different epochs, according to the scientific paradigms, primarily used in those times. Speaking about neurophysiological and evolutionary theories, it must be mentioned those fundamental positions on which they were based. Neurophysiological theory is a sequence of monistic ontological approach, well known as materialism. According to this point of view, ideal world (e.g. physics) is determined by material world (in case of psychology, materialism means that psychics is determined by body and biological processes of organism). Evolutionary theory is based on the position, known as evolutionism, which was developed by Charles Darwin. Representatives of such point of view claim that all living beings are changing in order to survive (this proposition can be referred to the levels of individual, group and even species); thus, evolutionism interprets all abilities and features of living beings, as their means of saving their species in a way of adopting and evolutionary changes.

Modern scientific paradigm is based on the following two principles materialism and evolutionism. The aim of this paper is to show how the ideas of Donald Hebb and Richard Bolles, prominent representatives of neurophysiological and evolutionary approaches in psychology, are used in the modern society.

Donald O. Hebb (1904 1985) represents the neurophysiological approach to human psychics. The main scientific contribution of Hebb is the concept of Hebbian (associative) learning: when different neurons fire together, they can form cell assembles, i.e. the combinations of neurons, in which the process of mediation takes place, forming a thought. If neurons are connected in such groups, they will tend to fire together in the future; in other words, if a group contains one neuron that fires, the entire group will do the same. Hebb claimed that repeated transmission of neurological impulses between neurons lead to permanent facilitation of future impulses along the same pathway (2012). The conception of Hebbian learning is connected with such abilities of organism as reactivity and plasticity. Reactivity means that external stimulus can provoke the responsive reaction of organism, taxis. Plasticity can be understood as organisms ability to change the way of its response on the same stimulus. These are the main elements of Hebbs theory of learning. It explains that human is totally determined by environment that embodies all stimuli, and human organism, which includes all ways of response on those stimuli. Right combination of signals used to react with humans sensor systems, can help manipulate everybody. Today, this position of Hebbs theory is widely used in the field of advertising. Famous branding expert, Martin Lindstrom (2011) even declared in his work, Buyology: truth and lies about why we buy, the appearance of the new field in science - neuromarketing. Lindstroms research was based on usage of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Steady-State Typography (SST) to determine those areas of human brain, which are active at the time of scanning, and to fix rapid brain waves during the experiment. These devices were used to understand what connection is between the stimuli of different advertising means, and the reactions of those who percepts them. The title of the book, Buyology, means the subconscious thoughts, feelings, and desires that drive the purchasing decisions we make each and every day of our lives (Lindstrom, 2011, p. 5). Neuromarketing is a field of science, which combines psychology and marketing in one practical instrument, based on scientific researches. It must be a useful addition to qualitative and quantitative methods of marketing research. According to Lindstrom, it will become the key to understanding of every consumer behavior, needs, purposes and desires in the future. Lindstrom (2011) states: Neuromarketing is simply an instrument used to help us decode what we as consumers are already thinking about when we are confronted with a product or a brand and sometimes even to help us uncover the underhanded methods marketers use to seduce and betray us without our even knowing it (p. 5). It is obvious that neuromarketing is entirely based on neurophysiological approach to human psychics because the main instruments in Lindstroms researches are fMRI and SST, created to explore humans neurophysiological processes, as the leading factors in humans decisions-making activity. In his work, Lindstrom mentions different ideas, directly or indirectly involved to the modern psychology by D. Hebb. For example, the idea of the mirror neuron, which explains human tendency to imitate everything, is the base of advertisement effectiveness. Subconsciously, consumer thinks that he will get some qualities of models, so he buys those products offered. The tendency to copy other people or, in other words, association between the feeling and qualities of consumer and models must be explained. Hence, Lindstrom explains it in the same way through the theory of Hebbian learning, or associated assemblies. As Lindstrom claims, the ideas of neurophysiological theory are widely used in modern advertising activities of many political parties, manufacturers, commercial companies, etc. Neuroimaging could uncover truths that a half-century of market research, focus groups and opinion polling couldn't come close to accomplishing (Lindstrom, 2011, p. 12). Thus, the great impact of Hebbs theory is unquestionable.

The evolutionary theory of R. Bolles is grounded on Species-Specific Defensive Reactions (SSDRs the term, which was involved to the psychological discourse by R. Bolles and became commonly used today) (Bouton, 2007). As evolutionist, Bolles explains all processes of human psychics by need to avoid predators and other threads. For example, he claims that human ability to solve the problems, is a result of long evolutional processes, connected with humans need to survive, to save the family, the tribe, the society, etc. The main theoretical concepts connected with R. Bolles are innate S-S (stimulus-stimulus) and R-S (reaction-stimulus) expectancies, innate predisposition and the niche argument. Comparing the evolutionary theory of Bolles with Hebbs neurophysiological theory, it must be underlined that as Hebb determined psychics by material world, Bolles created more precise frameworks. He reduced the difficult processes of human psychical activity to results of satisfying the purposes, placed on two lower stages of the pyramid of Maslow. Today, his theory still remains relevant: for instance, human need to communicate can be interpreted as need of defense among the members of the tribe. But this theory is more grounded on Bolles belief in linear evolution. Certainly, evolutionary processes take place in the world, but in my opinion, they are more complicated than just reaction on purpose of scared or hungry human.

The neurophysiological and evolutionary theories are still relevant, despite they were established in former century. Each of them has some advantages and disadvantages. Yet, in my opinion, the theory of Donald Hebb is more relevant than the one of Richard Bolles. First of all, because it describes human as more free from different determinations, except the material world, which influences all beings. On the other hand, a very important distinction of the Bolles theory is that it characterizes people as scared and weak slaves of various desires, needs, and threads. Hebbs theory has more humanistic character, when the evolutionary theory tries to analyze all sides of human beings, to understand them firstly as consistent parts of the species, but not as individuals.

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