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Donald Olding Hebb: An intellectual biography

by Christopher James Beltran
ProQuest Dissertations and Theses ()

Abstract

This dissertation examines the life and contributions of Canadian psychologist Donald Olding Hebb (1904-1985). Hebb's work, particularly his neoconnectionstic theory explaining brain-behavior relationships, is discussed in relation to the models of behavior which precipitated it and its impact in the field of psychology. Numerous primary and secondary sources were used in writing this dissertation, including materials from the McGill University Archives, journal articles and books written by and about Donald Hebb, and personal communication with family and colleagues of Hebb's. The historical attempts at understanding the relationship between body and behavior are reviewed and the consideration of associationism in explaining behavior is discussed as it relates to influencing Hebb's views. This review includes the work of Pavlov and Watson in the area of the conditioned response, field theory promoted by Gestalt psychology, and the contributions of K. S. Lashley in the area of physiological explanations of behavior. Personal and historical factors that shaped Hebb's personality and approach to the field are delineated. Hebb's work at the Montreal Neurological Institute and at the Yerkes Laboratories for Primate Biology is described in explaining his search for a physiological basis of mentalistic constructs. The impact of the writing of The Organization of Behavior on the field of psychology is discussed. Hebb's neoconnectionistic theory promoted in this book prompted the reconsideration of cognitive concepts and helped lift the restrictive ban on the consideration of such concepts imposed by the behaviorism of the time. Hebb's thoughts on the importance of early environmental factors affecting intellectual development and on the role of psychology in general are discussed. The legacy of Hebb's work, including his influence in computer models of learning, attention given to early environmental factors in development, and his role in the birth of cognitive psychology, is analyzed.

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