The organization of behavior: A neuropsychological theory

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Reviews the book, The Organization of Behavior: A Neuropsychological Theory by D. O. Hebb (see record 1950-02200-000). There is no need to start this review with any assertion of the importance and high quality of this book. It is like the case of a movie which needs no advertising because of word-of-mouth. There are so many respects in which Hebb's book is so high in quality and is so delightfully written that it will have an assured status in psychology. If psychology is to get the maximum benefit from this book, however, it is important, first, that we get a clear recognition of its main ideas and, second, that we start giving these a careful critical scrutiny. It is important, too, that we recognize a number of relationships between Hebb's theory and other preceding notions. Hebb has noted only a few of these. Perhaps he omitted some because he did not wish to be pre-judged on a “guilt by association” basis. Perhaps it did not occur to him that some of these relationships existed. On the basis of psychological data, Hebb is convinced that we must recognize that organisms develop perceptual skills, that learning typically involves some selective abstraction and hence is more or less conceptual in character, and that processes of expectancy and of attention or set seem to permeate the whole area of habit-formation and habit-use. His theory of psychology, therefore, stresses many of the same phenomena emphasized by Lashley and Tolman. Hebb is dissatisfied with these other theories. He feels that any adequate theory must seek also to give some careful and meaningful explanation of the phenomenon of perceptual generalization. Hebb explores the neurological explanations. I think we can agree immediately that it would be most regrettable if all psychologists occupied themselves with this same attempt. When anyone tries to integrate two fields like psychology and neurology, he is bound to stress certain material which seems usable. The main principles which result from Hebb's inquiry are delineated. I think that this book demonstrates that psychology is still in the stage when it needs to say, as physics did, “These facts can be expressed by a wave theory of light, these by a corpuscular theory, and we see no way by which to get a unified theory which will do justice to all of the reasonably certain facts.” But, at the same time, I think the book makes a number of fine positive contributions and that it will have an important influence within psychology. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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