Presidential Column

The "Decade of the Brain"

A Congressional Resolution recently signed by President Bush designates the 1990′s as the “Decade of the Brain.” We can (and should) ignore the minor fact that the new decade actually begins in 1991. But APS should not ignore the major fact that this is the first Congressional Resolution to endorse a specific area of research since the National Geophysical Year. And, it is worth noting that the brain was given a full decade of attention! The Congressional Resolution (presented in part below) includes recognition that study of the brain involves multidisciplinary efforts of scientists from many areas, including psychology, aimed at achieving an understanding of the brain functioning in relation to development, health and behavior.

For more than a century scientific psychology has, of course, played a major role in research on brain processes underlying behavior. The contributions of Lashley dominated physiological psychology for decades, and his research findings continue to challenge current researchers investigating brain organization and functioning underlying perception and learning. Hebb’s theoretical contributions remain widely influential in development of theories of brain plasticity. Many of today’s leading brain researchers have their academic roots in scientific psychology. These contributions, together with those of many other psychologists have had impact on research and theory in the study of the brain.

But, as we enter the Decade of the Brain, several questions might be asked concerning scientific psychology’s current emphasis on and support for brain research. First, is scientific psychology appropriately recognized for its research contributions to the study of the brain? Second, do behavioral neuroscientists continue to identify with and support organizations representing scientific psychology? Third, do psychology departments currently give sufficient emphasis and support to behavioral neuroscience research and research training? Or, put another way, does scientific psychology’s current contribution to research aimed at understanding the brain recognize the importance of the effort as suggested by the Congressional Resolution? Does it match that of other disciplines listed in the resolution?

The designation of the 1990′s as the Decade of the Brain provides an opportunity for APS to consider its role in promoting brain research. It would seem reasonable to observe the decade by giving special emphasis to programs and activities reflecting scientific psychology’s achievements in brain research. APS should intensify its efforts to attract behavioral neuroscientists as members. And APS should play a leadership role in working with other scientific organizations in supporting research and training in brain research. After all, as Woody Allen said, (very roughly paraphrased) the brain is a very important organ. It is worth at least 10 years of APS support.

Whereas it is estimated that treatment, rehabilitation and related costs of disorders and disabilities that affect the brain represents a total economic burden of $305,000,000,000 annually;

Whereas the people of the Nation should be aware of the exciting research advances on the brain and of the availability of effective treatment of disorders and disabilities that affect the brain;…

Whereas comprehending the reality of the nervous system is still on the frontier of technological innovation…

Whereas the study of the brain involves the multidisciplinary efforts of scientists from such diverse areas as physiology, biochemistry, psychology, psychiatry, molecular biology, anatomy, medicine, genetics, and many others working together toward the common goals of better understanding the structure of the brain and how it affects our development, health and behavior;…Now, therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled, that the decade beginning January 1, 1990, hereby is designated the ‘Decade of the Brain’.

Observer Vol.3, No.1 January, 1990

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