TImeline of General Reflex Contributions
The General Scientific Timeline reveals some of the many independent neuro-physiological scientific contributions made between the middle 1600s and the middle 1800s. It was with this knowledge that scientists in the last half of the 1800s were able to begin shaping the foundation for our modern day understanding of reflexes and their important neurosensorimotor structure.
1649 - René Descartes, French Philosopher and Scientist: Proposes the first mechanistic understanding of what would later be call the reflex arc. According to Descartes, the actions of the body are reflex actions, but actions of the mind are meaningful, conscious, and voluntary. Descartes’ proposition was based on a basic model of sensory input and motor output managed by the brain. While the basic concept her proposed was correct, neural activity was not yet understood leaving him to explain neural activity as one energized by “animal spirits.”
1664 - Thomas Willis, English Professor Oxford: Proposes that nerve impulses consisting of animal spirits ran to and from the brain to produce one of three different types of reflex movements depending upon the strength of the incoming stimulus. Weak, continuous stimulation producing reflex movement vital for survival (e.g., heart beat); a more intense sensory stimulation leading to involuntary movements such as walking, and very intense stimulations induce voluntary actions.
1664 - Jan Swammerdon, Danish biologist: Demonstrates that movement was due to the external stimulation (“irritation”) of the nerve. Swammerdon was unable to determine, however, what energy was causing the action to occur. This basic discovery scientifically demonstrated the stimulus response relationship involved in activity.
1751 - Albrecht Von Haller, Swiss Biologist: Expanded on Swammerdon’s work and demonstrated that a stimulus applied to a nerve causes the contraction of the muscle connected to it – or muscle activity. This led to the scientific conclusion that nerves carry impulses that produce sensation. Like Swammerdom, Von Haller was unable to determine the energy content of the irritation.
1791 - Luigi Galvani, Italian Biologist: While dissecting a frog on the same bench as an “electric machine,” discovers by chance that the frog’s muscles respond with movement to external electrical stimuli. Galvani proposed that the internal factor responsible for movement was electrical. This was the first scientific proof that neural activity (the irritation that couldn’t be explained previously) was electrical in nature.
1802 - Marie Francois-Xavier Bichat, French Anatomist and Physiologist: Proposes that life is regulated through the systeme des ganglions (the Ganglionic nervous system). Biaget’s “Ganglionic Nervous system” along with Bell’s 1811 explanation of the “vegetative functions,” were the precursors to the more formalizedautonomic nervous system first proposed by Langley in 1898.
1811 - Charles Bell, English Surgeon and Experimental Physiologist: Reveals spinal nerves do not serve a single purpose, but instead carry both motor and sensory impulses to and from the brain. This same year he publishes his book Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain which has been referred to by some as the “Magna Carta of neurology.” The book discusses the functions of the brain, the cerebellum, the double roots of the spinal nerves and how he experimentally investigated their function. He assumed that the ventral roots connected to the peripherous nervous system to the cerebrum, which at that time was considered the center of “sensibility and motility”, while the dorsal roots connected the periphery to the cerebellum, the center of what he called the “vegetative functions” of the body. Bell’s explanation of the “vegetative functions” of the body along with Biaget’s 1802 “Ganglionic Nervous system”, were the precursors to the more formalized autonomic nervous system first proposed by Langley in 1898.
1820s - Francois Magendie, French Physiologist: Building Bell’s work demonstrates that the ventral roots of spinal nerves are motor and the dorsal roots are sensory. This finding became known as Bell-Magendies Law and was considered the first important step toward investigation of the nerves, becoming the starting point for much of Charles Sherrington’s later work.
1836 – 1903, Bernard Perez, French physician (Spinal Perez Reflex)
1837 - Marshall Hall, English Physiologist: Discovers that a headless newt moves when its skin is pricked. This work led Hall to propose his theory of reflex action, “which stated that the spinal cord consists of a chain of units and that each of these units functions as an independent reflex arc; that the function of each arc arises from the activity of sensory and motor nerves and the segment of the spinal cord from which these nerves originate; and that the arcs are interconnected, interacting with one another and the brain to produce coordinated movement.
1850 - Gustov Theodore Fechner, German Experimental Psychologist: Provides insight concerning the quantitative relationship between physical stimulus and a mental sensation.
1852 - A. Von Kolliker, Swiss Anatomist: Describes how motor nerves originate from neurons in the anterior horn of the spinal cord.
1849 - Hermann von Helmholtz, German Physiologist: Publishes research on the speed of neural impulses.
1854 - Claude Bernard, French Physiologist: States that all organs liberate into the tissue fluids special substance which assist in maintaining constancy of the “milieu interieur” (internal environment).
1862 - Ivan Sechenov, Russian Physiologist: Provides scientific proof for his Central Inhibition Theory, demonstrating that sensory input can cause both action and inaction (inhibition) of a motor response.
1862 - Ivan Sechenov, Russian Physiologist: Wins the Demidov Prize for his work in “animal electricity” in which he showed that brain activity is link to electric currents, leading to the scientific field of electrophysiology. Won the national scientific prize in the Russian Empire – one of the most prestigious and oldest scientific awards in the world and model for the Nobel Prize – awarded annually to the members of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
1863 - Ivan Sechenov, Russian Physiologist: Publishes Reflexes of the Brain in which he attempts to analyze higher order functions in terms of reflex schema. The ideas presented in this book laid the foundation for the study of reflexes, animal and human behavior, and neuroscience. Ivan Pavlov in his personal journals, publications, and brief biography released at the time of his Nobel Prize, attributed the foundation of his work to the understanding that Sechenov had earlier provided.
1866 - Ivan Sechenov, Russian Physiologist: Publishes The Physiology of the Nervous System in which he expresses the theory of self-regulation and feedback, which was later advanced by Nikolai Bernstein and subsequently provided the foundation necessary for the field of cybernetics. His theory established for future scientists the idea of signals in shaping and regulating behavior.
1890 - John Newport Langley, English Physiologist: Formally begins work on the vegetative nervous system.
1893 - Charles Scott Sherrington, English Neurophysiologist: Working on spinal reflexes coins the terms coins terms “exteroceptive” (light, sound, touch and odor receptors) and “interoceptive” (taste receptors) and “proprioceptive (internal sensory receptors).
1896 - Joseph Babinski, French Neurologist: Describes the Babinski reflex.
1897 - Charles Scott Sherrington, English Neurophysiologist: Coins the term synapse to describe contact between nerve cells. He deduces the existence of synapses by showing that individual nerve cells can exert integrative influences on other nerve cells by graded excitatory or inhibitory synaptic actions.
1898 - Ivan Pavlov, Russian Physiologist: Publishes his work on the physiology of digestion, but he is mainly known or his work on conditional reflex behavior.
1898 - John Newport Langley, English Physiologist: Works on nerve conduction, by blocking neuron functioning using nicotine. He is the first to distinguish between the Central Nervous System and the autonomic nervous system. He coins the term autonomic nervous system.
1900 - Charles Scott Sherrington, English Neurophysiologist: States the cerebellum is head ganglion of the proprioceptive system.
1903 - Ivan Pavlov, Russian Physiologist: Coins the term conditional reflexes and begins publishing his studies of conditional reflexes in animals.
1904 - Ivan Pavlov, Russian Physiologist: Wins the Nobel Prize “in recognition of his work on the physiology of digestion, through which knowledge on vital aspects of the subject has been transformed and enlarged. Pavlov's research into the physiology of digestion led to his findings regarding conditional reflexes. Pavlov transformed Sechenov’s theoretical attempt to discover the reflex mechanisms of psychic activity into an experimentally proven theory of conditional reflexes. Pavlov deduced three principles for the theory of reflexes: the principle of determinism, the principle of analysis and synthesis, and the principle of structure.” (Nobel Prize Biography)
1905 - Ivan Pavlov, Russian Physiologist: In 1905 it was established that any external agent could, by coinciding in time with an ordinary reflex, become the conditioned signal for the formation of a new conditioned reflex. In connection with the discovery of this general postulate Pavlov proceeded to investigate artificial conditioned reflexes. (Nobel Prize Biography)
1906 - Charles Scott Sherrington, English Neurophysiologist: Publishes The Integrative Action of the Nervous System, which describes the synapse and lays the foundation for the understanding for the study of neurophysiology.
1907 - John Newport Langley, English Physiologist: Coins the term parasympathetic nervous system.
1909 - Harvey Cushing, American Neurosurgeon: Is the first to electrically stimulate human sensory cortex.
1917 - Johann Susman Galant, Russian Neurologist: First described the Spinal Galant Reflex.
1918 - Ernest Moro, Austrian Pediatrician: First describes the Moro Reflex.
1919 - Charles Sherrington: Publishes “Mammalian Physiology.”
1921 - John Newport Langley, English Physiologist: Distinguishes functionally and gives a detailed description of the autonomic nervous system.
1923 - Charles Sherrington: “The Integrative Action of the Nervous System” is republished.
1923 - Lev Vygotsky: Publishes “Educational Psychology”
1926 - Rudolf Magnus, German Physiologist/Pharmacologist: described the tonic labyrinthine reflex and tonic neck reflex.
1927 - Ivan Pavlov: Publishes his book “Conditional Reflexes.”
1928 - Edgar Douglas Adrian, English Electrophysiologist: Publishes The Basis of Sensation. Records nerve impulses from single sensory endings and motor nerve fibers, contributing to a better understanding of the physical basis of sensation and the mechanism of muscular control.
1915 - Walter Cannon, American Neurophysiologist: Coins the phrase Fight or Flight in his publication Bodily Changes in Pain, hunger fear and rage.
1929 - Jean Piaget, French Developmental Psychologist: Publishes his book The Child’s Conception of the World influencing the way learning is perceived to occur in humans.
1932 - Charles Scott Sherrington, English Neurophysiologist: Wins Nobel Prize in physiology along with Edgar Douglas Adrian for their discoveries regarding the function of neurons, all of which helped inform our current understanding of the neurosensorimotor reflex mechanism. Publishes book “The Reflex Activity of the Spinal Cord.”
1932 - Walter Cannon, American Neurophysiologist: Publishes Wisdom of the Body, in which he explains how, regardless of conditions that may vary widely, the "body wisdom" works constantly to maintain homeostasis, discusses the Fight or Flight response, and identifies hormonal changes associated with stress.
1933 - Charles Sherrington, English Neurophysiologist: Publishes “The Brain and its Mechanism.”
1934 - Lev Vygotsky, Russian Developmental Psychologist: Publishes Thought and Language, in which he emphasizes the importance of language as a tool to the development of higher level consciousness. It would not be translated to other languages until 1963.
1934 - Nicolai Bernstein; Publishes “The Techniques of the Study of Movements.” (Russian)
1936 - Hans Selye, Canadian Endocrinologist: Publishes his first article in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience on his General Adaptation Theory, alternatively know as the stress syndrome.
1938 - B. F. Skinner, American Psychologist and Social Philosopher: Publishes The Behavior of Organisms, which describes operant conditioning in animals.
1940 - Charles Sherrington: Publishes “Man on his Nature.”
1940 - S. Rubinstein: Publishes “The Principles of General Psychology.” (Russian)
1952 - Ivan Sechenov’s “Selected Physiological and Psychological Works” translated and published in the West.
1956 - Hans Selye, Canadian Endocrinologist: Publishes his book The Stress of Life.
1963 - Lev Vygotsky’s “Thought and Language” translated and published in English.
1965 - Ivan Sechenov’s “Reflexes of the Brain: an attempt to establish the physiological basis for psychological processes,” translated and published in the West.
1973 - A. Luria publishes his book “The Working Brain.”
1982-84 - “The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky – Volume 1 through 6” are published Russian. Only a selection of Vygotsky’s work was published by the time of his early death in 1934. The remainder remained in the hands of devoted colleagues until they could safely be assembled in the 1970s and published in the 1980s.
1986 - S. Rubinstein’s “The Principle of Creative Spontaneous Activity” published in English in the Journal of Psychology, no. 4.
1987 - “The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky – Volume 1” is published in English.
1993 - “The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky – Volumes 2 through 4” are published in English.
1997 - Lev Vygotsky’s “Educational Psychology” (1923) is published in English.
1998 - “The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky – Volume 5” is published in English.
1999 - “The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky – Volume 6” published in English.