things in their environment, thus displaying a high degree of distractibility.
One can consider figure-background confusion as a particular manifestation of forced responsiveness to stimuli. Being from the German Gestalt School of psychology, Goldstein was interested in his patients’ perception of form and figure-ground relationships. He interpreted much of the soldiers’ distractibility as a deficiency in discriminating figure from background. In the case of reading, for example, they would have problems focusing on a word or phrase in the context of hundreds of words on a page of print.
Goldstein hypothesized that abstract thinking, because of its primary place in the hierarchy of intellectual behaviors, was one of the first aspects of cognition to be affected by brain injury. He noted that whenever one of the patients
must transcend concrete (immediate) experience in order to act—whenever he must refer to things in an imaginary way—he then fails…. Each problem which forces him beyond the sphere of immediate reality to that of the “possible,” to the sphere of representation, insures his failure. (Goldstein, 1939, p. 29)
Goldstein’s patients had a tendency to repeat the same behaviors over and over again. This perseveration could be verbal or motor. Goldstein conjectured that it was a way that the damaged organism could rescue itself from disorganization.
Another symptom used to ward off disorganization was meticulosity. Many of the soldiers became very rigid in their daily living habits, structuring their time schedules and objects in their environment. Goldstein theorized that this penchant for routine was used by the patients to protect themselves from overstimulation and disorganized perceptions. If the patients were unsuccessful in dealing with overstimulation and disorganization, they could experience a “catastrophic reaction,” a total emotional breakdown similar to a severe temper tantrum. Goldstein attributed such outbursts to the patients’ inability to make sense of the
chaotic perceptual world in which they lived.
Goldstein highlighted the resiliency of the brain-damaged organism in automatically being able to compensate for disturbed functions. His conceptualization of the brain was in the Gestalt tradition of looking at the total array of behaviors rather than individual symptoms, which was in contrast to those seeking to localize specific functions with particular areas of the brain.
Heinz Werner, Alfred Strauss, Newell Kephart, and Laura Lehtinen. Goldstein’s findings served as the basis for the research of Heinz Werner, a developmental psychologist, and Alfred Strauss, a neuropsychiatrist. With the rise to power of Hitler, Werner and Strauss both fled Germany, with Werner going first to the Netherlands and Strauss to Spain. Eventually, both ended up in the United States at the Wayne County Training School. There they teamed up to focus on whether brain damage in children with mental retardation resulted in the same symptoms as what Goldstein had found in adults who were not retarded.
Using a dichotomy introduced earlier by Larsen (1931), Strauss and Werner divided residents at Wayne County for their studies into those with exogenous versus endogenous mental retardation. Children with exogenous mental retardation were considered to have a brain disease or injury of some kind whereas those with endogenous mental retardation were presumed retarded because of heredity or a poor learning environment.
Through a series of laboratory-based studies, Werner and Strauss found the exogenous group to exhibit more forced responsiveness than the endogenous group to visual and auditory stimuli (Strauss & Werner, 1942; Werner & Strauss, 1939, 1940, 1941). For example, in one study (Werner & Strauss, 1941) they presented children with a series of slides, exposing each slide for only a fraction of a second. Each slide contained a drawing of a familiar figure such as sailboat or a cup, embedded in a background such as wavy or undulating lines. After each slide, the child was asked to identify what he or she had just seen. The exogenous group was more likely to refer to the background and was less able to identify the figure