Bernshtein, Nikolai

Bernshtein, Nikolai Aleksandrovich


Born Oct. 24 (Nov. 5), 1896, Moscow; died there Jan. 16, 1966. Soviet psychophysiologist and physiologist, creator of a new research specialization—the physiology of activity.

Bernshtein graduated from the medical department (1919) and then took the course of the mathematics department of the University of Moscow. In 1922 he organized the biomechanics laboratory of the Central Labor Institute and later of the All-Union Institute of Experimental Medicine; he was also organizer and chief of the biomechanics laboratories at various institutes (Central Scientific Research Institute of Physical Culture and others).

Bernshtein’s research constitutes the theoretical foundation of contemporary biomechanics, especially the biomechanics of athletics, prosthesis, labor, activities of astronauts, and so on. A number of Bernshtein’s works are devoted to the study of the dynamics of muscular forces and the innervational structures of motor acts. He introduced basic improvements in the techniques of recording and analyzing movements (kymocyclogram and cyclogrammetry). Several ideas expressed by Bernshtein in the 1930’s anticipated the basic assumptions of cybernetics. To Bernshtein belongs one of the first clear formulations of the concept of feedback in physiology and also the idea of the organization of movement by levels. As a result of the inadequacy of the concept of the “reflex arc” in explaining motor acts, Bernshtein introduced the concept of the “reflex cycle,” based on the interpretation of the entire system of relations between the organism and its environment as a continuous cyclic process. The concept of the physiology and biology of activity created by Bernshtein laid the foundation for the development of new principles for understanding the body’s life activities. Centering attention on the problem of the organism’s activity in relation to its environment, Bernshtein laid a broad scientific, as well as experimental, base for the study of the expediency of the actions of a living organism. Bernshtein’s ideas have gone beyond the confines of neurophysiology and psychophysiology and are at the center of contemporary problems in neurocybernetics, bionics, and so on. He earned the State Prize of the USSR (1948) for his monograph “On the Structure of Movement.”


Obshchaia biomekhanika. Moscow, 1926.
“Problema vzaimootnoshenii koordinatsii i lokalizatsii.” Arkhiv biologicheskikh nauk, 1935, vol. 38, issue 1.
“Ocherednye problemy fiziologii aktivnosti.” In Problemy kibernetiki, issue 6. Moscow, 1961.
“Puti i zadachi fiziologii aktivnosti.” Voprosy filosofii, 1961, no. 6.
Ocherki po fiziologii dvizhenii i fiziologii aktivnosti. Moscow, 1966.


Modeli strukturno-funktsional’noi organizatsii nekotorykh biologicheskikh sistem. Moscow, 1966.
Bassin, F. V. “O podlinnom znachenii neirofiziologicheskikh kontseptsii N. A. Bernshteina.” Voprosy filosofii, 1967, no. 11.