History of SBCN

Founding of the Behavioral Neurology Society

Kenneth M. Heilman; Francois Boller; Antonio Damasio

In the early 70s, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) decided to hold specialized platform sessions. Before this time, behavioral neurology most often had been called “higher cortical functions” or “neuropsychology,” and the paper sessions dealing with the topic were allocated time slots such as late Saturday morning, the last day of the meeting when most people had left. The Scientific Program Committee of the AAN asked Norman Geschwind to give these sessions a name. Because we were caring for patients who exhibited abnormal behaviors and many of the abnormal behaviors were also associated with subcortical diseases, Norman Geschwind thought that a better name for our specialty would be “behavioral neurology,” and our first specialized paper session at the AAN was called “behavioral neurology.” It took place in New York in 1972 and was co-chaired by Frank Benson and Alan Rubens.

Then, as now, these platform sessions were highly structured with one paper presented every 15 minutes, including an assigned discussant who was supposed to speak for 2 or 3 minutes. Many of the neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, as well as those from other professions who attended these scientific sessions often wanted to further discuss these papers along with other matters of mutual interest.  Following these sessions, many of us met outside the meeting room in the hotel or convention center lobby to discuss clinical and scientific matters of mutual interest.

In addition, many problems with our developing sub-specialty needed to be addressed. For example, the “In Service Examination” that residents took had only one behavioral neurology question about pure alexia and there were no correct answers, the closest being, left hemianopia. The written “Board” examination had many questions about psychodynamic theory, (e.g., Question: What is the mechanism of anorexia nervosa ? Answer: Fear of oral conception.), but almost no questions about behavioral neurology. There were virtually no behavioral neurologists on NIH study sections and researchers in this domain had trouble obtaining funding. The AAN did not invite keynote speakers who addressed the issues in which we were interested, and no scientific journal was devoted to our specialty. Because  the AAN had no sub-specialty sections  at the time, and we were already having informal meetings in the hallways, Francois Boller and I discussed the possibility of starting a society.

At the 1981 AAN meeting in New Orleans some 20 to 30 people attended an informal meeting. At that meeting, we took a straw vote to determine how many people thought it would be worthwhile forming such as society. We received overwhelming support for the founding of this organization. Thus, the Behavioral Neurology Society was founded in 1982. Our first formal meeting was held on Tuesday evening during the week of the AAN Annual Meeting in San Diego in 1983.

The first order of business was to elect officers. We decided to have three officers: a president, a vice president, and a secretary-treasurer. The president would serve two years and then retire, the vice president and treasurer would serve two years and then become president and vice president respectfully, and a new treasurer-secretary would be elected. Kenneth M. Heilman was elected as the first president, Francois Boller the vice president and Antonio Damasio the secretary-treasurer. In the first meeting we developed committees to deal with many of the problems discussed above. Dr. Boller raised the issue about certification. I spoke against it and the proposal was defeated, a terrible Heilman error. The Society also decided that we would invite an annual speaker and that our first speaker should be Norman Geschwind. The next year Norman Geschwind spoke to our society, and the committees were successfully changing the form of examinations and getting behavioral neurologists on study sections. The Behavioral Neurology Society, now called the Society for Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology, had been launched.