The work of Lev Vygotsky (1934) has become the foundation of much research and theory in cognitive development over the past several decades, particularly of what has become known as Social Development Theory.
Vygotsky’s theories stress the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition (Vygotsky, 1978), as he believed strongly that community plays a central role in the process of “making meaning.”
Contemporary with Jean Piaget, Russian psychologist Lev Vygostky distanced himself from the beliefs held by the Frenchman regarding cognitive development.
Piaget describes development as an internal construction of the subject, born from the interactions with objects, whilst Lev Vygostky (buy his books from Amazon) insists on the crucial role social interaction has in this developmental process.
Vygotski Vs. Piaget
Piaget and Vygotsky were contemporaries, yet Vygotsky’s ideas never became as well-known until long after his death. While their ideas shared some similarities, there were some significant differences.
Cognitive Development is viewed by Vygotsky like a socioconstruct which follows an opposite direction than the one Piaget thought of. The thesis of psychosocial genesis of the psychic functions lead to a radical restatement of an old dispute which refers to the relationships between development and learning.
In the Piagetian view, learning capacities were dependable on the individual’s level of development – cognitive development conditions learning. Lev Vygotsky thinks differently.
- Vygotsky did not break down development into a series of predetermined stages as Piaget did.
- Vygotsky stressed the important role that culture plays, suggesting cultural differences can have a dramatic effect on development. Piaget’s theory suggests that development is largely universal.
- Piaget’s theory focuses a great deal of attention on peer interaction while Vygotsky’s theory stresses the importance of more knowledgeable adults and peers.
- The Russian psychologist’s theory heavily stressed the role that language plays in development, something that Piaget largely ignored.
- Unlike Piaget, he did not believe a child must be already “apt” in order for him to be able to learn something new.
The Theory of Social Development
The cognitive construction of the person is realised in interactive contexts, in which the child and the adult are both engaged in a mutual activity. The knowledge and skills of the child are forming and developing due to this cooperation process, which implies a novice and an expert. The more experienced person provides a setting which helps the child operate in the direction of a better understanding.
In his concept of cognitive development, Vygostky believes it is the result of a double formation: the first one external and the second one internal. The movement of this development is from social to individual, and not the other way around. The capabilities of the child firstly manifest themeselves in an interindividual relationship, where the social environment supplies the child with guidance, forming an assistive or collaborative relationship between the child and the adult. Only after this took place, the triggering and individual control of activities happen, as a result of an interiorising process.
Every psychic function appears twice in the course of child development: first, in an collective activity conducted by the adult – interpsychic function – and second, like an individual activity, like a internal propriety of the child’s thinking – intrapsychic function. A good example is language.
Key Concepts in Vygotsky's Theory
Lev Vygostky’s (buy his books from Amazon) Theory accentuates the importance of becoming consciouss of the zone of proximal development the child currently manifests and correctly predict the outcome he is most likely to direct based on his capabilities. This plays an important role in education.
According to Lev Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development is
“[The] distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.”—Lev Vygotsky, Mind in Society, 1978
Essentially, this zone is the gap between what a child knows and what he does not yet know. The process of acquiring that information requires skills that a child does not yet possess or cannot do independently, but can do with the help of a more knowledgeable other.
Parents and teachers can foster learning by providing educational opportunities that lie within a child’s zone of proximal development. Kids can also learn a great deal from peers, so teachers can foster this process by pairing less skilled children with more knowledgeable classmates.
Vygotsky conceived the more knowledgeable other as a person who has greater knowledge and skills than the learner. In many cases, this individual is an adult such as a parent or teacher. Kids also learn a great deal from their interactions with their peers, and children often pay even greater attention to what their friends and classmates know and are doing than they do to the adults in their life.
No matter who serves as the more knowledgeable other, the key is that they provide the needed social instruction with the zone of proximal development when the learner is so sensitive to guidance. Children can observe and imitate or even receive guided instruction to acquire new knowledge and skills.
Within the zone, the structure that enabled an individual to move forward in their ability was termed scaffolding. Scaffolding is an incremental change in information support that steps the learner up to the highest level they can achieve with support. This gain in knowledge would be an example of intermental learning, whereas, when the individual undertakes the new skill on their own, they have accomplished intramental learning.
When the individual is able to transfer the newly learned skill to a different context, which may require abstract thought, the learning has become “decontextualised”. This means the individual does not have to remain in the physical situation in which they learned the skill. They are also able to imagine a scenario and use hypothetico-deductive reasoning to formulate an answer to a question which is abstract in nature.
Lev Vygotsky also suggested that human development results from a dynamic interaction between individuals and society. Through this interaction, children learn gradually and continuously from parents and teachers.
This learning, however, can vary from one culture to the next. It’s important to note that Vygotsky’s Theory of Social Development emphasizes the dynamic nature of this interaction. Society doesn’t just impact people; people also affect their society.
The Russian also viewed language development as s semiotic mediator of the psychic activity. Though language, the individual is organising his or her perceptions and thinking processes.
Inspired by the sociocognitive approaches to learning, Rolland Viau proposes an innovative motivation model in the context of acquiring information and completing goals.
Although the model has been initially designed for the learning student, its structures can be just as easily and successfully applied to any situation where an individual is faced with a challenge and a need to be completing a goal.
Emotion represents a complex of affective states that implies conscious or unconscious experiences which lead to psychological responses that either inhibit or facilitate the motivation of behaviour.
Emotions exert an incredibly powerful force on human behavior. Strong emotions can cause you to take actions you might not normally perform or to avoid situations you enjoy. Why exactly do we have emotions? What causes us to have these feelings?
The persona, for Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, was the social face the individual presented to the world—”a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”.
Jung’s individuation process starts from this level, of the persona, of the social mask, trying to break the artificial convention through awareness of its presence and function, and the attenuation of its often oppressive-imperative character.
Sigmund Freud is regarded as the father of psychodynamic theories, the founder of psychoanalysis and the creator of psychosexual stages theory of human development. Regardless of the acceptance or disapproval of his ideas about human development, his influence over psychology was enormous. During a puritan era he managed to construct a theory of unconscious motivation, of human sexuality and instinctual aggression.
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training. Mindfulness is derived from sati, a significant element of Buddhist traditions, and based on Zen, Vipassanā, and Tibetan meditation techniques.
Clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people experiencing a variety of psychological conditions.
William James, known as the father of American Psychology, developed along with his 19th Century fellow psychologist Carl Lange the James-Lange theory which considers that environmental events lead to the apparition of muscular and visceral responses, and that these responses eventually determine emotions. Instead of feeling an emotion and subsequent physiological (bodily) response, the theory proposes that the physiological change is primary, and emotion is after that experienced, as the brain reacts to the information received via the body’s nervous system.
The emotion follows the behaviour, and does not determine it.