Vygotksy's Theory of Cognitive Development

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Mental Processes

Vygotsky proposed children are born with elementary mental functions, e.g. perception and use of memory. There are biological and a form of natural development.

These are transformed into higher mental functions, e.g. mathmatical systems, which are uniquely human. 

This transformation happens with culture - shared meanings and social contexts.

Through culture children aquire the content of their thinking e.g. their knowledge, as well as the processes (i.e. what and how to think).


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Process of Cultural Influence

Role of experts - a child learns through problem solving shared with a more competant peer. Initially, the expert assumes most of the responsibility, but gradually responsibility transfers to the child.

Semiotics and the role of language - culture is transmitted by experts using semiotics (signs and symbols). Language is the most important semiotic as it allows conversation between the expert and learner; transmitting rich knowledge that exists in the culture. Initially, language is shared (pre-intellectual speech), however as children begin to develop mental representation they can communicate with themselves how they would with others. At age 2 children can solves problems using speech out loud (egocentric speech), at age 7 this becomes silent.

Social and individual level - every function appears twice: socially (between people) and individually (inside the child). The child converts social relations into higher mental functions through mediation. Semiotic mediation is the most improtant.

Zone of Proximal Development - is the zone in which a childs ability to develop is expanded to with the help of a peer or adult. Unlike Piaget, Vygotsky believed that learning preceeds development.

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The role of culture - Gredler (1992) used the primary counting system in Papua New Guinea as an example of how culture can limit cognitive development. As counting is done along the arm ending at 29, it makes it difficult to add/subtract large numbers.

Role of language - Carmicheal et al (1932) showed ps a kidney shape and told them it was either a canoe or a kidney bean. Whe asked to redraw it, they differed depending on the label; showing how language affects how we remember.

The role of ZDP - McNaughton and Leyland (1990) found children could complete harder jugsaws with the help of their mother. at stage 2 the mothers helped the child complete it forthemselves, at stage 3 the monether had to give more input. This support Vygotsky as he said learning should be at the edge of level 2.

  • Difficult to study because its hard to be operationalised (psych as a science)
  • Overplays social influence, if it was only due to social impact we would all develop quicker
  • Lacks detail due to early death
  • Good educational application
  • Miller (1994) Vygotsky was a communist, Piaget an individualist and therefore may have effected their theories.
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