Vygotsky's Social Development Theory

  • Created by: QCrees21
  • Created on: 27-05-16 20:29

Social Interaction

Unlike Piaget, Vygotsky insisted that the development of the individual can only be properly understood in a social and cultural context. Vygotsky saw cognitive development as a social process. It is created by the society and culture within which the child lives.

Learning takes place in the context of social interaction, mainly through language, in collaboration with others.

The child is seen as an 'apprentice' contrasting  with Piaget who called children 'mini scientists'.

Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development.

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The development of language and thought

  • Pre-intellectual speech (0-3) - Language serves a social function only. At the same time thought is pre-linguistic.
  • Egocentric speech (3-7) - Speech which is carried out with oneself, not necessarily addressing anyone in particular. It is used as a means of learning speech as children have not yet learned to think internally.
  • Inner speech (7+) - Internalised speech is a form of self-directed dialogue, talking to oneself in silence. This means a child is able to think in their head of a dialogue before speaking.

Expert - Someone who at that time has more knowledg or higher ability level than the child. This could be a teacher, peer, parent etc.

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) - the distance between the childs current developmental level, measured by the tasks they able to achieve on their own, and when helped by another person more knowledgable than themselves

Scaffolding - Wood (1976) refers to support or help given to the child by a more knowledgable other - whilst working in the ZPD.

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Vygotsky's supporting studies

Mcnaughton and Leyland (1990) used jigsaw puzzles of different levels of difficulty to investigate ZPD. They found that the level of difficulty completed was lower in the second session (on their own) for most children.

Moss (1992) used a controlled observation to see the way children interacted with their parents. Parents taught their children new skills, praised them when the used useful strategies and discouraged them from using innappropriate strategies. 

Berk (1994) conducted a naturalistic observation on 6 year olds solving maths problems. They spent on average 60% of their time talking to themselves while working on the problem. Those whos speech contained mainly self directed comments did better at solving the problems.

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Evaluation of Vygotsky


  • This theory has highlighted that the social/cultural contect influences more than just our attitudes and beliefs; it had a profound influence on how we think as well as what we think. Contrasts with Piaget who largely ignored the social environment in which we develop.
  • According to Vygotsky's theory there should be major differences in cognitive development between cultures. Gredler showed that children in Papua New Guinea learn 1-29 on body parts.


  • Vygotsky argued that social interactions enhanced cognitive development because of instruction by experts. Light et al (1994) found that children learn better when another child was present. This is known as social faciltation.
  • This theory is deterministic. It supposes that if we were born into a different social culture we would largely be a different person.
  • There has been a lack of empirical evidence to support this theory as there was never a clear hypothesis being tested mainly just observations.
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