Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development

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The role of culture

- Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the cognitive development

- culture is a prime determinant of individual development

- a child's cognitve development appears first on a social level and later at an individual level 

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Mental processes

Elementary and higher mental functions

- Children are born with elementary functions such as attention, sensation and perception

- These are transformed into higher mental functions (language, decision making and reasoning- exclusive to humans) by the influence of culture and social interaction,

- Higher mental functions are dependent on cultural influences, therefore different higher mental fucntions are found in different cultutes 

"The role of culture is to transform elementary functions in to higher mental functions"

How and what to think

Through culture children aquire:

- the content of their knowledge & the process of their thinking

"Culture teaches children what and how to think"

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Process of cultural influences

The influence of others: experts

- A child learns through problem solving with an 'expert' (teacher, parent, more competent peer)

- The expert guides the problem solving activity and over time this ability transfers to the child

Semitoics & the role of lanuage 

- Culture knowledge is transmitted by experts using semiotics (cultural signs and symbols) such as language

- Acquisition of language is crucial for cognitive development as there is a relationship between language and thought

- Around 2-3 years children use language to solve problems, often out loud (ecocentric speech)

- About age 7, this gives way to silent/ inner speech, which continues as a way of refelcting upon and solving problems

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Process of cultural influences cont.

Zone of proximal developmet (ZPD)

- The distance between what a child can do and their potential

- The ZPD is the region where cognitive development takes place

- The learner is aided by culture and social interaction

- Learning between two people later becomes internalised 

The social and individual levels

-Every aspect of a child's cognitive development appears first at a social level (e.g. between child and others) and later at an individual level (inside the mind of a child) 

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Evaluation- research evidence

Vygotsky proposed that "Higher mental functions are exclusive to humans" however research into teaching primates to communicate and understand human language proves him wrong. Kanzi, a pygmy chimpanzee, was taught how to use human language using a symbol system. He was influenced by a human culture and therefore internalised high mental function. 

"Higher mental functions are dependent on cultural influences, therefore different higher mental fucntions are found in different cultutes" Gredler (1992) cited the primitive counting system in Papua New Guinea as an example of how culture can limit cognitive development:

- counting was carried out using limbs across the body which limited counting to 29

- this meant that dealing with large numbers, addition and subtraction wasn't possible, a limiting factor for development in this culture 

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Evaluation- research evidence cont.

The Role of the ZPD

McNaughton & Leyland observed young children working on puzzles with their mothers or alone on jigzaw puzzles with increasing difficulty. A week later the children were observed working on the puzzles on their own. 

The children who were with their mothers (Potential ability) reached a higher level of puzzle difficulty than those who worked on their own (current ability)

- When children were doing easy puzzles (below child's ZPD) the mothers were mainly concerned with keeping them on the task

- When they were working within their ZPD, their mothers focused on helping the kids solve the puzzles themselves

At the third difficulty level (outside their ZPD) the emphasis was on completing he puzzle by whatever means  

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Limitations of Vygotsky's theory

- There has been little research related to Vygotsky's theory compared with Piaget's theory

- Vygotsky's theory doesn't produce any testable statements so the concepts to operationalise

- Vygotsky completely ignores biological factos for cognitive development

- Vygotsky may have overplayed the importance on docial environment- if social influence was all that was needed then learning would happen alot faster 

- His theory lacks lot of detail- although this may be due to the fact that he died at such a young age

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Strengths of Vygotsky's theory

- the theory provides a bridge between social and cognitive domains

- it offers ways that can be actively assisting a learner

- Vygotsky's theory potentially has more educational purposes that piaget's theory

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