Social Development Theory (L. Vygotsky)


The major theme of Vygotsky's theoretical framework is that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. Vygotsky (197 8) states: "Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equall y to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions orig inate as actual relationships between individuals." (p57).

A second aspects of Vygotsky's theory is the idea that the potential for cognitiv e development is limited to a certain time span which he calls the "zone of proximal development" (ZPD). Furthermore, full development during the ZPD depends upon full social interaction. The range of skill that can be developed with adult guidance or peer collaboration exceeds what can be attained alone.

Vygotsky's theory was an attempt to explain conciousness as the end product of socialization. For example, in the learning of language, our first utterances with peers or adults are for the purpos e of communication but once mastered they become internaliz ed and allow "inner speech".

Vygotsky's theory is complementary to the work of Bandura on social learning and a key component of situated learning theory. Because Vygotsky's focus was on cognitive development, it is interesting to compare his views with those of Bruner and Piaget .


This is a general theory of cognitive development. Most of the original wor k was done in the context of language learning in children (Vygotsky, 1962), although later applications of the framework have been broader (see Wertsch, 1985).


Vygotsky (1978, p56) provides the example of pointing a finger. Initially, th is behavior begins as a meaningless grasping motion; however, as people react to the gesture, it becomes a movement that has meaning. In particular, the pointing gesture resprese nts a interpersonal connection between individuals.


1. Cognitive development is limited to a certain range at any given age.

2. Full cognitive development requires social interaction.


Vygotsky, L.S. (1962). Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Min d in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J.V. (1985). Cultural, Communication, and Cognition: Vygotskian Perspectives. Cambridge University Press.

Web Sites

Appalachian State Univ, Vygotsky Construction Zone

Indiana Univ P540 course page on Vygotsky

Virtual Faculty at Massey College, Celebration of the Centenary of the Birth of Vygotsky