A Biography of Lev Vygotsky, One of the Most Influential Psychologists

Lev Vygotsky theories and life

A Biography of Lev Vygotsky, One of the Most Influential Psychologists

Lev Semonovich Vygotsky was born on the 5th of November 1896 in a small Russian town called Orsche. Within the first year of his life his family moved to Gomel, a city that is in what is now the independent nation of Belorussia, about 400 miles west of Moscow.

He was the second oldest of eight children. His parents were well educated Jews living in one of a few designated provinces reserved for Russians of Jewish descent.

His father was a respected bank manager and his mother who had trained as a teacher was a full-time homemaker.

Vygotsky's parents were fluent in a number of foreign languages. As a child Vygotsky was taught by his mother to care for the other children, all of whom shared equally in household duties.

The family would discuss history, literature, theatre and art, after dinner, which exposed Vygotsky to a wide range of interests. Vygotsky was taught by a private tutor, Solomon Ashpiz, a mathmatician, who had spent time in exile in Siberia for revolutionary activity.

The life of a Jew in Russia was limited in terms of places to live, study and work.

Vygotsky wished to train as a teacher but this was not an option for Jews in Russia, before the revolution. Government sponsored schools did not accept Jewish teachers.

Vygotsky therefore enrolled in medicine as this profession allowed Jews to practise outside 'the pale' of Jewish settlements.

The Moscow University accepted Jewish students according to a ballot and limited entry to 5% of all students. Vygotsky was luck enough to gain a place from the ballot.

When he decided medicine was not for him, he transferred to Law, which offered the same freedom's. Vygotsky simultaneously enrolled in a Jewish public university, to study philosophy and history.

The qualifications gained at the Shavyavsky Public University were not recognised, and degrees could not be awarded. Vygotsky graduated from Moscow University with a law degree in 1917, the year of the Russian revolution, and then returned to Gomel.

The town experienced the extreme results of civil war and famine.

Moscow University

In 1920 Vygotsky experienced the first of a number of attacks of tuberculosis and was worried that he would not survive. He collected his literary works together to deliver to his mentor — Yuli Aichenwald, in case of his death from this attack. Aichenwald was exiled from Russia in 1922. Vygotsky became preoccupied with the theme of death.

In 1924 Vygotsky presented a paper entitled “Methodology of reflexological and psychological research” at the Second Psychoneurological Congress in Leningrad. His choice of topic was considered bold, due to his youthful age and his relative inexpereience among the academics who were present.

A detailed timeline of Vygotsky's life is available here .

Vygotsky was a prolific writer and he had created, with the collaboration of Alexander Luria and Alexi N Leont'ev, a completely new Marxist based approach to psychology which emphasises the improtance of social interaction in human development.

Vygotsky's approach did not become known in the West until 1958, and was not published there until 1962. Vygotsky worked closely with, Alexander Luria and Alexi N Leont'ev. Both of these men carried on with this work until their deaths.

Vygotsky completed 270 scientific articles, numerous lectures and 10 books a wide range of Marxist based psychological and teaching theories as well as the areas of pedagogy (the science of teaching), art and aesthetics and sociology, before dying of tuberculosis in June 1934, at the age of 37. Vygotsky died while dictating the final chapter of his book 'Thought and language'.


Vygotsky's new approach to psychology can be traced to both his socio-cultural context and his genius skills of observation and knowledge intergration, supported by a photographic memory. It must be considered that Vygotsky's experience of living in Russia before, during and after the revolution had impacted on his perspective on life.

Vygotsky, and cohort theorists Piaget, Bruner and Dewey fall under the paradigm of constructivism. Constructivism is a proposed method of knowledge development an individual's active participation in problem-solving and critical thinking.

The individual literally constructs their own knowledge base using old constructs in new situations, and adapting them to fit newly learned information. In this process the individual is formulating new constructs.

This learning method occurs in the socio-cultural milieu of society and depends on interaction with other individuals. Vygotsky's theories fit within the realm of constructivism.

The main difference between Vygotsky's work and his contemporaries at the time, was his emphasis on an individuals interaction with their social environement. Vygotsky felt that learning occured due to interactions within the dyad, as a minimum unit of learning.

Initially an individual would interact with another person, who supported them to learn a new skill — this was termed “intermental” learning. Then the individual would internalise the skill enabling them to carry this new skill out on their own, which was termed “intramental” learning or ability.

The change from intermental to intramental ability is dependent on interaction with other people. Although it was origionally thought that this individual should be a teacher or adult of higher ability, it has been found that learining can occur in groups of similarly skilled individuals if they are motivated to help eachother.

The difference between what an individual can do on their own and what can be accomplished with assistance , Vygotsky termed “ The Zone of Proximal Development ”.

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.

Elementary psychological function consist of those functions we are born with before they are impacted on by social interaction with other humans. This level of functioning is common in animals although the human level of elementary psychological function is at a higher level than primates.


the development of human mental functions is viewed by Vygotsky as their transition from their original lower mental functions form into their higher mental functions form, with differences between the two being drawn along four major criteria: origins, structure, the way of functioning and the relation to other mental functions. By origins, most lower mental functions are genetically inherited, by structure they are unmediated, by functioning they are involuntary, and with regard to their relation to other mental functions they are isolated individual mental units. In contrast, higher mental function is socially acquired, mediated by social meanings, voluntarily controlled and exists as a link in a broad system of functions rather than as an individual unit.” Eugene Subbotsky

Higher mental process are mediated by tools. Tools can take one of three forms — symbols, material or another human beings behaviour. Semiotic mediators are pre-programmed psychological tools.

Symbols such as language are psychological tools that mediate an individuals psychological processes, material tools mediate between the individual and nature.

The mediation between individuals is the development of intramental abilities through intermental interaction. the following quote outlines the use of a material tool.

“When a human being ties a knot in her handkerchief as a reminder, she is, in essence, constructing the process of memorizing by forcing an external object to remind her of something; she transforms remembering into an external activity. This fact alone is enough to demonstrate the fundamental characteristic of the higher forms of behavior.

In the elementary form something is remembered; in the higher form humans remember something. In the first case a temporary link is formed owing to the simultaneous occurrence of two stimuli that affect the organism; in the second case humans personally create a temporary link through an artificial combination of stimuli.


The following quote outlines the use of language as a psychological tool, leading to decontextualisation of an activity.

“thanks to the planning function of speech, geared to the child's activity, the child creates, parallel to the stimuli of his environment, a second series of auxiliary stimuli standing between him and his environment and directing behaviour.

And it is due to this very secondary series of stimuli, created with the aid of speech, that the behaviour of the child reaches a higher level, acquiring a relative freedom from the situation that directly attracts it, and impulsive attempts are transformed into a planned, organised behaviour.

The auxiliary stimuli…prove to be no other than…symbolic signs…

they serve the child, first and foremost, as a means of social contacts with the surrounding people, and are also applied as a means of self-influence, a means of auto-stimulation, creating thus a new and superior form of activity in the child.”Vygotsky & Luria

Vygotsky was an extraodinary individual who within his lifetime managed to stimulate a body of work that is continued today. Educational psychology uses his theories to implement teaching programs which rather than using the process of rote learning desire interaction within the classroom. However Vygotsky's influence is not limited to education.

Constructivism in Sciencehttp://www.vast.org/construct3.html

Dialogic enquiry in educationhttp://www.oise.utoronto.ca/~gwells/NCTE.html

Mixed age-groups in early childhood educationhttp://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed308990.html

Vygotsky and affirmative actionhttp://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR25.6/gardner.html

Maths Forum — Vygotsky and the Internet http://www.bestpraceduc.org/people/LevVygotsky.html

Vygotsky resourceshttp://www.kolar.org/vygotsky/

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Mette Hansen-Reid, 08410658, 2001

Источник: https://www.massey.ac.nz/~wwpapajl/evolution/assign2/MHR/indexvyg.html

Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) — Cultural-Historical Theory, Education and Cognitive Development

A Biography of Lev Vygotsky, One of the Most Influential Psychologists

Fifty years after his death, Lev Semyonich Vygotsky attracted the attention of Western psychologists and educators for his theory of cognitive development.

In contrast to other cognitive perspectives, Vygotsky accorded a central role to culture and social interaction in the development of complex thinking.

In addition, he advocated the study of children's unfolding development of cognitive processes, and pioneered a research method to accomplish this purpose. He also contributed ideas to pedology (child study) and defectology (special education) that anticipated current views.

A humanist and intellectual, Vygotsky graduated in 1913 with a gold medal from the private Jewish gymnasium in his native Russian province.

Fluent in French and German, he studied philosophy and literature at Shanyavsky People's University while completing a master's degree in law at Moscow University.

Returning home in 1917, he taught at various institutes, and began reading widely in psychology and education.

Vygotsky's invitation to join the Institute of Experimental Psychology in Moscow in 1924, his official entry into psychology, was an accident of history.

The disappearance of old professional hierarchies in the reorganization of Soviet society and the directive to redesign psychology consistent with Marxist philosophy created an opportunity for new ideas.

Thus, Vygotsky joined a discipline for which he had had no formal training.

After completing his doctoral dissertation, «The Psychology of Art,» in 1925, Vygotsky pursued his goals of reconstructing psychology as a unified social science and explaining both the origins and development of human consciousness.

His rationale for this major task, discussed in his paper «The Crisis in Psychology,» foreshadowed the views of modern post-positivist philosophers of science. Specifically, research lacked a unifying theory, and as a result, had produced conflicting or unrelated findings.

Vygotsky sought to remedy this problem.

In his brief ten-year career, interrupted by severe bouts of tuberculosis, Vygotsky's demanding schedule included lecturing throughout the U.S.S.R., organizing research projects, and conducting clinical work.

His writing, undertaken late at night and during his hospitalizations, was banned in the U.S.S.R. in 1936 for twenty years for «bourgeois thinking.

» This charge originated from the fact that Vygotsky had incorporated ideas from European and American anthropologists, linguists, psychologists, and zoologists into his work.

In his thinking, Vygotsky applied dialectical synthesis in which a perspective (thesis) is negated by an opposing view (antithesis). Their interaction produces a synthesis in the form of a novel development or idea. Vygotsky reviewed and contrasted ideas from a variety of fields, fusing many of them into a qualitatively new explanation of cognitive development (synthesis).

Misinterpretations of Vygotsky's work have occurred because, until the 1990s, only a few fragmented ideas, taken context, had been translated into English. Thus, the long-term impact of his thinking is yet to be determined.

Cultural-Historical Theory

Applying dialectical synthesis, Vygotsky noted the Marxist concept of the influence of tool invention on human mental life (thesis) and the anthropological view of the role of culture in human development (antithesis).

His resolution was the designation of cultural signs and symbols as psychological tools, which he defined as instruments of cognitive development (synthesis). Their importance is that early humans created signs (simple psychological tools) and initiated progress toward complex thinking in the species (phylogeny).

For the individual in society, the task is to appropriate the symbol systems of one's culture to develop the related forms of reasoning (ontogeny).

In other words, the traditional role of signs and symbols, such as human speech, written language, and algebraic and mathematical symbols, is to serve as carriers of both meaning and sociocultural patterns.

Vygotsky, however, emphasized a second essential role, that of assisting individuals to master complex cognitive functions that are not fully developed prior to adolescence.

Referred to by Vygotsky as complex or higher cognitive functions, these capabilities are voluntary (self-regulated) attention, categorical perception, conceptual thinking, and logical memory.

Of particular importance is that Vygotsky considered higher cognitive functioning, the cultural development of behavior, and the mastery of one's behavior by internal processes as equivalent.

That is, the higher cognitive functions, which require self-mastery, develop through a complex dialectical process from given biological functions.

The process requires the child's mastery of the external materials of cultural reasoning, which become internal mechanisms of thinking.

Vygotsky's conceptualization anticipated subsequent discussions of the need to develop self-regulated learners who can direct and manage their own learning and thinking.

Un these perspectives, which have had limited success in teaching specific self-regulatory strategies for particular situations, Vygotsky identified two general requirements for developing self-directed thinking.

First, higher cognitive functions emerge only after students develop conscious awareness and some control of their own thought processes. Second, school instruction should focus on developing these broad capabilities, which, in turn, develops self-regulation.

The lengthy process required to develop self-mastery and the higher cognitive functions is illustrated in Vygotsky's identification of the four stages of learning to use symbols for thinking.

In developing logical memory, for example, symbol use progresses from preintellectual (child cannot master his or her behavior by organizing selected stimuli) to internalization in which individuals construct self-generated symbols as memory aids.

Essential to cognitive development is the social interaction between the learner and a knowledgeable adult.

Development of the higher cognitive functions depends on situations in which the adult commands the learner's attention, focuses his or her perception, or guides the learner's conceptual thinking.

Formally stated, any higher cognitive function, such as self-regulated attention, categorical perception, or conceptual thinking, was first external in the form of a social relationship between two people. Then, through the learner's activity, it becomes internalized as an intracognitive function.

Vygotsky's emphasis on the dynamics of development is reflected in his critique of psychological research for studying already developed or fossilized behaviors. Instead, research methods should capture the processes of development.

Vygotsky's double-stimulation method placed learners in problem-solving situations that were above their natural capacities. Available nearby were aids, such as colored cards or pictures.

Vygotsky and his co-workers studied the ways learners of different ages struggled or successfully used these aids, documenting changes in learner activity and accompanying changes in cognitive functioning.

Education and Cognitive Development

Two influential Vygotskian concepts are the role of inner speech and the zone of proximal development.

In contrast to the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, Vygotsky maintained that the child's external self-focused speech during activities did not disappear.

Instead, through a dialectical transformation, it became inner speech that guided the child's planning and other emerging thought processes.

Vygotsky's view that learning leads development and the immaturity of students' conscious awareness and mastery of their thinking at school age set the stage for the concept referred to as the zone of proximal development (ZPD).

Defined as including higher cognitive functions that are about to mature or develop, the ZPD is determined by the cognitive tasks the learner can complete in collaboration with an adult or an advanced peer.

Simply stated, the cognitive operations that the student can complete with the assistance of another today, he or she can accomplish alone tomorrow.

Some discussions of classroom practices credit Vygotsky as supporting or advocating peer collaboration in the classroom. However, translations of his writings indicate that he discussed only teacher-student collaboration in the classroom.

Higher cognitive functions develop through the teacher's requiring the learner to explain, compare, contrast, and generalize from subject-matter concepts.

In this way, students learn to control their attention, to think conceptually, and to develop logical networks of well-developed concepts in long-term memory.

Applying cultural-historical theory to disabilities such as deafness, Vygotsky emphasized that the child's social deprivation is the factor responsible for defective development.

For example, he noted that the blindness of a farmer's daughter and that of a duchess are different psychological situations because their social situations differ.

To address the difficulties faced by disabled learners, Vygotsky suggested that societies continue developing special psychological tools that can provide the social and cultural interactions essential for cognitive development.

Finally, Vygotsky's intellectual heritage includes his emphasis on child study as the science of child development. Required is the synthesis of knowledge from different disciplines that addresses both the development of novel cognitive functions and the educational needs of children.

VALSINER, JEAN. 1988 Developmental Psychology in the Soviet Union. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

VALSINER, JEAN, and VAN DER VEER, RENÉ. 2000. «Vygotsky's World of Concepts.» In The Social Mind: Construction of the Idea, ed. Jean Valsiner and René Van der Veer, pp. 323–384. New York: Cambridge University Press.

VAN DER VEER, RENÉ, and VALSINER, JEAN. 1991. Understanding Vygotsky: A Quest for Synthesis. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

VYGOTSKY, LEV S. 1987. «Problems of General Psychology.» The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky. Vol. 1, trans. Norman Minick. New York: Plenum

VYGOTSKY, LEV S. 1997. The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky. Vol. 4. The History of the Development of Higher Mental Functions (1931), trans. Marie J. Hall. New York: Plenum.

VYGOTSKY, LEV S. 1998. The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky. Vol. 5. Child Psychology (1928–1931), trans. Marie J. Hall. New York: Plenum.

Источник: https://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2539/Vygotsky-Lev-1896-1934.html

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)

A Biography of Lev Vygotsky, One of the Most Influential Psychologists

Lev Vygotsky was an early 20th century developmental psychologist who developed a sociocultural theory of child development designed to account for the influence of culture on a child's growth and development. 

Professional Life

Lev Vygotsky was born into an art- and literature-loving family in what is now Belarus on November 17, 1896, and he was raised in Gomel. Vygotsky began studying at the University of Moscow in 1913, though his course options were severely restricted because he was Jewish. Vygotsky elected to study law, and he graduated in 1917.

Back in Gomel, Vygotsky taught logic and psychology at a local college. In 1924, he wowed the Second All-Union Congress on Psychoneurology with his speech, and he was subsequently invited to join the Moscow Institute of Experimental Psychology.

At the institute, Vygostsky served as a teacher and researcher for nine years. Vygotsky was an innovative psychologist who made significant advancements in the field of child development.

Vygotsky’s short career focused on child development, developmental psychology, and educational philosophy. 

Contribution to Psychology

Vygotsky theorized that children develop their behaviors and habits from their cultures and through interpersonal experiences; he referred to this phenomena as cultural meditation.

He argued that higher thinking developed as a result of sociocultural interactions and referred to shared knowledge of a culture as internalization.

For example, a child who knows that using the toilet is a private activity has internalized a cultural norm.

Vygotsky's zone of proximal development (ZPD) remains a popular theory within the field of developmental psychology to illustrate a child’s learning process. The zone refers to the span of time it takes a child to proceed from the early stages of learning a new task to the point at which the child can complete the new task independently.

Vygotsky claimed that children learned to achieve more challenging tasks with the aid of someone more knowledgeable. Vygotsky referred to this form of social support as scaffolding: the process of helping a child do something without actually doing it for him or her. Scaffolding practices must be constantly adjusted to meet a child's new capabilities.

For example, a four year-old's zone of proximal development with regards to learning the alphabet might include knowing the alphabet song independently, but pointing to and identifying letters is something he or she might need scaffolding to achieve. As the child learns to recognize letters, his or her parents or teachers might scaffold the child into reading or writing.

Many contemporary parenting books advise scaffolding children.

Vygotsky drew a connection between language and thought processes and believed that internal speech developed as a result of exposure to external language.

He cautioned, however, that internal speech had much different content and character than external speech.

Inner speech serves as a way for a child to control and direct her own actions, while external speech plays a significant role in social and emotional development.

Vygotsky also conducted extensive research into play. He discovered that play serves a key role in learning and that children often learn concepts based upon make-believe play.

Play can take on symbolic meaning, such as when a child tells an adult that a stick is actually a snake. He argued that cultural norms, rules for behavior, and social skills are frequently learned through play.

Consequently, play is an important activity that enables children to learn to modulate and control their own behavior.

Selected Works by Lev Vygotsky

  • Educational Psychology (1926)
  • Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology (1927)
  • Thinking and Speech (1934)
  • Tool and Symbol in Child Development (1934)
  • Mind in Society (1978)
  • Thought and Language (1986)


  1. Bryant, P. (1996). Lev Vygotsky: Revolutionary Scientist. British Journal of Psychology, 87, 350. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/199581362?accountid=1229
  2. Harwood, R., Miller, S. A., & Vasta, R. (2008). Child psychology: Development in a changing society. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Lev Vygotsky. (2013). Encyclopedia of World Biography, Vol. 33. Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com/InContext/bio.htm

Last Update: 07-13-2015

Источник: https://www.goodtherapy.org/famous-psychologists/lev-vygotsky.html

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