Sociocultural Theory

Topics: Developmental psychology, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget Pages: 9 (2727 words) Published: March 1, 2013

What Is Sociocultural Theory? 

Sociocultural theory is an emerging theory in psychology that looks at the important contributions that society makes to individual development. This theory stresses the interaction between developing people and the culture in which they live. Sociocultural theory grew from the work of seminal psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who believed that parents, caregivers, peers and the culture at large were responsible for the development of higher order functions. According to Vygotsky, "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 equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals."Vygotsky was a contemporary of other great thinkers such as Freud, Skinner, and Piaget, but his early death at age 38 and suppression of his work in Stalinist Russia left him in relative obscurity until fairly recently. As his work became more widely published, his ideas have grown increasingly influential in areas including child development, cognitive psychology and education. Sociocultural theory focuses not only how adults and peers influence individual learning, but also on how cultural beliefs and attitudes impact how instruction and learning take place.


Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory: Vygotsky is best known for being an educational psychologist with a sociocultural theory. This theory suggests that social interaction leads to continuous step-by-step changes in children's thought and behavior that can vary greatly from culture to culture (Woolfolk, 1998). Basically Vygotsky's theory suggests that development depends on interaction with people and the tools that the culture provides to help form their own view of the world. There are three ways a cultural tool can be passed from one individual to another. The first one is imitative learning, where one person tries to imitate or copy another. The second way is by instructed learning which involves remembering the instructions of the teacher and then using these instructions to self-regulate. The final way that cultural tools are passed to others is through collaborative learning, which involves a group of peers who strive to understand each other and work together to learn a specific skill. His theory combines the social environment and cognition. Children will acquire the ways of thinking and behaving that make up a culture by interacting with a more knowledgeable person. Vygotsky believed that social interaction will lead to ongoing changes in a child's thought and behavior. These thoughts and behaviors would vary between cultures (Berk, 1994).  The sociocultural theory consists of several elements to help implement it. Consider private speech, where children speak to themselves to plan or guide their own behavior. This is most common among preschoolers, who have not yet learned proper social skills but rather explore the idea of it. Children often use private speech when a task becomes too difficult and the child doesn't know how to proceed. Private speech helps the child accomplish a task. Vygotsky believed private speech changes with age, by becoming softer or being just a whisper. The second element in the sociocultural theory is the zone of proximal development (ZPD). It's the concept that a child accomplishes a task that he/she cannot do alone, with the help from a more skilled person. Vygotsky also described the ZPD as the difference between the actual development level as determined by individual problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving...
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