Sociocultural Theory of the Cognitive Development of Vygotsky

Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of cognitive development is globally recognized as a defender of the sociocultural perspective of development.


Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of cognitive development focuses on the important contributions that society makes to individual development. This theory emphasizes the interaction between people in development and the culture in which they live. In addition, the socio-cultural theory of Vygotsky’s cognitive development also suggests that human learning is, to a large extent, a social process.

Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of cognitive development focuses not only on how adults and peers influence individual learning, but also on how cultural beliefs and attitudes impact on the way instruction and learning are carried out.

It should be noted that Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory is one of the foundations of constructivism, in that it states that children, far from being mere passive recipients, construct their own knowledge, their own scheme, from the information they receive.

“Knowledge that does not come from experience is not really knowledge.”

-Lev Vygotsky-

Keys to the socio-cultural theory of Vygotsky’s cognitive development

Vygotsky argued that the community plays a central role in the process of ‘making sense’. That is why his sociocultural theory of cognitive development emphasizes the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition.

According to Vygotsky, children still have a long period of development at the brain level. In addition, each culture would provide what he called intellectual adaptation tools. These tools allow children to use their basic mental abilities in a manner that is sensitive to the culture in which they grow.

Vygotsky argued that learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the culturally organized development process, specifically the human psychological function. In other words, social learning tends to precede development.

Like Piaget, Vygotsky said that babies are born with the basic skills for intellectual development. According to Vygotsky, these elementary mental functions are: attention, sensation, perception and memory. It is through interaction within the sociocultural environment that these functions are developed in more sophisticated and effective mental processes and strategies, which are referred to as higher mental functions.

In this sense, Vygotsky considers that cognitive functions, even those that are carried out alone, are affected by the beliefs, values ​​and tools of intellectual adaptation of the culture in which a person develops and, therefore, , they are determined socioculturally. In this way, the tools of intellectual adaptation vary from culture to culture.

Vygotsky believed that each culture presents unique differences. Because cultures can vary so dramatically, Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory suggests that both the course and content of intellectual development are not as universal as Piaget believed.

Zone of proximal development

One of the most important concepts in the socio-cultural theory of Vygotsky’s cognitive development is the area of ​​proximal development. According to Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development is the distance between the level of real development determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development determined through the resolution of problems under the guidance of an adult or in collaboration with peers. able.

Essentially, the zone of proximal development includes all the knowledge and skills that a person can not yet understand or perform on its own, but is capable of learning with guidance. As children can improve their skills and knowledge, they can progressively extend this zone of proximal development.

Vygotsky believes that the zone of proximal development is the area where the help in the learning process of someone more expert can take on greater value. That is to say, it is that place where the apprentice can benefit more, in terms of learning, from having an expert.

Father and son parenting styles

Vygotky’s theory also highlighted the importance of play in learning. Parents and teachers can use this context to find out where the child’s zone of proximal development is and take it to the child.

the. We speak of that area where there are tasks that constitute a real challenge for the apprentice; a set of challenges that, given their level of development, can overcome with a small support.

Vygotsky also sees interaction with peers as an effective way to develop skills and strategies. They constitute stimuli that normally have a similar proximal development zone. That is why he suggests using cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with the help of more skilled colleagues.