Sociocultural Theory Ls Vygotsky

The sociocultural view of psychology is that psyche development occurs in response to social influence and social interactions. The premise is that interpersonal communication stimulates cognitive development. The view grew out of L.S. Vygotsky’s research in Russia during the 1920s and 1930s with special education students.

 Vygotsky’s work was suppressed to two decades before it was made available to the West. Vygotsky’s perspective on the power of social interaction and culture in shaping human cognitive development led to a new school of thought that emphasized the use of social activities and interactions to stimulate internal processing of the information in a manner that results in cognitive development. The sociocultural view as it came to be known presented a contrast with the pre-existing views of that time that psychological development was due to internal forces (psychodynamic) or to external forces (behaviorism).

The sociocultural view proposes that human development begins in infancy and with dependence on caregivers. The quality of the relationship that exists between the caregiver and infant transmits information the child processes and begins to use in the child’s developing understanding of the nature of others. Vygotsky’s “genetic law of development” share many similarities with other developmental theories that emphasize the psychological impact of early interactions between caregivers and infants like Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development and John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory.

In addition to the quality of interactions, children learning through increased interaction in the adult’s or caregiver’s world as the child matures. Rogoff  (1990) suggests that “guided participation” encourages the child’s participation in the adult’s world through the creation of routine interactions. Routine interactions include conversations as well as types of work or chores shared between parent and child. Optimal learning occurs if within the routine the child engages challenging and varied experiences that expand learning opportunities. Repetition within these “guided participation” activities reinforces learning.

Key Terms

“Semiotic mediation” includes the various language tools that people use to process and learn language. Semiotic mediation tools include writing, pictures, and mnemonic devices. Mediums of communication such as television or the computer have added to sociocultural theory. Sociocultural theorists like Leontiev (1981) propose that knowledge from social interaction is a product of “appropriation” or the ability of the child to use semiotic mediation tools to process the information. Vygotsky proposed that people are motivated to learn how to process information due to an internal drive to master their environments.  

“Cognitive pluralism” describes the multiple streams of information that influence the outcome of information processing because communication includes words and symbols that may vary in meaning. The child will need to learn how to discern between varied meanings to arrive at the meaning that applies to a given situation. 

“Genetic analysis” describes the placement of information within a framework of cognitive understanding. “Genetic analysis” seeks for interconnection between a piece of information and information already placed within the child’s cognitive frame. A popular term for this cognitive framework is worldview. 

“Functional system analysis” explores the dynamic or static nature of social contexts. Functional learning occurs if information processed through changing and stable social contexts can be accurately integrated into the child’s worldview. Social contexts and interactions considered to be stable are assumed to be normal and reinforce the processing of information that occurs within these context.  

Current Influence

Sociocultural theory is popular in postmodern views of psychology and in education. Sociocultural theory denies the value of categorizing social phenomenon because the meaning of social information is a product of the individual’s processing of the information. Educators use sociocultural theory in an attempt to create productive social interactions with the understanding that within the social interaction and creating productive routines that learning can take place.


Leontiev, A. N. (1981). Problems of the development of mind. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in thinking. New York: Oxford University Press.