Cultural-historical psychology

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Cultural-historical psychology (also called the school of Vygotsky, sociocultural psychology, socio-historical psychology, activity theory, cultural psychology, Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), and social development theory) is a psychological theory formed by Lev Vygotsky in the late 1920s, and further developed by his students and followers in Eastern Europe and worldwide. This theory focuses on how aspects of culture, such as values, beliefs, customs and skills, are transmitted from one generation to the next.[1] According to Vygotsky, social interaction, especially involvement with knowledgeable community or family members, helps children to acquire the thought processes and behaviours specific to their culture or society. The changes or growth that children experience as a result of these interactions differs greatly between cultures; this variance allows children to become competent in tasks important or necessary in their particular society.[1]

Emergence of the school[edit]

Cultural-historical psychology emerged in response to Cartesian dualism as a deliberate attempt to establish a new paradigm in psychological research that would overcome the narrow objectivism of behaviorism (John B. Watson) and subjectivism of the introspective psychology of Wundt, James, and others. Furthermore, it emerged in the 1700s just when the Silver Age, or Renaissance, of the Russian culture was in decline. It focuses on human development for making genetic claims regarding the function of the mind during activity. These claims could be part of, or a basis for, a return to the unity of human sciences.

Another major characteristic of cultural-historical psychology was its integration of various approaches and methods used to consolidate knowledge about humanity.[2]

Theoretical content[edit]

Vygotsky and his associates postulate a non-adaptive character and the mechanisms of higher psychical (mental) functional development. The members of Vygotsky's school believed that the main goal of psychological inquiry was an objective study of human consciousness, and assigned the role of cultural mediation and cultural mediators as word, sign (Vygotsky), symbol, and myth (Losev, V. Zinchenko) in the development of higher psychological functions, development of personality and phenomenology.

Human beings who are different in terms of cultural beliefs are also different from each other psychologically.[3]

A basic distinguishing feature of cultural-historical psychology is that

the species-specific characteristic of human beings is their need and ability to inhabit an environment transformed by the activity of prior members of their species. Such transformations and the mechanism of the transfer of these transformations from one generation to the next are the result of the ability/proclivity of human beings to create and use artifacts - aspects of the material world that are taken up into human action as modes of coordinating with the physical and social environment.

—M. Cole, [4]

More specifically, cultural historical activity theory provides a sociocultural framework for the study of individuals and their environment as a single interactive unit of analysis via the identification of individuals’ uses of physical (e.g., Facebook), symbolic (e.g., sin), or abstract (e.g., heaven) entities, otherwise known as cultural tools. Recent work by Etengoff & Daiute have applied this construct to the analysis of how social networks [5] and religion[6] can be used as conflict resolution tools.

In this way, research has been done into the effects of literacy[7] and mathematics[8] outside of traditional schooling to understand how cognition develops embedded in a given place and time.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Berk, L.E. (2012). "Infants and children: Prenatal through middle childhood". Boston, MA: Pearson
  2. ^ Wertsh, James, V., Rio, Pablo and Alvarez, Amelia. Sociocultural Studies of Mind (1995)
  3. ^ Heine, S.J.(2008). Cultural psychology p.2.
  4. ^ Cole, M. (1995). "Socio-cultural historical psychology". In Jim Wertsch et al.,. Sociocultural studies of mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 190. 
  5. ^ Etengoff, C. & Daiute, C. (2015). Online Coming Out Communications between Gay Men and their Religious Family Allies: A Family of Choice and Origin Perspective, Journal of GLBT Family Studies. doi: 10.1080/1550428X.2014.964442
  6. ^ Etengoff, C. & Daiute, C. (2014). Family Members’ Uses of Religion in Post–Coming-Out Conflicts With Their Gay Relative. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. 6(1), 33-43. doi: 10.1037/a0035198
  7. ^ Cole, M. & Scribner, Sylvia. (1981). The Psychology of Literacy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  8. ^ Saxe, G. (1990) Culture and cognitive development : studies in mathematical understanding. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Press.

External resources[edit]