A human brain being measured  with a measuring tape. Human Intelligence

Human Intelligence: Historical influences, current controversies, teaching resources.

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Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky

Russian Psychologist



  • Private Jewish Gymnasium in Gomel (1913)
  • Moscow University (Law degree, 1917; Ph.D., 1925)


  • Institute of Psychology, Moscow (1924-1934)

Major Contribution

  • Modern Constructivism: Sociocultural Theory

Ideas and Interests

Vygotsky influenced modern constructivist thinking perhaps more that any other individual. Vygotsky contended that, unlike animals - who react only to the environment, humans have the capacity to alter the environment for their own purposes. It is this adaptive capacity that distinguishes humans from lower forms of life. One of his central contributions to psychological thought was his emphasis on socially meaningful activity as an important influence on human consciousness. Vygotsky's most controversial contention was that all higher mental functions originate in the social environment. His approach to intelligence emphasized intelligence as a process activity rather than a state entity.

An important concept in Vygotsky's theory is the zone of proximal development. This is "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers." The zone of proximal development represents the amount of learning possible by a student given the proper instructional conditions. The field of self-regulation as well as several applications (such as instructional scaffolding) have been strongly influenced by his theory.

"The animal can only be trained. It can only acquire new habits. It can through exercises and combinations perfect its intellect, but is not capable of mental development through instruction in the real sense of the word." (Vygotsky, 1934; Understanding Vygotsky).


  • Thought and Language (1962)
  • Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes (1978)

Web Resources

Best Practices in Education Site - Lev Vygotsky page. Brief description of Vygotsky's ideas with links to Best Practices in Education project sites using vygotskian ideas. Includes several references for Vygotskian Web resources. http://web.archive.org/web/20010802101038 /www.bestpraceduc.org /people/ LevVygotsky.html

References: 19, 25

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