Sociocultural theory

Sociocultural theory is sociocultural theory is a learning theory.

This theory is a current of psychology developed by Lev Vygotsky (Russia, 1896-1934), according to which learning and the acquisition of knowledge results from social interaction.

According to Vygotsky's sociocultural theory, the cognitive development of individuals is directly related to social interaction within the framework of the dominant culture, that is, it responds to the socialization process. Thus, it is understood that the development of the person is a consequence of socialization.

Characteristics of sociocultural theory

  • It starts from the genetic-comparative method and the experimental-evolutionary method, and distinguishes four fields of analysis:
    • phylogenetic, relative to the origin of human psychological functions as a species;
    • sociocultural history, relative to the context of insertion of the subject;
    • ontogenetic, related to biological and sociocultural evolution and, finally,
    • microgenetic, relative to the particular psychological characteristics of the individual.
  • It understands the individual and the learning process from an evolutionary perspective.
  • It takes into account the instruments and signs that mediate between the process of social interaction and the development of the individual, especially language.
  • It highlights the importance of the subject's relations with society.
  • It considers that the understanding of children's cognitive development is only possible if the culture in which the child develops is taken into account.
  • Understand that thought patterns respond to a social construction and not to an innate condition of the subject.
  • In this sense, knowledge is the result of co-construction where both the individual and the social group participate.
  • It recognizes that there are innate mental abilities (such as perception, attention and memory), but their development is made possible in social interaction.

You may also be interested in reading Evolutionary Psychology and Educational Psychology.

Basic concepts of sociocultural theory

Vygotsky's sociocultural theory is based on the following fundamental concepts.

Mental functions

Mental functions can be superior or inferior. Being that the

  • Lower mental functions refer to those functions with which each individual is born, and the
  • Higher mental functions are those that are acquired or developed through social interaction.

Psychological skills

It refers to those that appear in the individual field of the subject once he has acquired higher mental functions, that is, those skills that, after first appearing at the social level (interpsychological), end up being apprehended or internalized at the personal level (intrapsychological) .

Zone of proximal development

The zone of proximal development (or ZPD for short) refers to those functions that have not yet been developed or that are in the process of maturing.

In other words, it refers to the distance between the current level of development of an individual and their level of potential development. It is reflected, for example, in what children cannot do something for themselves until they become independent.

Thinking tools

Thinking tools refer to all those socially constructed tools that allow thinking to be stimulated or optimized.

There are two types of essential tools:

  • Psychological tools: language, numbers and symbol systems in general. Others also apply such as social conventions, norms, maps, works of art, diagrams, etc.
  • Technical tools: all kinds of material tools such as pencils, papers, machines, instruments, etc.


Mediation refers to the interaction processes developed by the subject through:

  • Instrumental mediations, that is, the tools of thought, be they technical or psychological;
  • Social mediations, that is, human relationships (father, mother, teachers, etc.).

Contributions of sociocultural theory to psychology

According to Beatriz Carrera and Clemen Mazzarella in an article called Vygotsky: sociocultural approach, the contributions of sociocultural theory to the field of evolutionary psychology are mainly:

  • understanding the sociocognitive development that occurred in early childhood;
  • language and communication development;
  • the study of the construction of written language.

Sociocultural theory and theory of cognitive development

Sociocultural theory is one of the most influential in the field of evolutionary psychology and in the field of education, along with Piaget's theory of cognitive development (1896-1980).

Both theoretical models seek to explain the process by which individuals acquire skills and knowledge to interpret reality and solve specific problems.

However, while Piaget focuses on the child as an active agent of knowledge, Vygotsky understands that learning and knowledge of this are the result of social interaction and, therefore, of culture.

Tags:  General Religion-And-Spirituality Expressions-In-English