Through research and observation, Bruner understood that human behavior is always influenced by the world and culture in which we live. His work helped move the field of psychology away from strict behaviorism and contributed to the emergence of cognitive psychology.
Bruner eventually turned his attention to developmental and educational psychology, with an interest in how children learn. He argued that the goal of teaching isn’t to pass on knowledge, but to teach students to think and solve problems for themselves. He promoted a so-called “spiral curriculum,” in which students learn basic concepts and then circle back to revisit them again and again as more complicated concepts are added over time. He is credited with coining the term “scaffolding” to describe the structured instruction between child and teacher that allows students to develop progressively greater skills and knowledge.
Interview with Kirsten Weir,
You were an early pioneer of cognitive psychology. Why were you driven to move in that direction?
I’ve always been a constructivist. Nothing that is out there in the world is there in and of itself. You’re always constructing it, and some of the rules of construction have to do with conforming to those with whom you have to live. No matter what we do, we are expressing the rules of the culture in which we live.
I wanted to have a psychology that somehow was not just about what came in through the senses right here and now. On the other hand, I knew those were the components of a more complicated behavior. And I turned in the direction of wanting to know about our capacity for registering the world. The world was there and we brought our input and processing of that input. I had the feeling this was one of the sources of [humankind’s] freedom and liberty, and why literature was so important, not only aesthetically but also politically. It is the capacity to dream up a range of possibilities.
Just what chimps do all the time, right?
Which is why they are where they are and we are here.
See also: What we don’t yet know about the human mind
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Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose