EDU5000 Week 3 Theories of Piaget And Vygotsky Length: 3-5 pages, not including title page and reference page.References:One required resource as mentioned

EDU5000 Week 3 Theories of Piaget And Vygotsky Length: 3-5 pages, not including title page and reference page.References:One required resource as mentioned above, plus additional if chosen.Your paper should demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the ideas and concepts presented in the course by providing new thoughts and insights relating directly to this topic. Be sure to include citations for quotations and paraphrases with references in APA format and style where appropriate. SpringSEDU5000-3
Compare and Contrast Using APA Style
Shakeya Spring
Northcentral University
Compare and Contrast Using APA Style
A Brief Summary of the Theories of Piaget and Vygotsky
Piaget’s Theories
Vygotsky’s Theories
Similarities in the Theories of Piaget and Vygotsky
Differences Between the Theories of Piaget and Vygotsky
What can be Gained by a Better Understanding of These Theories
Lourenco, O. (2012). Piaget and Vygotsky: Many resemblances and a crucial difference. New
Ideas in Psychology, 30(3), doi: 10.1016/j.newideapsych.2011.12.006
New Ideas in Psychology 30 (2012) 281–295
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
New Ideas in Psychology
journal homepage:
Piaget and Vygotsky: Many resemblances, and a crucial difference
Orlando Lourenço*
Department of Psychology, University of Lisbon, Rua Prof. Joaquim Bastos, 66, 5 B, 4200-604 Porto, Portugal
a b s t r a c t
Piaget and Vygotsky are two influential developmental psychologists. One can even say
that their contributions to developmental psychology, albeit different, are similarly
remarkable and unique. This article is in four parts. In the first part, I refer briefly to
a commonly noticed difference between Vygotsky’s and Piaget’s theories. In the second
part, I show that there are many resemblances between Vygotsky and Piaget. In the third
part, I argue that in spite of such resemblances, there exists a crucial, and generally
unnoticed, difference between Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories, and that this difference
underlies the way each author addresses the following issues: 1) the origins of development and the motor of development; 2) the relationships among equal peers vs. those
based on authorities, as they are sources of development and learning; 3) the more
appropriate methods for studying developmental changes; 4) the importance of the
distinction between true vs. necessary knowledge; and 5) the role of transformation and
personal reconstruction vs. that of transmission and social influence in the phenomena of
development and learning. Finally, I summarize the main ideas and arguments which I
elaborate throughout this article, and mention what can be gained when the generally
ignored aforementioned difference is noticed.
Ó 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
If it were asked who are the two main geniuses in the
field of developmental psychology, many, if not all, developmentalists would certainly point to Jean Piaget (1896–
1980) and Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) in either order. Their
impact on psychological development and education, for
example, is so deep that one may rightly say that their
respective contributions to these two issues are too much
present to not be noticed, and much monumental to be
grasped (e.g., Daniels, Cole, & Wertsch, 2007; Greenfield,
2001; Gruber & Vonèche, 1995; Kirschner & Martin, 2010;
Müller, Carpendale, & Smith, 2009; Smith, Dockrell, &
Tomlinson, 1997; Tryphon & Vonèche, 1996, 2001).
After being ignored in the Western society and censured
for several years in his own country, Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory is now an important topic of theoretical
* Tel.: þ351 22502 8690.
E-mail addresses:,
0732-118X/$ – see front matter Ó 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
analysis and empirical research in developmental
psychology, in general, and in educational psychology, in
particular (e.g., Daniels et al., 2007; Matusov & Hayes,
2000; Vianna & Stetsenko, 2006; Wertsch, 1985a, 1985b;
Wertsch & Tulviste, 1992). Although the idea that Piaget is
almost “.a figure of the past.” (Cohen, 1983, p. 152) is, to
an extent, embraced by some developmentalists (e.g.,
Siegal, 1999), his constructivist approach to development
and knowledge continues to inspire empirical research and
theoretical debates (see, for instance, Beilin, 1990, 1992;
Chapman, 1988; Kamii, 1981; Müller et al., 2009; Smith,
1993; Smith, Thelen, Titzer, & McLin, 1999).
As could be expected, the comparison of Vygotsky’s
theory with that of Piaget was inevitable (e.g., Bidell, 1988;
Bruner, 1997; DeVries, 2000; Duncan, 1995; Feldman &
Fower, 1997; Forman & Kraker, 1985; Glassman, 1994,
1995; Lerman, 1996; Matusov & Hayes, 2000; Shayer,
2003; Tryphon & Vonèche, 1996; Vianna & Stetsenko,
2006). First, Piaget and Vygotsky were the two most
O. Lourenço / New Ideas in Psychology 30 (2012) 281–295
influential figures in the field of child development in the
last century. Second, Piaget’s (1983) theory is almost always
an obligatory reference to any other theory of psychological
development (see Müller et al., 2009; Scholnick, Nelson,
Gelman, & Miller, 1999). Third, everybody who is familiar
with both developmental figures knows of Vygotsky’s
(1962, 1978) several arguments with diverse of Piaget’s
ideas, namely with that one which subordinates learning to
development (see Piaget, 1972a). Finally, Piaget (1962)
judged to be misunderstood in some of his ideas by his
developmental colleague, for example, for downplaying the
role of the social in the child’s development (see, for this
respect, Carpendale & Müller, 2004a).
In what follows, I show that the comparison between
the two theories has moved along two phases: a first phase
in which, among others, it was emphasized a supposedly
fundamental difference between Piaget and Vygotsky, and
a second phase wherein several authors saw many
resemblances between the two influential developmental
psychologists. My main purpose in this article is to argue
that, although I accept that there are many similarities or
resemblances between those two geniuses of developmental psychology, there exists a crucial, and generally
unobserved or at least overlooked, difference between
Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s approaches to development,
knowledge, and learning. I believe that to point to such
crucial difference may be considered as a third phase of the
comparison between Vygotsky’s and Piaget’s theories.
1. Piaget and Vygotsky: a supposedly fundamental
As referred to above, in the first phase of comparison of
Piaget to Vygotsky it was said that there exists a fundamental distinction between their theories. The main argument was that Piaget developed a theory wherein the
individual constructs his or her knowledge individually or
solitarily (e.g., Bruner, 1997; Forman, 1992; Tappan, 1997),
whereas Vygotsky put forward a theory in which one only
develops as one participates in various forms of social
interaction, using then tools (e.g., abacus, pencil, hammer)
and signs (e.g., language, pretend play, mathematical
formulae), tools and signs which are also social in their very
nature (Vygotsky, 1987; see, for instance, Stetsenko, 2004,
for the role of tools and signs in Vygotsky’s thinking). In
other words, in this first phase of comparison between the
two theories, it was mainly said that, instead of a Piagetian
individual or solitary knower, what appears in Vygotsky’s
thinking is a collective and social subject or knower (e.g.,
Bruner, 1997).
According to Amin and Valsiner (2004), “[t]he
construction of this [individualistic-collectivist] divide is an
interesting example of historical myopia in contemporary
psychology.” (p. 87). This divide is also rejected by other
authors and researchers (e.g., Bickhard, 2004; Carpendale &
Müller, 2004a; Cole & Wertsch, 1996; Kitchener, 1996,
2004; Müller & Carpendale, 2000, Smith, 1995). The
rejection, by several authors, of such a supposedly fundamental difference between Piaget’s emphasis on an individualistic perspective and Vygotsky’s focus on
a collectivistic one is well understandable. In fact, an
emphasis on a relational perspective rather than on an
individualistic stance is present in both Vygotsky’s and
Piaget’s writings. For instance, Vygotsky’s (1978) idea that
“[a]ll the higher functions originate as actual relations
between human individuals.” (p. 57) is also present in
many of Piaget’s affirmations. On several occasions, Piaget
stated that “. by himself, the individual would never
achieve complete conservation and reversibility.” (Piaget,
1973, p. 271); “[t]he individual would not come to organize his operations in a coherent whole if he did not engage
in thought exchanges and cooperation with others.”
(Piaget, 1947, p. 174); “.the individual can achieve his
inventions and intellectual constructions only to the extent
that he is the set of collective interactions.” (Piaget, 1967a,
p. 508); and “. there are neither individuals as such nor
society as such. There are just inter-individual relations”
(Piaget, 1995. p. 210).
The rejection of the above mentioned divide on the
basis of the idea that Vygotsky’s and Piaget’s theories
espouse a relational perspective rather than a genetic or
developmental individualism, was one of the main reasons
why the first phase of comparison between the two authors
was followed by a second phase in which their theories are
judged to be almost identical or, at least, much more similar
than they were previously perceived.
2. Piaget and Vygotsky: their resemblances
In this second phase of comparison between the two
geniuses of developmental psychology, the main argument
is that there are considerable resemblances between
Vygotsky’s and Piaget’s theories and that their differences
can be relatively ignored (e.g., Bidell, 1988; Glassman,
1994). What then are those similarities or resemblances?
Besides other similitudes, Piaget and Vygotsky share the
following: 1) a genetic, i.e., developmental, perspective; 2)
a dialectical approach; 3) a non-reductionist view; 4) a nondualistic thesis; 5) an emphasis on action; 6) a primacy of
processes over external contents or outcomes; and 7)
a focus on the qualitative changes over the quantitative
ones (see also Marti, 1996). In what follows I elaborated on
each of these issues.
According to the authors who can be included in this
phase of resemblances between Piaget and Vygotsky, these
two theorists and researchers consider that a developmental perspective is essential for an understanding of
psychological phenomena and processes, namely those
relatively more elaborated or complex, as is the case of
Piaget’s mental operations, formal operations, for instance
(Inhelder & Piaget, 1958; Piaget, 1947), and of Vygotsky’s
(1978) symbolic operations, for example, to tie a knot on
one’s handkerchief for one to remember to do something in
a near future (i.e., mediated memory). Vygotsky’s (1978)
following affirmation documents well his interest in
a developmental perspective: “.we are advocating the
developmental approach as an essential addition to experimental psychology.” (p. 61, emphasis added). Piaget’s
concern with a developmental perspective is so deep, that
he even considered that the study of how new modes of
thinking develop during ontogenesis constitutes the first
great mystery of knowledge (see Piaget, 1978, p. 5).
O. Lourenço / New Ideas in Psychology 30 (2012) 281–295
Parenthetically, for Piaget, the second great mystery of
knowledge is to explain how these new modes of thinking
become psychologically necessary. I will return to this issue
later when I discuss the role of necessary knowledge in
Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories.
For the defenders involved in this phase, both Piaget
(1980) and Vygotsky (see Cole & Scribner, 1978, pp. 1–14)
share a dialectical approach, in that psychological development involves a continuous interaction among distinct,
but interdependent, functions or processes, such as
assimilation/accommodation in Piaget’s (1952, 1980, 1985)
theory, and internalization/externalization in Vygotsky’s
(1962, 1978) thinking. It is because of these successive
assimilations/accommodations that the Piagetian subject
constructs, for instance, forms of logical reasoning
increasingly more complex and advanced (e.g., the passage
from concrete operations to formal operations; see Inhelder
& Piaget, 1958, for a distinction between these two forms of
operational operations). And it is due to these successive
internalizations/externalizations that the Vygotskian individual acquires, for example, forms of action increasingly
more advanced and mediated (e.g., the passage from
natural memory to mediated memory; see Vygotsky, 1978,
pp. 38–39, for a distinction between natural memory and
mediated memory). The Vygotskian idea (see Vygotsky,
1978, p. 73; and also John-Steiner & Souberman, 1978, p.
121) that development is not merely an accumulation of
changes, but rather a complex dialectical process, characterized by periodicity, qualitative transformation of one
form into another, intertwining of external and internal
factors, and adaptive process is also a central thesis in
Piaget’s approach (e.g., Piaget, 1980, 1985). Actually,
Vygotsky’s view that development implies a rejection of
the frequently held view that cognitive development
results from a gradual accumulation of separate changes
(see Vygotsky, 1978, p. 73), is even an essential characteristic of Piagetian cognitive stages for, in comparison to its
predecessor, each stage represents a higher qualitative, not
quantitative, form of knowing or thinking (i.e., to know
better rather than to know more of the same; see Piaget,
1960, pp. 12–13).
It is still said in this phase of similitudes between Piaget
and Vygotsky that they also share a non-reductionist view of
human intelligence and consciousness. For them, human
consciousness and intelligence are forms of organization
and adaptation neither reducible, respectively, to a set of
reflexes (Vygotsky, 1987), nor to the initial, external manifestations through which such forms often appear (Piaget,
1967b). Vygotsky’s (1978, p. 63) thesis that “[i]n reality,
psychology teaches us at every step that though two types
of activity can have the same external manifestation,
whether in origin or essence, their nature may differ most
profoundly”, reminds us clearly of Piaget’s distinction
between the external content of a child’s answer on an
operational task, and its underlying structure or form.
Everyone who knows Piaget’s theory is well aware that two
apparently different answers of a given child on a certain
Piagetian task may appeal to the same structure or form,
and that a different cognitive structure may underlie two
apparently similar answers on the part of the individual
(see Piaget, 1947, 1983).
According to the authors belonging to this phase of
comparison between Vygotsky and Piaget (e.g., Bidell,
1988; Glassman, 1994), they also espouse a non-dualist
thesis regarding the individual and his or her physical and
social context. For both developmentalists, the individual
and her or his physical and social context are not dichotomies or independent and isolated polarities, in that they are
rather interdependent and relational realities (e.g.,
Kitchener, 1996, 2004; Piaget, 1995; Vygotsky, 1978; see
also Amin & Valsiner, 2004; Carpendale & Müller, 2004b;
Smith, 1996; Stetsenko, 2008). For instance, according to
Piaget, the individual would not come to organize her
intellectual operations in a coherent whole if she did not
engage in thought exchanges and cooperation with others
(see Piaget, 1947, p. 174). Similarly, for Vygotsky, all the
higher functions originate as actual relations between
human individuals (see Vygotsky, 1978, p. 57).
Piaget and Vygotsky both put also a great emphasis on
the importance of action on the genesis of the diverse forms
of intelligence, and on all functions of consciousness.
Accordingly, for Piaget (1964, p. 176), “To know an object is
to act on it. To know is to modify, to transform the object,
and to understand the process of this transformation”. In
a similar way, for Vygotsky (1962, p. 153, emphasis in
original), “In the beginning was the deed. The word was
not the beginning – action was there first; it is the end of
development, crowning the deed.”
Both Vygotsky and Piaget stress the primacy of processes
of development, not its external outcomes or exterior
manifestations. Vygotsky’s (1978, p. 63) above mentioned
view that two types of activity can have the same external
manifestation, whether in origin or essence, their nature
may differ most profoundly, is a clear indicator that, for
him, if one wants to understand the very nature of
a subject’s certain activity, one has to look at the psychological processes underlying that activity. The idea that two
apparently similar answers in terms of content may differ
profoundly in terms of structure or underlying psychological processes lies at the heart of Piaget’s constant resort to
his clinical method (Piaget, 1972d; see below), a method
more interested in the (internal) reasoning processes
which lead to a subject’s certain answer on a Piagetian task
than in the (external) answer in itself. The above
mentioned primacy was one of the reasons why neither
Piaget (1983) nor Vygotsky (1978) favored mental tests,
such as the Wechsler’s (1939) test. As is well-known,
mental tests are more directed to measuring the quantity
(Anastasi, 1982) rather than the quality of intelligence
(Piaget, 1947; Vygotsky, 1962). In other words, mental tests
are limited to assessing how intelligent an individual is
(e.g., her IQ is 140), not to understanding, for example,
which form of intelligence (e.g., pre-operational, concrete
operational, formal operational), or memory (e.g., natural,
mediated), lies at the heart of the subject’s performance on
certain tasks and situations (see Piaget, 1947; Piaget &
Inhelder, 1974; Vygotsky, 1962, 1978).
Finally, both the Swiss psychologist Piaget and the
Soviet psychologist Vygotsky have put a great emphasis on
the qualitative or transformational changes, not the quantitative or variational ones (see Overton, 1998, for
a distinction between these two forms of change). For
O. Lourenço / New Ideas in Psychology 30 (2012) 281–295
instance, the appearance of mediated memory, after the
emergence of natural memory, was a phenomenon to
which Vygotsky (1978, pp. 38–51) dedicated particular
attention. Needless to say that, for Vygotsky, mediated
memory is a better form of memory than natural memory.
Being incapable and, after that, being capable, of tying
a knot on one’s handkerchief as a reminder for one to do
something in a relatively proximal future, exemplifies
a passage from natural to mediated memory. In the same
vein, the emergence of formal operations after the
appearance of concrete operations is a typical qualitative
change in Piaget’s thinking (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958). To
know that, all over the world, there are more flowers than
roses because there are flowers which are not roses
(concrete operational thinking) and, after that, to know
that cats and dogs give rise, in terms of propositional logic,
to four classes (i.e., cats and dogs, class 1; cats and not dogs,
class 2; dogs and not cats, class 3; neither cats nor dogs,
class 4), typifies a passage from concrete operational
thinking to formal thought. Because formal operations are
operations upon concrete operations, it is crystal clear that
the former are a better type of knowing than the latter (see
Inhelder & Piaget, 1958; Piaget & Szeminska, 1948).
To summarize, contrary to the initial phase of comparison between Piaget and Vygotsky, a phase in which it was
argued that the Piagetian solitary or individual knower had
nothing to do with the Vygotskian social and collective
subject, in the second phase of such comparison, Piaget’s
and Vygotsky’s theories are seen as sharing several issues.
In other words, those theories were judged, for instance, to
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