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Social Interactionist Theory and its Related Terms Explained

Social Interactionist Theory Explained
Social interactions according to Lev Vygotsky play a very important role in the early cognitive development of a person. PsycholoGenie extracts the essence of Vygotsky's theory by explaining its aspects and citing some basic examples for the same.
Vibhav Gaonkar
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
Instructional Scaffolding
Instructional Scaffolding is the concept of providing assistance and support to foster learning of new concepts and skills in students with the intention of helping them achieve their learning goals. The concept is adopted by Jerome Bruner from Lev Vygotsky's Social Interactionist Theory.
Lev Vygotsky was a renowned Russian psychologist who gained popularity for his in-depth study on human development. Vygotsky through his intense research in the field hypothesized that the development of higher cognitive processes from basic abilities (attention, sensation, perception, and memory) emerged from social interaction and communication.

Vygotsky's theory completely contradicts Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Piaget suggests that development in the cognitive ability of a child is a result of independent exploration and personal experiences. On the contrary, Vygotsky in his theory reasons the development in cognitive ability as a result of learning via increasing social interaction and communication. Unlike Piaget's view that development must necessarily precede learning, Vygotsky stated that learning was a stepping stone to a higher level of cognitive abilities, and hence, development succeeds learning.

Vygotsky's Social Interactionist theory is based upon certain fundamental aspects, which are explained below. Take a look.
What is the Social Interactionist Theory?
The theory reasons the development of language with greater emphasis on the effects of social interaction between the developing child and linguistically superior adult.
Effects of Culture and Social Influences
According to Vygotsky, most of the interaction by a child during early childhood is completely need-based; however it's internalization by the child gives it meaning, thus, forming the roots of linguistic development.
► The language and cognitive development of every child is carried on in a unique way, says Vygotsky. This is because every child grows within a unique set of morals and values, and is influenced by different cultures. For instance, minor differences in speech show how culture plays an important role in the cognitive development of an individual. The western cultures emphasize more on the individual than the group, which is the opposite in case of Asians. An American with a group of friends would say, "I'd like to have a beer, would anybody like some?". On the other hand, an Asian would say "Shall we have beer?" or "How about some beer?" Notice that in the former, the emphasis is more on the self, while in the latter, it is more on the group.
► Let's take another example that's universal to all cultures. When a person receives a phone call or makes one, the first thing that he/she utters is a 'hello'. The parents are very excited to make their babies talk over the phone to a relative or a friend. When they stick the phone to the child's ear, they ask him/her to say hello; the person on the other end also says 'hello' to the child. The child doesn't know what exactly is happening, who's yelling from the other side of this small, plastic, light-flashing device. However, with a little observation and assistance from his/her parents who are constantly trying to make him/her speak, the child tries to internalize and derive meaning from the data he/she receives, and tries to blabber or utter something imitating the parents. This act is reinforced, and hence, is learned quickly and fosters to linguistic development.
More Knowledgeable Other (MKO)
► As the name suggests, this is any person or thing like a computer, which is more knowledgeable than the learner. In a child's case, this refers to his parents or teachers.

► Vygotsky, by this aspect, tries to explain that any person, who has a better understanding of a certain thing, when assists another who doesn't have any idea of it is likely to foster the process of learning resulting in cognitive development.

► He believes that the number of things that can be done by the guidance of a MKO exceed those that can be attained alone.
Zone of Proximal Development
Zone of Proximal Development
The zone of proximal development is reached when a learner attains a skill that he couldn't independently, with assistance from a MKO.
► For example, a child is not able to draw a house, but he can draw straight lines and circles. The child's father assists him/her by laying a set of dots on paper, and asking the child to connect them, which forms the drawing of a house. After a few repetitions of connecting the dots, the child can draw a house without the dots, and eventually perfects the skill by drawing more and more houses.

►The zone of proximal development lies between what is known and what is not known.
Linguistic Development
► Vygotsky classifies language into three forms: (i) social speech which refers to communication used to talk to others (evident from age two); (ii) private speech which refers to self-directed speech (evident from age three); and (iii) silent inner speech which refers to constructive thinking.
► The first two forms of speech are completely need-based. In social speech, the child communicates to suffice its needs. Communication could be crying or other peculiar gestures understood by the parents. Private speech develops when the child has learned to speak certain syllables and words. The child would then speak to him/herself when playing alone. Children mostly indulge in private speech when performing tricky or difficult tasks, especially to guide their own self or regulate their own behavior. Private speech is believed to enhance memory, provide motivation at difficult tasks, foster better communication abilities, and promote creativity in children.
► As per Vygotsky, there isn't any connection between thought and speech in the initial years of life. Speech and thought become interdependent after the age of three, wherein the child learns to internalize the learned language fostering cognitive development. The internalization or disappearance of private speech is observed when the child begins schooling.
► Although Vygotsky's work provides an altogether different perspective on the topic of cognitive development, there are certain weaknesses to his theory that should not be overlooked.
► Critics are of the opinion that the concept of the 'Zone of Proximal Development' is somewhat vague; firstly because it doesn't provide a precise picture of the learning ability, style, and pace of learning or the current level of development, it doesn't take into consideration individual differences, and it is too general. This is also evident from the absence of a common metric scale to measure an individual child's zone.
► Secondly, the theory underestimates the abilities of the individual showing much greater emphasis on sociocultural effects. Too much help and assistance could make the individual lazy and habituated to expecting help in tasks, which he/she can easily accomplish.
► Thirdly, as the theory gives a single model of development, it fails to take into consideration different developmental levels. Children's interests, needs, and abilities vary at different ages, which influence the type of learning they seek out, and the effects it has on them. Hence, each developmental level proves to be of great significance in the child's cognitive development as a whole.