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Cultural-Historical Psychology

Publisher: Moscow State University of Psychology and Education

ISSN (printed version): 1816-5435

ISSN (online): 2224-8935


License: CC BY-NC 4.0

Started in 2005

Published quarterly

Free of fees
Open Access Journal

Affiliated ISCAR


The experiment of L.S. Vygotsky and L.S. Sakharov: a cultural-historical retrospective

Yudina E.G., Ph.D. in Psychology, Leading researcher, the head of Psychological issues of teachers’ training laboratory of the Moscow State University of Psychology and Education, Moscow, Russia,

Keywords: meaning, method of double stimulation, classification standard, understanding, conception, complex

Column: Theory and Methodology

A Part of Article

For Vygotsky the subject through the study of which his ideas of psychic development as the transformation of sing meanings could be realized was the speech development which highest form was the concept development In the framework of solving the problem of mediated character of higher psychic functions and also taking into consideration the development of the sign function in thinking L.Vygotsky equated notion with the word meaning. However it is necessary to mention that L.Vygotsky in his studies focused rather on thinking than on speech. The word was regarded by him as a sign while its meaning — as a developing structure of an object matter. The communicative context was actually reduced to a modeling of a feedback in experiments.

Vygotsky well understood that sign relations never appear as ready ones but in each case they are to be constructed by means of affiliation of the sign with the action expected, which displays itself as the “meaning area” of activity. The question of the regularity of such kind of affiliation (providing the existence of primitive forms of sign operations in preschoolers and young schoolchildren) appeared the main one in L.Vygotsky - L.Sakharov’s study of concept formation.

In studies by Piaget one of the primitive forms of this kind is presented as syncretism, in which objects are grouped together on the basis of irrelevant factors and do not necessarily have any features in common. Yet it is obvious that for the purpose of experimental study it is necessary to possess the criteria with the aid of which we can interpret the grounds for generalization as “subjective”, as linking “everything with everything”. It is natural that the question about the criteria of this kind springs up. Besides the experimental strategy used by Vygotsky and aimed at the disclosure of the mechanism of child mental operations presupposed the analysis of object referred content of child generalization, i.e. the type of analysis usually either ignored by J. Piaget or substituted by the operation referred analysis.

It was important for Vygotsky to show that sign operations display a certain path of development and to emphasize their functional aspect, i.e. the specificity of using sings in the course of the signifying function’s development. Still the study of signifying functions in the process of their development was plotted by L. Vygotsky and L.Sakharov as the study of the developing inner structure of meanings. In Vygotsky’s view it was equal to the structure of the object reference of the sign, i.e., it was the structure he equated with word-meanings.

Thus the task was to settle the forms that the concept attains in the process of its development and to reveal the structure of the object reference of the pre-concept (proto-concept) word-meaning (as typical for young children). It is obvious that the study of this structure made it necessary to examine the bases for the grouping of objects where each way of grouping would correspond to a certain sign form. In experiments by L. Vygotsky and L.Sakharov it was the change in the structures of such groups that served the indicator of the meaning development and the structures themselves were the ground for definition of these developmental stages as different types of syncrets and complexes.

L. Vygotsky has singled out three main stages in concept development: the stage of syncretism ; the stage of the formation of complexes; the stage of potential concept formation. In accordance with Vygotskian texts syncrets coincide with a disarranged form of grouping in which the bases for ordering are the qualities subjectively attributed by a child to objects or impressions. Complexes differ from syncrets due to their affiliation and objective character. In contrast to true concepts they are based on concrete, objective features and not on logical links between them. The stage of complex formation was subdivided by L.Vygotsky into five sub-stages which were regarded as the stages of concept formation: associative complexes, collections, chain complexes, diffuse complexes and pseudo-concepts.

The features of affiliation and objective character as typical for complexes need some comments. Affiliation seems to be treated as the structured character of grouping which in Vygotskian view underlies the process of word-meanings development and first displays itself in complex thinking. As far as the objective character of complexes is concerned as the point of their difference from syncrets the reference to their concreteness is not operational enough. The relations underlying syncrets (and Vygotsky pointed to this fact himself) are also very concrete, i.e. existing in reality, for example, spatio-temporal relations between the objects. At the same time they are occasional and do not exactly belong to the objects. Evidently the differences between syncrets and complexes regarded from the point of view of their concreteness should be interpreted as differing in the type of the object mediated relations underlying the type of grouping. At the same time it is clear that object mediated are the relations between the stable features of the object, even if they are singled out with the help of concrete and not logical operations. So the main principle for grouping objects in complexes is the object itself, and in syncrets they are extra-object relations. If the group of objects is not structured and is based on extra-object relations, it is equal to the syncretic principle of generalization.

According to Vygotsky complex thinking is typical for children of certain age, for adult representatives of some traditionalistic cultures, for people with schizophrenia and even for normal people. The main characteristics of the complex thinking is the coincidence in object reference of complexes and concepts with the convergence of meanings. Obviously it can happen only in case of convergence in a structure of groups with a similar set of objects. In a present day terminology this difference can be represented in terms of denotative and connotative sign meanings. So the study of the connotative aspect of word-meanings which is determined by a group structure underlies the typology of syncrets and complexes.

We singled out three structural characteristics with the help of which L.Vygotsky describes each type of complexes and specifies the difference between them.

1. General configuration of the structure — is set by the object reference of the pattern

2. Character of intersubject links — is determined according to the associative link (identity, familiarity, contrast, contiguity) that scaffolds the structure.

3. Relations between the generalized features of the objects and their concrete meanings — the parameter defining the set of elements in the complex structure, its content.

In Vygotskian view the complex thinking is supposed to include three possible configurations of the structure: nuclear — with one object as a pattern; chain-like (concatenate) where the function of the pattern permanently goes from one object to another one; amorphous — in which the pattern is never set aside for a certain object, i.e., all the objects in a group are simultaneously the patterns (see figure 1). At that the associative complex has a nuclear structure, diffuse and chain complexes have a chainlike structure and collections have an amorphous structure.

In all the types of complex thinking except collections all the types of associative thinking are used while in collections complex associations by contrast are the main ones.

Now the last characteristic of the structure — generalized features of the objects and their concrete meanings. In the associative complex both generalized parameters and their concrete meanings are changed. In collection complex the same elements are changed but the generalized feature should remain stable for some time as a ground for collection. In chain complex only generalized features are changed and in the diffuse one — only concrete meanings of the parameters.

We see that the last characteristic of the structure (the one connected with the features of objects) is the most significant one for the supporting description of structural links which makes it possible to differentiate the types of complex thinking in practice. The general configuration of a complex structure is of importance for distinguishing the regularities of object grouping as far as it indicates the object features (affiliation of signs) contained in the pattern. Here we may note that complex thinking is based on object relations and the pattern is the bearer of these relations.

The type of links between the objects has only a meaning of a global characteristics of the complex thinking and as far as it is equally important for all types of complexes it cannot be used as the ground for their differentiation. Only the generalized features of the objects and their meanings are differently incorporated into the structure of different complexes. More so we can detect here the definite dynamics of the development in structural relations of this or that complex and regard this development as aimed at extraction of the meaningful and correspondently concept thinking. This dynamics and this sense look that clear just because we regarded the structure of the complexes from the point of view of general features and meanings of theirs.

For Reference

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