Mental Development in Early Childhood



This is the first English translation of the paper of the prominent Soviet scholar Alexey Nikolaevich Leontiev (1903—1979) published in 1948. The paper introduces the author’s ideas on mental and personality development in preschool children based on the research results of his close colleagues under his leadership during the 1930-s and 1940-s. It embraces the conditions and features of the development of the hierarchy of motives in preschoolers which underlies the emergence of volitional behaviour at this age. Evidence is provided for the role of the motivational structure in the volitional regulation of such cognitive processes as perception, memory and in the emergence of children’s control of their motor processes. It demonstrates that the motives of the child of the preschool age get subordinated when the child is engaged in the social interaction with the participation of an adult. In a brief preface to this publication, E.E. Sokolova highlights the context of the author’s work, the continuity of his ideas of the activity theory with Vygotsky’s approach, and emphasizes a nontrivial approach in Leontiev’s school to mental development as rooted in the total activity of the subject rather than in the brain processes

General Information

Keywords: activity theory approach, personality development, the hierarchy of motives, volition, mental development, preschool age

Journal rubric: History of Science

Article type: scientific article


Funding. The publication was funded by the Russian Science Foundation (RSF), project # 20-18-00028.

For citation: Leontiev A.N. Mental Development in Early Childhood. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2020. Vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 118–124. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2020160213.

A Part of Article

Usually, there are two age periods specified in the context of child development containing the psychological changes that are crucial for personality development. The first is preschool childhood1 and the second is adolescence and youth.


  1. Gurevich K.M. K teorii volevogo dejstviya [On the theory of voluntary action. Dr. Sci. (Psychology) thesis.] 1938. (In Russ.).
  2. Gorbacheva V.A. K osvoeniyu pravil povedeniya det`mi doshkol`nogo vozrasta [On the learning rules in preschool age]. Izvestiya Akademii pedagogicheskix nauk RSFSR = Proceedings of the Academy of Educational Research of the Russian Soviet Republic, 1945, no. 1, pp. 125—164. (In Russ.).
  3. Manujlenko Z.V. Razvitie proizvol`nogo povedeniya u detej doshkol`nogo vozrasta [Development of the voluntary behavior in preschool age]. Izvestiya Akademii pedagogicheskix nauk RSFSR = Proceedings of the Academy of Educational Research of the Russian Soviet Republic, 1948. Vol. 14, 89—123. (In Russ.).

Information About the Authors

Aleksey N. Leontiev, Doctor of Psychology, professor, Professor, Member of Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR, Soviet psychologist who dealt with the problems of consciousness and activity. Pupil Of L. S. Vygotsky. At the Psychological Institute worked from 1936 to 1956 as head of the Department of child psychology. Full member of the Academy of pedagogical Sciences of the USSR; In the years of the great Patriotic war — chief of the pilot hospital recovery movements near Sverdlovsk. Since 1941-Professor of Moscow state University, since 1950-head of the Department of psychology, since 1966-Dean of the faculty of psychology of Moscow state University., Moscow, USSR



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