Introduction: The Researcher's Life 1

Chapter 10 Trends in Human Development

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Chapter 10
Trends in Human Development

Laura E. Berk
Illinois State University

During moments of reflection about our own lives and those of people we know well, virtually all of us ponder questions that are of great interest to researchers of human development. Perhaps you have wondered about one or more of the following:

  • What determines the attributes we share with our parents and siblings and those that make each of us unique--in physical traits, mental capacities, interests, and behaviors?

  • What is the infant and young child's understanding of the world like, and how does it change over time?

  • Why do some of us retain the temperamental styles that characterized us as children (such as shyness, sociability, excitability, or high activity), whereas others change in essential ways?

  • How do homes, schools, neighborhoods, and contemporary realities--employed mothers, day care, divorce, smaller families, and new technologies--contribute to our characteristics and skills?

Human development is a field of study devoted to understanding constancy and change throughout the lifespan. Its scientific roots date back to fledgling observational and interview studies of children and adolescents in the early part of the twentieth century. In the beginning, description--charting age-related milestones, such as when a child first walked, spoke in sentences, formed a best friendship, and reached puberty--was the principal activity of American developmentalists (see, for example, Murchison, 1933). Little attention was accorded to process--the how and why of human change.

Following World War II, the field came into its own. Although always a melting pot of interdisciplinary contributions, by the 1960s human development achieved the status of a distinct subdivision within psychology. Empirical work flourished, becoming more sophisticated in methodology and focusing more directly on explanation. Grand theories (behaviorist views of learning, the psychoanalytic approach to personality development, and Piaget's theory of cognitive development) held sway (Cairns, 1983, 1998). Each was closely tied to a specific domain, or aspect, of human functioning. Together, the grand theories brought tension and debate to the field, offering powerfully opposing perspectives on the course and processes of change. A passive child continuously shaped by environmental inputs was pitted against an active, sense-making being undergoing a series of stagewise shifts rooted in human biology.

Investigators of the mid-century phase had become increasingly sensitive to social and applied issues. Besides traditional topics of enduring interest, such as perception, intelligence, language, personality, and morality, they turned to questions of burning practical concern, such as the impact of poverty, child abuse and neglect, the rising divorce rate, maternal employment and day care, and learning problems in school. In addition to theoretical advances, the field had aligned itself more closely with the goal of improving children's conditions of life.

This broad brush-stroke image of the emergence of developmental psychology is chronicled in detail in the Handbook of Child Psychology, a compendium of the field that has been published in successive editions at 9- to 16-year intervals since the 1930s. The Handbook's fourth edition appeared in 1983; the fifth in 1998. A comparison of these most recent volumes with the preceding, 1970 edition reveals a period of unprecedented expansion and change. The most obvious shift is that by the early 1980s, the grand theories that had dominated mid-century research were being seriously questioned. In their place had sprouted a variety of alternative perspectives, including ethology, information processing, social cognition, behavioral genetics, and cultural approaches. These views were no longer as one-sided in focusing on a single domain of functioning (e.g., social behavior, personality, or cognition). They were also less polarized in their view of the roles of biology and environment (Dixon & Lerner, 1992; Lerner, 1998). The concerns of researchers had also broadened considerably, generating much more research on such topics as play, peer relations, the self-system, aggression, developmental psychopathology, and the school as a context for development (Mussen, 1983).

The Field Today

The 1980s have been characterized as a transitional phase in developmental psychologytone in which "[no theoretical perspective] was on center stage" (Damon, 1998, p. xv). As the most recent Handbook reveals, a fragmented field is giving way to new, more powerful theoretical models involving multiple interacting variables at several levels of influence--biological, psychological, proximal environmental (family, child-care center, school, neighborhood), and distal environmental (community, society, culture, historical) (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; Fischer & Bidell, 1998; Lerner, 1998). Although greater in number than they once were, a core of theories is again leading contemporary research. These include ecological-systems, lifespan, and transactional (person/context) approaches; behavioral genetics views addressing the joint operation of nature and nurture; neo-Piagetian models encompassing neurological, information-processing, and task-specific influences on cognitive change; and Vygotskian sociocultural views focusing on social interaction and culture as major forces in psychological development (Damon, 1998).

Moreover, research summarized in the 1998 Handbook attests to growing interest in both basic psychological dimensions, such as temperament and emotion, and in higher-order, metacognitive processes, including children's knowledge of their own and others' thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and capacity to monitor and regulate their own cognitive and social behavior. The 1998 Handbook is also the first to devote an entire volume to child psychology in practice--a clear indication of burgeoning efforts to use research as the basis for successful caregiving, educational, and clinical interventions (Sigel & Renninger, 1998).

Although it is impossible to portray comprehensively all current forces in the field, the following are vital dominating and interrelated trends:

  • Strengthening connections with other subfields of psychology and other disciplines. The contemporary move toward a systems perspective on development--one in which thinking, feeling, and acting are viewed as an integrated whole and affected by a wide array of factors in biology, context, and culture--has motivated developmental researchers to strengthen their links with other fields of psychology and with other disciplines. Currently, neuropsychology, social psychology, educational psychology, health psychology, clinical psychology, biology, pediatrics, sociology, anthropology, and other fields contribute to and benefit from research agendas in developmental psychology. The lessons gleaned have been a major impetus for the three trends that follow.

  • An emphasis on multiple pathways of change. Today, the field of developmental psychology recognizes that because children have similar brains and bodies and live in stimulating environments, certain broad outlines of development apply to many youngsters. At the same time, biological makeup, everyday tasks, the people who support children in mastery of those tasks, and the quality of children's experiences vary greatly, leading to wide individual differences in specific skills. Even when children master the same skills, such as walking, talking, or adding and subtracting, they often do so in unique ways. Consequently, an increasing number of investigators are choosing ecological, dynamic systems, and sociocultural perspectives through which to frame their research in hopes of accounting for the enormous diversity in development (Bronfenbrenner, 1995, 1998; Rogoff, 1990, 1998; Thelen & Smith, 1994, 1998; Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991). 

    A recent revival of longitudinal research has been a powerful force in raising the field's consciousness of diversity in development. Although few in number, longitudinal studies occurred early in the history of the field--in the 1920s and 1930s. The most notable began with a focus on child and adolescent development but were extended over participants' lifetimes (Jones, 1971; Kagan & Moss, 1962; Terman & Oden, 1959). Tracking of individual trajectories of change revealed unique routes to maturity and both stability and instability in physical health, intelligence, and social and personality functioning. 

    For example, researchers discovered that the majority of children show substantial IQ fluctuations over childhood and adolescence--in most cases, 10 to 20 points, and sometimes much more (McCall, 1993). Gainers tended to be independent and competitive about doing well in school and had parents who were highly interested in their intellectual accomplishments, applied greater pressure to succeed, and used rational, democratic discipline. Decliners tended to have parents who made little effort to stimulate them and who showed extremes in child rearing, using either very severe or very lax discipline (McCall, Appelbaum, & Hogarty, 1973; Sontag, Baker, & Nelson, 1958). From the start, longitudinal work challenged genetic determinism and illuminated complex biological and environmental contributions to development (Caspi, Elder, & Herbener, 1990; Friedman, Tucker, et al., 1995). It also provided part of the foundation for the contemporary emphasis on studying development throughout the lifespan.

    Inherent in the current burst of longitudinal studies--both short-term and spanning many years--is the recognition that development can only be fully understood by directly examining its temporal context. As the only method that focuses on relationships between early and later events and behaviors, the longitudinal approach is particularly suited to highlighting processes of change. Furthermore, cohort effects (the impact of cultural-historical conditions on development), previously regarded as a contaminant in longitudinal research, are now a target of investigation in their own right. For example, the Great Depression of the early 1930s had a profound impact on development. It introduced stresses into parent-child relations, affected children's emotional adjustment and school performance, modified adolescents' educational aspirations and occupational choices, and prompted an earlier age of marriage in young adulthood (Elder, 1974; Elder, Caspi, & Van Nguyen, 1986; Elder, Liker, & Cross, 1984). The field has become more conscious that the environment is not restricted to events in the immediate situation. Instead, cultural and historical systems at more distal levels affect immediate contexts, the person's interpretation of those contexts, and therefore person-environment interaction (Magnusson & Stattin, 1998; Shweder et al., 1998). 

  • More sophisticated conceptions of the joint influence of biology and environment. Contemporary work on biology and development is based on complex frameworks that posit interconnected roles for hereditary/constitutional and environmental factors. The current literature is replete with references to range of reaction; genetic-environmental correlation; shared and nonshared environmental influences; experientially-induced synaptic growth; dynamic systems in which biology and environment join forces to induce development; co-construction of psychological structures by child and expert partner; and evolutionary perspectives on attachment, cognition, and social behavior. As these ideas reveal, the field has turned away from biological determinism, a flawed perspective with devastating psychological, social, and policy consequences (Eisenberg, 1998). In its place is the realization that biological and environmental factors interact in intricate ways and cannot be separated in a simple manner. 

    At present, biological dispositions are viewed as emerging in and modified by diverse social contexts. Even in domains where biological evidence is rapidly accumulatingtfor example, the growing literature on neurological and hormonal correlates of temperament--research findings repeatedly underscore that biology always shares power with experience (Kagan, 1998). To cite just two examples, when an extremely shy, inhibited baby is exposed to appropriately supportive caregiving, the physiological correlates of inhibition are reduced (Gunnar et al., 1996). Similarly, among adopted children at genetic risk for antisocial behavior (it was prevalent in their biological families), the quality of adoptive parents' support predicts whether or not they actually develop aggressive, antisocial personalities (Cadoret et al., 1995). 

    As these illustrations reveal, contemporary research is no longer as heavily concerned with whether and to what extent heredity is involved in a variety of human attributes. Instead, investigators have turned their energies toward uncovering the biological mechanisms that bridge the gap between genes and behavior and the types of parenting and teaching strategies that might modify those factors and, thereby, help children with specific temperaments, personalities, and intellectual strengths and weaknesses develop at their best. Consider the following research questions: What are the physiological correlates of shyness, in terms of heart rate patterns, blood hormone concentrations, and brain-wave activity? Can child-rearing practices modify these responses and the chances that a shy baby will become a fearful, inhibited child? (See Kagan, 1998; Park et al., 1997; Rubin et al., 1997). How effective is educational, nutritional, and health intervention for children exposed to biological and social risks, such as poor prenatal care, birth complications, and poverty-stricken home environments? How early must such intervention begin, how long must it be sustained, and how intensive must it be to have a long-term impact on development? (See, for example, Ramey & Ramey, 1998.) 

  • A stronger interface between theory-driven research and pressing practical concerns. The field of developmental psychology has intensified its interest in generating research findings that can be applied to real-life issues in real-life situations--homes, schools, mental health clinics, hospitals, juvenile courts, workplaces, and any other setting that affects the health and welfare of the developing person. Blending scientific research with practice has been, and continues to be, a formidable challenge. Because research done in the traditional way--in laboratories and under highly controlled conditions--fails to mirror conditions of everyday life, it cannot offer prescriptions for what practitioners should do; it can only be suggestive. Moreover, the majority of developmental research is not written to be accessible or useful to practitioners--in large measure because most researchers are not engaged in practice and have little direct involvement with practitioners. 

    Nevertheless, the field is gradually doing a better job of bridging the gap between science and application. In some instances, researchers have created collaborative partnerships with practitioners in designing and carrying out research. These efforts have not only yielded information of greater usefulness, but have uncovered obstacles that must be surmounted for knowledge to be applied in real life. In pediatrics, for example, making childhood immunizations free and accessible is not sufficient to ensure that every child will be fully vaccinated. Daily stressors that prevent parents from taking their child to a clinic along with parental misconceptions--that an immunization itself might lead to illness--need to be overcome (Abbotts & Osborne, 1993). In education, teachers cognizant of research on the importance of play in young children's development face difficulties in applying their insights because of external pressures for curriculum coverage. In addition, many adhere to the belief that they should not intervene in play, despite their own observations that children often encounter cognitive and social challenges while playing that can only be resolved with adult support (Bennett, Wood, & Rogers, 1997).

    Efforts to integrate research with practice have led to a breed of professionals called "scientist practitioners"--educators, practicing psychologists, and physicians trained to engage in both endeavors. In addition, new interdisciplinary fields have arisen during the past two decades, each of which aims to reduce the sharp division that formerly existed between basic and applied research. The most influential of these fields is developmental psychopathology, which addresses the relationship between normal development and disturbances in psychological functioning (see Bearison, 1998, for another exampletpediatric psychology).

    In bridging developmental and clinical psychology, the field of developmental psychopathology is demonstrating that we can learn much about normal development by studying pathology, since investigations of brain damage, mental disorder, and stress-ridden environments enable scientists to isolate factors that foster adaptation not readily apparent in well-functioning individuals (Cicchetti & Cohen, 1995; Overton & Horowitz, 1991). Similarly, much can be learned about pathology by examining normal development. In this vein, researchers have been especially interested in individuals who are resilient, or functioning well despite biological or environmental risks. Comparisons of their life courses with those of individuals displaying psychological dysfunction have uncovered personal and social factors that protect against adversity, for example, an easy going, sociable disposition; a warm parental relationship; high intellectual ability, which increases that chances of rewarding experiences in school; and social supports outside the immediate family (Cicchetti, 1993; Cicchetti & Toth, 1998). To achieve these understandings, longitudinal research has become the hallmark of developmental psychopathology (see, for example, Garmezy, 1993; Rutter, 1987; Moffitt et al., 1996; Werner & Smith, 1992).

    Researcher-practitioner alliances have done much to strengthen the trends mentioned earlier in this chapter. Practitioners cannot make use of narrowly focused research; they require an understanding of the whole individual--the way physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development are interwoven. Moreover, the interdisciplinary perspective of developmental psychopathology has enhanced our appreciation of diversity in development--that maintenance and breakdown of functioning can occur in a great many ways. Finally, conceptions of development emerging from this new field acknowledge human development in its full subtlety, as due to complex transactions between biological and environmental forces.

    As developmental researchers reach out to applied fields that touch their own, they are making research more accessible, drawing together formerly fragmented topics of study, conducting more investigations in real-life settings and, thereby, expanding their appreciation of contextual influences on development. They realize more firmly that "understanding can come from many sources: research in the laboratory, research in the field, practice in the consulting room, watching children in the classroom, and taking a step back and reflecting on all [they] see" (Sigel, 1998, p. 1131). The synergy arising between developmental researchers and consumers of their work is yielding dual benefitstfor developmental theory and for interventions and services directed at preventing maladaptive outcomes and improving conditions of life.

Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory and Contemporary Developmental Research

Several themes addressed in the preceding section--the complex interconnection between biology and environment, multiple pathways of change, and the interface between theory and practice--have permeated my own research and that of others working within the same theoretical tradition. For the past decade and a half, my research group has addressed the origins, development, and functional significance of a fascinating but puzzling phenomenon: children's private speech, or speech to themselves as they engage in problem solving, play, and other activities.

I became captivated by private speech while carrying out classroom-observational research on the effects of school environments on children's cognitive and social development. Although at the time my research goals were focused on other phenomena, I could not help but notice that children talked to themselves a great deal as they went about their daily activities. After spending several weeks in a special elementary school for children with severe learning and behavior problems, I came away with the impression that certain children used private speech almost constantly while engaged in academic work. My first investigations, along with the work of others, confirmed that depending on the situation, private speech accounts for 20 to 60 percent of the spoken language of preschool and school-age children (Berk, 1992). Its high rate of occurrence led me to ask: If children talk to themselves so often, what role does such language play in their psychological development?

The work of my research group has been guided by Vygotsky's sociocultural theory, a leading perspective in contemporary developmental psychology that regards uniquely human, higher forms of mental activity as originating in social and cultural experiences. Our studies have also been spurred by applied concerns. We are intensely interested in the role that private speech plays in learningtfor normally developing children and children with serious difficulties with attention and regulation of behavior. Our work is part of a much larger Vygotsky-inspired literature that is revolutionizing the field's view of the importance of social and cultural contexts for cognitive development, offering new insights into the development of children with serious learning problems, and energizing a plethora of innovative educational interventions and programs.

Essentials of Vygotsky's Theory

A major tenet of Vygotsky's theory is that people are products of their social and cultural worlds and that to understand children's thinking, one must understand the social and cultural contexts in which children develop. Although Vygotsky's innovative sociocultural ideas date back to the 1920s and early 1930s, they did not take hold in Western developmental psychology until recently for several reasons. First, Vygotsky's untimely death in 1934, at the age of 37, meant that he had little opportunity to integrate his formulations into a tightly organized, well structured theory. In this sense, it is best to think of his work as a series of minitheories that embody a general approach that has since been extended and refined by many scholars. Second, in the mid-1930s, Vygotsky's writings were condemned in the Soviet Union due to Stalinist repression. Consequently, for almost 30 years they remained virtually unknown to Western scholars. Finally, when the first English translations of significant works by Vygotsky were released in the 1960s and 1970s, interest had to wait for growing dissatisfaction with Piaget's theory, which dominated mid-twentieth century research on cognitive development.

A Socially Formed Mind. Although Piaget and Vygotsky are often placed in opposition, they have important points of contact and compatibility (Cobb, 1994; Glassman, 1994; Tudge & Winteroff, 1993). Each derived theories with both natural (biological) and social dimensions. Piaget, however, stressed the natural line of development--factors within the organism that lead to cognitive change. His view of the social line was considerably more restricted than that of Vygotsky. Interaction with adults, Piaget (1923/1926; 1928/1977) believed, is often ineffective in prompting cognitive change; he thought children tended to bend to adult authority without truly examining the adult's perspective. Instead, Piaget underscored the power of arguments with agemates, or coequals, in jarring children into realizing that others hold viewpoints different from their own. Yet even though Piaget regarded peer disagreements as a significant motivator of revisions in cognitive structures, social experience never became a major focus in his theory or research (Berk & Winsler, 1995; Rogoff, 1998). Nor did Piaget, in positing a universal sequence of stages, address the role of culture in cognitive development.

By the 1980s, increasing evidence of wide variability in children's developmental paths and progress led American psychologists and educators to greet Vygotsky's emphasis on the social and cultural side of children's experiences with enthusiasm. For Vygotsky, the locus of development is not within the individual brain or mind. Instead, it is socially situated--between people (Bakhtin, 1981; Wertsch, 1985; Wertsch, Tulviste, & Hagstrom, 1993). Through social interaction, each society passes on to the next generation a set of higher mental functions--for example, attention, memory, and problem-solving strategies--specially suited to carrying out that culture's practical activities. As more expert members of society (both adults and peers) assist children in mastering challenging tasks, their collaboration alters the natural line of development, transforming basic mental capacities into culturally adaptive competencies (Vygotsky, 1930-1935/1978). Then new generations collectively transform these mental functions and practices, contributing to cultural-historical change (Scribner, 1985; Wertsch, 1985).

Role of Language. According to Vygotsky, transfer of cognitive processes from the social to the individual plane of functioning is enabled by "tools of the mind," or signs, that mediate relations between people. Although Vygotsky (1960/1980) noted a wide variety of culturally generated, symbolic tools, the tool of the mind of preeminent importance in his theory is language, since it is our primary avenue of communicating with others and serves as the major means by which social experience is represented psychologically. Gradually, the child turns social speech toward the self and uses it to organize, transform, and regulate his or her own thinking and behavior.

Vygotsky regarded private speech as the crucial bridge between the social and psychological worlds. These self-directed utterances originate in and differentiate from social speech; they signify that the process of internalizing social experience is underway. As the child gains mastery over behavior, private speech abbreviates and becomes less audible. Once cognitive operations become well practiced, children start to "think words" rather than saying them. Gradually private speech becomes silent, inner speech--the conscious dialogues we hold with ourselves while thinking and acting in everyday situations. Nevertheless, the need to engage in private speech never disappears. As people encounter unfamiliar or demanding activities throughout the lifespan, private speech resurfaces as a tool for overcoming obstacles and acquiring new skills. Moreover, it continues to display the communicative properties and mark of the sociocultural settings in which it originated.

Although Vygotsky viewed higher mental functions as internalized social processes, they are not the result of children simply mimicking features of social interaction (Wertsch, 1985). Vygotsky's vision is very different from traditional social learning views, which regard development as copied from external sources. Rather than a social-influence approach, Vygotsky's theory embodies a social-participation perspective in which children are active agents in their own development (Rogoff, 1998). Through shared endeavors, they join with others to create mental functions and alter those functions to fit their momentary goals and circumstances. Because the term internalization has the unfortunate connotation of simple transmission of knowledge and skills, some Vygotskian scholars have suggested that other words, such as "appropriation" or "constructive transformation," be used to reflect Vygotsky's vision (Lawrence & Valsiner, 1993; Rogoff, Mistry, Göncü, & Mosier, 1993; Stone, 1993).

The Zone of Proximal Development. Vygotsky (1978) termed the region of social to psychological transfer of culturally adaptive competencies the zone of proximal development; it is probably his most well-known idea. The zone of proximal development refers to a range of tasks that the child cannot yet master independently but can do with the guidance of adults or more skilled peers. It is the dynamic, ever-changing locus of collaboration where learning and development take place.

Through the zone of proximal development, Vygotsky posited that development results from children's participation in activities slightly beyond their competence. To maintain the zone, interaction continuously recalibrates to fit the child's changing competencies, interests, and goals and the expert partner's insights into what can best help the child move beyond the immediate task and situation to become a more competent member of his or her cultural community. In essence, the zone of proximal development is the "crucible" of sociocultural development (Cole, 1985).

The concept of the zone of proximal development has far-reaching implications. As we will see later, it has sparked a growing body of research on qualities of adult-child and child-child interaction that promote cognitive development. It also suggests a revised approach to assessment. Indeed, Vygotsky first envisioned the zone of proximal development as an alternative to traditional intelligence and achievement testing and the view of development and education that emerges from use of such tests. Instead of measuring "static," previously acquired abilities (what the child already knows or can do independently), he suggested that what we should be measuring is the dynamic, future-oriented side of human cognition--what the child can do with the assistance of others and therefore has the potential to learn.

On a larger scale, the zone of proximal development highlights the vital role of education in Vygotsky's theory. Earlier I noted that for Piaget, development is largely internally controlled; what comes from within the child is most important for directing cognitive change. Education refines those capacities that emerge spontaneously from children's explorations of their surroundings. Vygotsky (1956), in contrast, argued that education leads, or elicits, development. It does so by involving children in activities suited to their potential development, thereby advancing their actual development.

Furthermore, Vygotsky (1934/1986) noted that as education leads to new capacities, it helps children move to a new level of understanding in which they become increasingly aware of their own mental life. That is, as children integrate into their private speech the strategies gleaned through dialogues with experts, they begin to engage in "verbalized self-observation" in which they think about those strategies and apply them in a more deliberate fashion. In sum, Vygotsky viewed education as a major contributor to children's metacognitionttheir growing consciousness and regulation of their own thought processes. Education prompts a shift to a higher, more reflective level of cognitive activity.

Vygotsky-Inspired Research: Social Origins of Cognitive Development

Research stemming from the sociocultural perspective addresses a wide range of social contexts for cognitive development. Since teachers, parents, peers, and other significant individuals--and the learning environments they create--are seen as the primary means of fostering development, sociocultural research is infused with educational meaning. Attention to culture is also threaded through much of the empirical literature. The following sections present a sampling of research endeavors, theoretical issues, and related educational topics.

Adult-Child Collaboration. In sociocultural theory, collaboration with teachers, parents, and other adults is a major way that children develop new competencies. The role of this joint activity is to provide children with experiences in their zone of proximal developmenttones that challenge them and that can be accomplished with adult guidance. Several metaphors that describe the quality of this expert-novice collaborative relationship have emerged in the research literature. Among the most important are scaffolding and intersubjectivity.

Scaffolding. The concept of scaffolding designates a changing quality of intervention over a teaching session in which the adult offers a "scaffold," or support system, by adjusting the help he or she provides to the child's current level of performance (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976; Wood, 1989). As the child displays increasing competence, effective scaffolders gradually and sensitively withdraw assistance, relinquishing responsibility for the task to the child.

Scaffolding is typically measured by coding the degree to which the adult shifts to less directive support after the child succeeds on an element of the task and to more directive support after the child fails. Findings indicate that parents who are more effective "contingent shifters" have children who master tasks more readily (Pratt, Green, MacVicar, & Bountrogianni, 1992; Pratt, Kerig, Cowan, & Cowan, 1988). Furthermore, in two studies, a global rating of scaffolding resembling the well-known authoritative parenting construct (a combination of responsiveness to the child's needs and reasonable demands for mature behavior) predicted children's task-relevant private speech (efforts to regulate their own behavior) and problem-solving success (Behrend et al., 1992; Berk & Spuhl, 1995).

Whereas substantial support exists for the benefits of scaffolding, several Vygotskian scholars have argued that the typical image of an effective scaffolder who adjusts his or her tutoring to suit the child's needs risks reducing the child to a passive recipient of the adult's teaching efforts (Packer, 1993; Rogoff, 1998; Stone, 1993). According to Stone (1993), besides instruction, other behaviors are also important, including the quality of adult support, the interpersonal relationship between adult and child, and the value both partners attach to the situation, the task, and its associated behaviors. These mutual contributions to learning have not been sufficiently emphasized in scaffolding research. However, investigations of such shared involvement are present in other literaturestfor example, in studies of early language development that emphasize the importance of joint attention and mutuality in communication (Dunham, Dunham, & Curwin, 1993; Carpenter, Nagell, & Tomasello, 1998) and in studies of make-believe play, which I treat in a later section.

Furthermore, as Rogoff and her collaborators emphasize, the "pedagogic" mode of communication inherent in the scaffolding metaphor may be especially suited to child-oriented, academic tasks that are common in Western cultures. For example, Guatemalan Mayan caregivers are far less likely than American caregivers to structure young children's learning situations. Instead, they expect children to take greater responsibility through observation and participation in adult (rather than child-oriented) activities. Consistent with these values, Guatemalan Mayan parents are less verbal in their teaching interactions; they rely more on demonstration, unobtrusive directing, and monitoring while adjusting the assistance they provide to the child's current competence (Greenfield, 1984; Rogoff, Mistry, et al., 1993; Rogoff, Mosier, et al., 1993). These findings, and other similar ones, suggest that effective "scaffolding" varies from culture to culture and is best understood in terms of the values and requirements of the child's society as a whole.

To account for children's diverse opportunities to learn through involvement with others, Rogoff (1990, 1994) has suggested the term guided participation, a broader concept than scaffolding. Without portraying a particular model of interaction (thereby allowing for cultural variation), guided participation calls attention to both the novice's and the expert's contributions. It also includes both deliberately instructional (school and school-like) and everyday settings in which children acquire culturally adaptive knowledge and skills. Clearly, research on shared expert-novice participation is beginning to encompass a wider range of personal and contextual factors.

Intersubjectivity. Perhaps the most effective concept to date in underscoring the quality of communication that, from a sociocultural perspective, fosters development is intersubjectivity (Newson & Newson, 1975). It refers to a process whereby two participants who begin a task with different understandings arrive at a shared understanding. To achieve true collaboration and to communicate effectively, each partner must adjust to the perspective of the other. As partners negotiate and compromise, their "fusion of reference . . . creates a platform for subsequent joint action" and further development (Rogoff, 1998, p. 686; Wertsch, 1984).

The concept of intersubjectivity is applicable to many contexts--parent-child and teacher-child interaction, family discussions, and peer collaboration. Some theorists argue that the capacity for intersubjectivity is present early in life--in the young baby's mutual gaze, exchange of emotional signals, and early imitation of the caregiver (Meltzoff & Moore, 1992; Tronick & Cohn, 1989). Regardless of when intersubjectivity first emerges, it changes substantially with development. For Vygotsky, the acquisition of gestural communication and (shortly thereafter) language, permitting greater clarity of communication, should facilitate it.

By the second year of life, children often strive for intersubjectivity. Toddlers attend to adults' and peers' activities and use of objects, actively trying to take another's perspective and perform similar actions. As they do so, they acquire new skills (Eckerman & Didow, 1996; Rogoff, 1990; Ross, Conant, Cheyne, & Alevizos, 1992). Young children are also active in soliciting others' help and in directing that assistance to ensure that it is beneficial (Azmitia & Hesser, 1993; Nelson-LeGall, 1992). In sum, the concept of intersubjectivity reminds us that children and adults jointly manage shared endeavorstand that the contributions of both create the zone of proximal development.

Peer Collaboration. In Vygotsky's view, assistance in the zone of proximal development can also occur with more capable peers (Vygotsky, 1930c1935/1978). Earlier I noted that whereas Piaget emphasized the value of conflict with peers who are coequals, Vygotsky stressed the facilitating impact of interacting with peers who vary in expertise. Moreover, according to Vygotsky, peer conflict can contribute to heightened understanding, but only insofar as partners resolve their disagreements and move toward a joint, intersubjective view of the situation.

Consistent with Vygotsky's view, researchers observing the dynamics of peer collaboration have found that conflict and disagreement are not as crucial for development as the extent to which peers resolve differences of opinion, engage in joint decision making, and work toward common goals (Kobayashi, 1994; Kruger, 1993; Tudge, 1992; Tudge & Rogoff, 1987). When cooperation and sharing of ideas do not occur, then cognitive gains are typically not observed (Gauvain & Rogoff, 1989; Tudge, 1989). For example, in a study of fifth graders solving math problems cooperatively, partners were more likely to move toward correct strategies if they clearly explained and considered each other's ideas. A child could propose a correct strategy, but without partner acceptance it tended to be abandoned (Ellis, Klahr, & Siegler, 1994).

A wealth of applied research in classrooms is enriching our understanding of contextual factors that foster peer collaboration and gains in development. For example, studies of mixed-age grouping reveal that when academic performance differs between mixed- and single-age classrooms, it favors the mixed-age arrangement. Self-esteem and attitudes toward school are also more positive, perhaps because mixed-age grouping decreases competition and increases harmony in the classroom (Jensen & Green, 1993; Pratt, 1986). The opportunity that mixed-age groups afford for peer tutoring may also contribute to their favorable outcomes. When older or more expert pupils teach younger or less expert pupils, both tutors and tutees benefit in academic achievement and self-esteem (Hooper, Temiyakarn, & Williams, 1993; Johnson, Johnson, & Taylor, 1993).

However, simply putting peers together does not guarantee that they will engage with one another in ways that lead to a higher level of understanding. The capacity of children to collaborate, like other competencies, is a developmental attainment that must be scaffolded by adults. An impressive example of peer collaboration under the guidance of adult experts is reciprocal teaching, a method designed to improve reading comprehension in children who are at risk for academic difficulties (Brown & Palincsar, 1989; Palincsar, 1992). A teacher supports a group of two to four pupils, who take turns leading dialogues on the content of a text passage. Gradually, the teacher releases responsibility for learning to the children. Through group discussion, participants ask questions, clarify ideas, and achieve consensus on meaningta process that helps ensure they will grapple deeply with concepts and restructure their knowledge, supported by the diversity of skills within the group. Evaluations reveal that participants show substantial gains in reading comprehension compared to controls exposed to alternative instructional strategies with the same reading materials (Lysynchuk, Pressley, & Vye, 1990; Palincsar, Brown, & Campione, 1993).

The values and practices of the larger community influence the ability of pupils to engage in and sustain collaboration in classrooms. If adults do not collaborate in their own lives, then collaboration is harder to induce in children. Joint engagement in learning groups seems to come more easily to children with collectivist rather than individualist cultural backgrounds. For example, Navajo children achieve this mutuality more readily than do European-American children (Ellis & Gauvain, 1992). Japanese classroom practices, in which children solve problems by building on one another's ideas, are situated in a larger cultural context that values interdependence in family and work life (Hatano, 1994). In contrast, cultural-majority children in the United States typically consider competitive and individualistic approaches to learning to be natural--a perspective that interferes with their ability to attain intersubjectivity in cooperative work groups (Foreman & McPhail, 1993).

School reform experiments reveal that peer collaboration in classrooms works best when it is supported by similar ideals throughout the educational institution. The most extensive and well-known school restructuring effort inspired by Vygotsky's theory is the Kamahameha Elementary Education Program (KEEP) (Tharp, 1993). Begun as an innovative educational system for academically at-risk ethnic minority children, KEEP classrooms are organized into activity settings, defined as "contexts in which collaborative interaction, intersubjectivity, and assisted performance occur" (Tharp & Gallimore, 1988, p. 72). Small groups of children rotate through the settings over a week's time (except for a focal literacy setting, which they enter everyday), providing multiple opportunities for peers to work collaboratively. In KEEP, each level of the school system is based on principles of assisted performance. Supervisors, principals, consultants, and other teachers jointly create activity settings for teachers to further their competence in assisting children's learning. This culture of cooperation is believed to have contributed greatly to KEEP's success in augmenting the literacy skills and academic achievement of first to third graders who typically do poorly in school.

In a related Vygotsky-inspired curricular approach, the classroom is transformed into a community of learners in which the distinction between adult and peer contributions is relinquished; all collaborate and develop through sociocultural activities. This community-of-learners model is based on the assumption that different people have different expertises that can be helpful to other members of the community, depending on the task at hand. Projects, not lessons, are the focus of classroom activitiestcomplex real-world problems requiring many steps in which children and adults draw on one another's expertise to move toward joint solution (for examples, see Brown & Campione, 1994; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1994; Moll & Whitmore, 1993).

In the efforts just described, peer collaboration itself becomes socially situated, embedded in a sociocultural system created from within by teachers and children and supported from without by its surrounding cultural context. In this respect, some scholars have argued that Vygotsky's concept of the zone of proximal development needs to be broadened, from a view of a single child in collaboration with a more expert partner (adult or peer) to a vision of multiple, interrelated zones (Moll & Whitmore, 1993).

Private Speech. Vygotsky's claim that the most significant moment in cognitive development occurs when young children use language not only for communication with others but also as a tool for regulating thought and action has inspired a steady stream of research on private speech. Our findings join with those of other investigators to provide substantial confirmation of Vygotskian predictions on the social origins and self-regulating role of children's speech to themselves.

Social Origins. Diverse findings support Vygotsky's assumption that private speech originates in early social experience. For example, moderate to strong positive correlations between children's social and private remarks have emerged in several investigations, suggesting that the two forms of language have common roots (Berk & Garvin, 1984; Kirby, 1997; Kohlberg et al., 1968). In addition, socially rich contexts appear to foster private speech, since children talk to themselves more freely when they have access to social partnersteither peers or adults (Goudena, 1987; Ramirez, 1992). Moreover, a comparison of elementary school children's private speech while working on academic tasks in their classrooms and in a solitary laboratory setting revealed a precipitous drop in private speech in the laboratory (Berk & Landau, 1993). Isolating children from their sociocultural world and the opportunities it affords for dialogues with others dramatically affects the extent to which they engage in dialogues with themselves.

Developmental Course. The Vygotsky-predicted developmental course of private speech--from externalized to internalized forms--has also amassed clear support. In both cross-sectional and longitudinal investigations, audible task-relevant private speech declines with age while signs of inner speech (inaudible muttering and lip and tongue movements) increase (Berk, 1986; Berk & Garvin, 1984; Berk & Potts, 1991; Berk & Landau, 1993; Bivens & Berk, 1990; Frauenglass & Diaz, 1985; Kirby, 1997).

These trends are evident among preschool and elementary school children, whether studied cross-sectionally or longitudinally. They are also apparent in microgenetic research, a type of longitudinal investigation in which children are followed as they engage in moment-by-moment learning of a challenging task (Berk & Spuhl, 1995; Duncan & Pratt, 1997). Similar movement toward private speech internalization at diverse ages and within a variety of task contexts suggests that rather than following a single overarching path of development (as Vygotsky predicted), private speech may re-emerge and abbreviate each time children tackle a new area of cognitive skill.

Consistent with this idea, comparisons across studies using the same classroom observational methodology indicate that private speech is particularly prevalent during the early grade-school years--about twice as high as it is during the preschool period (Berk, 1986; Bivens & Berk, 1990; Krafft & Berk, in press). Literacy activities appear to be an especially rich context for verbal self-regulation as children first become immersed in consciously manipulating and controlling the symbolic systems of their culture. In support of Vygotsky's supposition that education fosters a self-reflective, metacognitive approach to thinking, recent research reveals that 6- and 7-year-olds, but not 4-year-olds, are aware of their inner speech (that "a person can tell himself things and talk to himself up in his head") and that people are constantly engaged in thought (Flavell, Green, & Flavell, 1993, 1995; Flavell, Green, Flavell, & Grossman, 1995). The investigators speculated that increased consciousness of mental activity may result from intensively experiencing one's own inner speech while engaged in reading, writing, and solving math problems.

Self-Regulating Function. Studies consistently confirm the role of private speech in the development of self-regulation. For example, private speech increases with task difficulty, suggesting that children call on it to overcome obstacles (Berk, 1992). More definitive support for its regulating role comes from research examining the relationship of private speech to task-related behavior and performance. While engaged in language arts and mathematics assignments, first- through fifth-grade children who frequently use task-relevant utterances display fewer self-stimulating and distracting behaviors and are more attentive (Berk, 1986; Berk & Landau, 1993, 1997). Moreover, in a longitudinal study in which children were followed from first to third grade as they worked on mathematics tasks, gradual internalization of private speech went hand-in-hand with more effective channeling of behavior. That is, children who progressed more rapidly from audible, self-directed utterances to inner speech were also advanced in their ability to focus attention and inhibit self-stimulating motor activity (Bivens & Berk, 1990).

Evidence for the self-regulating function of private speech also extends to children's task performance. In previous research, private speech showed inconsistent relationships with concurrent performance (how well children did on a task at the time they manifested private speech). This apparent challenge to the facilitating effects of private speech has been traced to two factors. First, many tasks typically given to children in the laboratory are either too easy or too difficult (not within the zone of proximal development) and therefore not suitable for evoking self-guiding private speech in all children (Berk, 1992, 1994). Second, since private speech increases when children encounter obstacles to success, it often co-occurs with task failure (Diaz, 1992). In carefully designed, longitudinal investigations in which tasks were selected to be within children's zones of proximal development, private speech was consistently associated with future performance, or gains in problem-solving competence assessed from 2 days to 1 year after the original observation (Azmitia, 1992; Behrend, Rosengren, & Perlmutter, 1989, 1992; Berk & Landau, 1997; Bivens & Berk, 1990; Gaskill & Diaz, 1991).

In sum, substantial empirical support has accumulated for Vygotsky's central premises on private speech. There is convincing evidence that private speech originates in social experience, is progressively internalized with age, and serves a self-regulating function.

Make-Believe Play. Until recently, most researchers were guided by Piaget's (1945/1951) belief that toddlers discover make-believe play independently, as soon as they are capable of representation. Consequently, the emergence of pretense was studied in isolation from the social and cultural contexts in which it usually occurs.

Vygotsky (1933/1978) in contrast, regarded make-believe play, like other higher mental functions, as socially constructed. He believed that societies provide children with opportunities to represent culturally meaningful activities in play. Moreover, Vygotsky emphasized that the enactment of imaginary situations and social rules during play (for example, children focusing on the roles and rules of the classroom as they play school) strengthens understanding of social norms; the ability to think before acting; and, consequently, self-regulation. Finally, Vygotsky stated that make-believe play "creates a zone of proximal development in the child. In play, the child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself" (p. 102). In sum, Vygotsky regarded play as the leading educational activity of early childhood. (For a fuller discussion of Vygotsky's ideas on make-believe play, see Berk, 1994; Nicolopoulou, 1993).

Vygotsky's theory has led to a spate of research on the development of pretense. A longitudinal study in which children were followed from 1 to 4 years of age while playing at home suggested that make-believe has social origins; the majority of pretense until age 3 involved mother-child interaction, even when children had ready access to child playmates (Haight & Miller, 1993). Findings of this investigation and others indicate that toddlers' make-believe with caregivers is more sustained and complex than is their solitary make-believe (Slade, 1987; Fiese, 1990; O'Reilly & Bornstein, 1993; Tamis-LeMonda & Bornstein, 1991). In line with the zone of proximal development, very young children, for whom make-believe is just emerging, act more competently when playing with a mature partner than they otherwise would.

Play with caregivers appears to prepare the child for playful cooperation with agemates. In Haight and Miller's (1993) study, mother-child pretense gradually gave way to child-child pretense, and children whose mothers ranked high in pretending when their children were 1 year old ranked high in peer play at age 4. Play with agemates requires joint, responsive engagement to support development. Intersubjectivity among peer playmates, in the form of extensions and affirmations of one another's messages, increases substantially during the preschool years (Göncü, 1993). Interestingly, preschoolers have greater difficulty establishing a cooperative, shared framework in nonplay problem solving (Azmitia & Perlmutter, 1989; Gauvain & Rogoff, 1989). As in the adult-child context, the child engaged in play with peers is, in Vygotsky's words, "a head taller than himself"--advanced in comparison to other contexts. By middle childhood, the social skills mastered during joint make-believe generalize to nonplay activities.

In many cultures, adults do not play with children. Instead, older siblings take over this function, serving as caregivers for younger brothers and sisters in mixed-age play groups. For example, research in Indonesia and Mexico reveals that make-believe is more frequent and complex with siblings than with mothers. As early as 3 to 4 years of age, older siblings draw younger children into play activities and frequently make comments and suggestions for more elaborate pretending. The fantasy play of toddlers in these cultures is just as well developed as that of their American counterparts (Farver, 1993; Farver & Wimbarti, 1995; Gaskins, 1994). Moreover, older children granted opportunities to fill responsible roles with younger children undoubtedly gain in perspective taking and sensitivity to others' needs.

Researchers have begun to pay increasing attention to the impact of cultural values on the style and organization of children's play. In collectivist societies that stress group harmony, play takes different forms than it does in individualistic cultures like the United States. Children in India, for example, generally play in large groups that require high levels of cooperation. Much of their behavior during make-believe and early games is imitative, occurs in unison, and involves close physical contact (Roopnarine et al., 1994). Similarly, Marquesan preschoolers of Polynesia gather in groups of as many as ten children. Familiar, highly scripted activities reduce opportunities for disagreement. Older children help keep younger children orient toward group goals through persuasion and, sometimes, shaming when they drift off into self-centered play (Martini, 1994).

Finally, my research group has begun to examine Vygotsky's assertion that make-believe play contributes to the development of self-regulation. Observing 3- to 5-year-olds during free-choice periods at preschool, we found that the incidence of private speech was much higher in fantasy play and play involving engagement with peers than in nonfantasy and solitary play contexts. Moreover, in a preschool that de-emphasized make-believe play and peer collaboration, children displayed far less private speech than they did in a play-oriented preschool (Krafft & Berk, in press). These results provide suggestive evidence that make-believe activities are vital contexts in which children learn to bring action under the control of thought. To test this assertion more definitively, we have examined relationships between preschoolers' developing play competence and cognitive and social skills that depend on emerging verbal self-regulation. Our findings reveal positive associations (Bach & Berk, 1999; Elias & Berk, 1999).

In sum, a growing literature is addressing diverse sociocultural facets of children's play. Findings are consistent with Vygotsky's view of make-believe as a vital zone of proximal development in which preschoolers subordinate their behavior to rules in socially constructed play scenes imbued with the values, expectations, and practices of their culture.

Children with Attention and Impulse Control Problems. Vygotsky's sociocultural approach has also been extended to the study of children with learning and behavior problems, thereby contributing to our understanding of developmental psychopathology. According to Vygotsky (1993), the path of development is altered because of compensatory behaviors that emerge due to the child's disability and because of the restrictive impact that the disability has on access to positive interactions with adults and peers.

For example, in the literature on children with sensory deficits, several studies reveal that due to greater access to supportive parent-child interaction, deaf children with deaf parents (who communicate through sign language) develop more favorably than do deaf children with hearing parents (who either do not use sign language or need time to learn to do so). Deaf children with deaf parents resemble hearing children in quality of parent-child interaction, development of private speech (manual signing to themselves), and self-regulation. In contrast, deaf children of hearing parents, who experience less positive, sensitive, and stimulating exchanges with parents, display diminished use of task-relevant private speech and serious self-regulatory difficulties in academic and social development (Chess & Fernandez, 1980; Jamieson, 1994, 1997; Jamieson & Pedersen, 1993). These findings suggest a clear, sociocultural basis of intervention for preventing learning and social-skills problems in deaf children with hearing parents.

My research group has focused on the private speech of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), whose symptoms of inattention and impulsivity also interfere with school learning and social relations. Recently, interest in the self-regulating function of private speech has increased among clinicians and researchers concerned with ADHD. In a prominent new theory, Barkley (1997) argues that children with this disorder suffer from a biologically-based deficit in response inhibition--that is, an impaired ability to delay responding, cease ongoing behavior, and resist distraction from the surrounding environment. This basic deficiency is believed to lead to secondary deficits in metacognitive processing, including impaired use of and internalization of private speech. Barkley's theory expands Vygotsky's emphasis on the sociocultural origins of private speech by stressing the role of an intact neurological system for self-directed language to gain control over behavior.

Our investigations offer strong support for Barkley's theory. We studied children clinically diagnosed with ADHD and children with poor impulse control, the symptom presumed by Barkley to be the defining deficit of ADHD. Both ADHD and impulsive children talked out loud to themselves more during academic problem solving than did normal controls. When we examined age-related trends, we found that children with ADHD and impulsivity were delayed in internalization of private speech; that is, they used audible, externalized self-talk over a longer developmental period than is typical among school-age children (Berk & Potts, 1991; Berk & Landau, 1993, 1997).

Several additional findings suggested that this developmental lag was the result of an impairment that prevents ADHD children's private speech from gaining efficient mastery over behavior. First, when we increased the difficulty of academic work, the private speech of impulsive children became disorganized; rather than increasing (like that of normal controls), it decreased and consisted of more irrelevant remarks (Berk & Landau, 1997). Second, private speech failed to predict improved attention and academic performance for ADHD and impulsive children, whereas clear prediction of these indicators of self-regulation emerged for normal controls (Berk & Landau, 1993, 1997; Berk & Potts, 1991). Finally, when we observed ADHD children while they were both taking and not taking stimulant drug medication (known to augment neurological functioning), medication sharply increased the maturity of private speech and its association with focused attention and control of motor activity (sitting quietly rather than fidgeting) during academic problem solving (Berk & Potts, 1991).

Taken together, findings on deaf children and children with ADHD underscore diverse paths to deficits in self-regulation. In the case of deaf children, whose basic neurological system is intact but whose hearing parents lack the "mental tools" (fluent sign language) to promote language development in their child, social experience accounts entirely for self-regulatory difficulties. In the case of children with ADHD, a biologically based deficit in response inhibition seems to interfere both with access to adult supportive interaction (see Landau, 1999, for a review) and with the ability of private speech to realize its self-regulating function. Our results suggest a need for intervention research that focuses on the complementary goals of reducing ADHD children's impulsivity and assisting them in making more strategic use of the high rates of private speech they do display.

The work I have described on children with attention and impulse-control difficulties illustrates productive links being forged between developmental and clinical theory and research. The fruits are new insights into the multiple origins of serious learning and behavior problems and hope of improved treatments.

Future Directions

Research emanating from the sociocultural perspective has contributed significantly to current revisions in our understanding of human development, especially to recent conceptions of diversity in developmental pathways. The sociocultural perspective has been a major force in reminding the field that unique combinations of biological and environment forces at multiple levels lead to both similarities and differences in trajectories of change.

The most significant contribution of the sociocultural perspective is a more sophisticated and detailed conception of the environment--specifically, the social and cultural environment at the very seam of organism-environment interaction. In its fine-grained examination of social collaboration within the zone of proximal development, Vygotsky-inspired research has given us a much deeper understanding of the everyday processes by which children become enculturated into their communities. This evidence is among current sources that have profoundly challenged researchers' and practitioners' tendency to think in terms of broad, homogeneous classifications of individuals, such as "socioeconomic status," "ethnic minority," or (in the case of individuals with deficits and disabilities) undifferentiated labels such as "low achiever" or "children with attention deficits." A careful look inside such groups--at life histories, current experiences, and cultural and subcultural values and practices--uncovers wide individual variation.

Understanding and predicting change is the sine qua non of the field of human development, which assumes in all its activities that the past and present can inform us about the future. This principle is just as applicable to the sociocultural framework and the field of development as a whole as it is to the developing person. I forecast a strengthening of the following ongoing directions within sociocultural research:

  • Stronger links with other research traditions in the domain of cognitive development. The sociocultural perspective has largely forged a body of evidence distinct from other contemporary literatures in cognitive development, including neo-Piagetian and information-processing work and research on such capacities as perception, memory, representation, and problem solving. In current reviews of the status of research on these topics, sociocultural forces are now acknowledged, but they are granted far less attention than such intraindividual forces as practice of task-relevant skills, expansion of the knowledge base, and biological maturation (see Kuhn & Siegler, 1998).

    In a recent review, Rogoff (1998) predicted that the future would bring greater attention to sociocultural aspects of the cognitive phenomena just mentioned. Yet to attain this goal, sociocultural research must reach out to embrace and build on other methods and findings as much as it encourages other researchers to attend to the sociocultural perspective. The result is likely to soften the strong Vygotskian claim that all higher cognitive processes develop through social interaction. Indeed, several research programs within other traditions stress the role of mechanisms within the person--experimentation with the physical world, quiet-time reflection, logical reasoning, and multiple opportunities to test the efficacy of cognitive operations--for capacities as diverse as children's understanding of their mental worlds; strategy use in memorizing and in acquiring basic academic skills; and scientific problem solving (Flavell, Green, & Flavell, 1995; Kuhn, Garcia-Mila, Zohar, & Andersen, 1995; Siegler, 1996). 

    Assessing the status of research on cognitive development at the end of the twentieth century, Flavell (1992) expressed pessimism about the lasting value of "contextualist approaches" (p. 1003). This pessimism, which he left unexplained, might have stemmed from the observation that the sociocultural tradition has proceeded largely in its own direction, without much attention to others. The message of history is that any explanation emerging within a single tradition has limits; a complete account of human change must ultimately attend to evidence and ideas in other traditions as well. As sociocultural investigators apply their belief in an intersubjective meeting of minds to their own research endeavors, we are likely to see the processes of social appropriation and individual discovery melded into a more comprehensive theoretical systemtone that clarifies when each is most beneficial and how each supports the other.

  • Stronger integration of cognition with other domains of functioning. The sociocultural perspective has largely been applied to research on cognitive development. Yet its emphasis on collaboration with expert partners as a source of development is applicable to other domains of functioning. Self-regulation is not solely the province of cognition; a growing literature on the development of emotional self-regulation reveals the importance of a diverse array of social experiences, including sensitive face-to-face communication in infancy, parental modeling of effective strategies, conversations about emotions, and language-based techniques for gaining control over emotional arousal (Saarni, 1997; Thompson, 1990). In the domain of social skills, research shows that parents of socially competent preschoolers arrange informal peer play activities and offer advice, guidance, and examples of how to act toward others (Ladd, LeSieur, & Profilet, 1993). Such parents also gradually grant the older child and adolescent autonomy in accord with their readiness to assume itta support system akin to scaffolding (Collins, Harris, & Susman, 1995; Holmbeck, Paikoff, & Brooks-Gunn, 1995). In the realm of morality, parental warmth, sensitivity, and explanations; peer discussions of moral issues; and the child's efforts to make sense of social conflicts in which others' rights have been violated foster moral understanding (Turiel, 1998; Walker & Taylor, 1991).

    Although the parallels are striking, these literatures and Vygotsky-inspired cognitive research have hardly touched shoulders. Efforts to integrate them promise to help us discern which social experiences promote development broadly and which ones are unique to specific domains of functioning. Moreover, emotional and social skills are vital for children to collaborate in the zone of proximal development, and cognitive development supports many emotional and social skills. Consequently, bringing the sociocultural perspective to bear on the emotional and social domains should greatly enrich these strands of inquiry while extending and refining the sociocultural approach.

  • Greater attention to the natural, or biological, line of development. Vygotsky stated that the natural and social lines of development join, forming a single developmental pathway. Yet in focusing on the social line, he said little about the natural (biological line). Investigators in the sociocultural tradition continue to pay less attention to the biological substrate of development than do researchers of other theoretical persuasions. (An exception is the literature reviewed earlier on the private speech of children with attention and impulse-control problems.) Yet current evidence suggests that neurological changes--from brain growth spurts to lateralization of the cerebral cortex--are profoundly influenced by experience (Fisher & Bidell, 1998; Greenough et al., 1993; Neville, 1991). In addition, accumulating research shows that children's competence is best promoted when parenting and teaching strategies are in tune with children's biologically based dispositions (Kagan, 1998; Pellegrini & Horvat, 1995).

    As they attend to the biological side through contact and collaboration with investigators specializing in psychophysiological methods and brain-behavior relationships, sociocultural researchers will have much to contribute to our understanding of the interface between biology and environment. A particularly valuable contribution is likely to be a stronger cultural perspective in the study of temperament, behavior disorders, sensory deficits, and learning disabilities. Already we know that parents and teachers view shyness, sociability, and difficultness quite differently, depending on cultural context--attitudes that affect children's adjustment (see, for example, Chen, Rubin, & Li, 1995; Weisz et al., 1995). The sociocultural perspective is well suited for building on these understandings. We may soon see, as a result, that many biology-environment interactions are culture-specific.

  • Expansion of longitudinal research to include microgenetic investigations. To fully understand person-environment interactions that lead to development, researchers will need more than the snapshots of change offered by the widely spaced observations of traditional longitudinal research. More studies are likely to be microgenetic--moving in close to track change as individuals master a novel or everyday task (see Kuhn, 1995; Siegler & Crowley, 1991, for analyses of the strengths and limitations of this method). 

    Within the sociocultural tradition, the microgenetic method has offered valuable glimpses into the flow of interaction between experts and novices and into children's internalization of private speech. Adherents of other cognitive perspectives have used the method even more vigorously, greatly enriching our understanding of how children participate in their own development by experimenting with strategies as they acquire new skills (see, for example, Schauble, 1996; Siegler, 1996). As microgenetic evidence expands, researchers may be in a more favorable position to tackle the formidable problem of how to meld this microcosmic view of change with the macrocosmic view provided by other longitudinal studies. These efforts should also inform us about an issue raised earlierthow socially and personally based mechanisms of change work together.

  • Increased influence on practice. Sociocultural theory has already had a profound impact on practice, and it will undoubtedly continue in that vein. Its core assumptions, that higher mental functions first emerge socially, within the zone of proximal development, and only later psychologically, are likely to inspire many new teaching experiments and educational reforms. These include refinements in collaborative learning; grouping arrangements that bring novices and experts into closer proximity; and contextual modifications--activity centers, small class sizes, and culturally sensitive teaching strategies that foster the dialogues so vital, in the sociocultural view, for spurring development. At the institutional level, alternatives to grade or age placements may arise, in response to the realization that not all classmates and agemates function within the same zone of proximal development. Within school administrative structures, cultures of cooperation may become more widespread, in recognition that creating zones of proximal development at higher levels helps ensure that they will emerge within classrooms.

    In early childhood education, where tensions persist between child-centered and teacher-directed philosophies, the sociocultural perspective offers a potential resolution, in advocating adult responsiveness to children's capacities in ways that lead development forward. Within this debate, play continues to struggle for legitimacy as teacher-controlled goals threaten to dominate it, justified by the need to prepare young children for academic learning (Hart et al., in press; Stipek & Byler, 1997). Sociocultural research grants renewed validity to play as the supreme educational activity of the early years, and it should spark new play-based curricula. 

    In the field of developmental psychopathology, the sociocultural approach may inspire innovative therapies for children with self-regulatory difficulties. Play therapy, at one time a major psychoanalytic tool, may return in new forms, as a promising approach in which impulsive and ADHD children can transcend their present level of development and become better able to manage their own behavior. Perhaps therapeutic procedures will also capitalize on adult-child and child-child dialogues within the zone of proximal development, drawing on such interventions as reciprocal teaching to ameliorate academic and social difficulties (Diaz & Berk, 1995). 

    As Vygotsky-based educational and therapeutic practices gain wider acceptance, assessment procedures are likely to change, from traditional tests that emphasize already attained competencies to dynamic assessments that uncover what the developing person can acquire with the assistance of a more knowledgeable partner. Although a variety of dynamic assessment systems currently exist (see Lidz, 1991; Luther, Cole, & Gamlin, 1996), they have not yet caught hold broadly. Yet education and therapy grounded in Vygotsky's zone of proximal development will require philosophically compatible assessments aimed at identifying potential to learntthe ripening capacities of today or tomorrow rather than those of yesterday.

  • Enhanced knowledge of culture, collaboration, and development. Sociocultural theory is responsible for a greatly expanded knowledge base on cultural variations in expert-novice interaction. As this work continues, it is likely to encompass a wider range of cultures (especially non-Western) and situations, including everyday (nonschool) activities, about which we have relatively little information (Rogoff, 1998). Furthermore, sociocultural research has largely focused on dyads--a teacher, a parent, or a peer interacting with a child--in part because of the greater prevalence of dyadic interchanges in U.S. middle-class than in other cultures (Rogoff et al., 1993). In many homes, neighborhoods, and classrooms, communication often takes place in groups, the dynamics of which have rarely been examined from a sociocultural perspective. 

    Cultural variations in collaboration extend to people with whom we communicate at a distance, including the internalized voices of influential texts, former teachers, and members of previous generations. These communicative partners have been addressed in a small literature extending into adulthood (see, for example, John-Steiner, 1992; Wertsch, 1991). They merit considerably more research for a full appreciation of human shared endeavors. Furthermore, innovation in technological societies has yielded a wide range of tools for bridging time and space in communicationtamong them, telephones, fax machines, electronic e-mail, and the internet. Studies of how people of different ages and within different settings use these devices, along with their impact on face-to-face interaction, are underway and likely to increase (Crook, 1994; Windschitl, 1998). This avenue of research is expanding our definition of community and our understanding of the impact of culture on social participation and development.

What do the next 15 years hold for developmental psychology as a whole? The trends identified at the beginning of this chapter will undoubtedly proceed apace. Interconnections with other subfields of psychology and other disciplines will become increasingly important for understanding biology-environment interactions and developmental processes at the psychological, immediate social-setting, community, and cultural levels. More research groups will need to combine expertise in genetics and neurology with in-depth knowledge of the contexts in which human beings move through life to grant greater clarity to a theme threaded throughout this chaptertpluralism of developmental pathways. Consequently, the study of development is likely to become less localized in an identifiable assembly of experts and increasingly distributed among various disciplines.

In his day, Vygotsky regarded fragmentation in the field as a crisis. He argued that there was a need to work toward a theoretical framework that would unify diverse observations (Wertsch, 1985). It is doubtful that the field will soon reach consensus on a single theoretical perspective. At the same time, it seems to be moving toward broader agreement that the various systems views (e.g., ecological systems theory, dynamic systems theory, family systems theory, the lifespan perspective) carry important lessons for a wide range of phenomena. These approaches have in common an emphasis on the dynamic relation between the individual and multilevel contexts as necessary to explain development. They also recognize that a synthesis of perspectives is needed to advance knowledge.

A vital message that Vygotsky's sociocultural theory offers--to itself and to the larger field of development--is the power that collaborative endeavors hold for creating zones of proximal development that move theory and research forward. As more interdisciplinary and researcher-practitioner partnerships form, longitudinal research will be enriched by the methodologies of diverse disciplines. As a result, developmental inquiry is likely to include not just traditional quantitative procedures, but qualitative approaches that better reflect the developing organism in context as a complex, functioning whole. Because of their longer tradition of conducting research within the ecology of people's lives, education and sociology are ahead of developmental psychology in enlarging their arsenals of methods (Walsh, Tobin, & Grau, 1993; Peshkin, 1993). As the field of development follows suit, the returns will be great for both scientific and practical knowledge.

How individuals just beginning their careers best prepare themselves to participate in the endeavors just described? More than ever before, developmental researchers of the twenty-first century will need interdisciplinary preparation. They will also benefit from immersion in the world of practice for at least a period of their careerstas teachers, clinicians, nurses, physicians, practicing psychologists, social workers or, if not practitioners, participant observers who become thoroughly familiar with the proximal and distal environments of the organism they wish to study.

Researchers of the future will also need collaborative skills, and nurturing those skills will need to be far more central to their education than it is today. New trends in the field may prompt substantial changes in way developmentalists are trained. Instead of research being performed by a solitary student under the supervision of a single mentor, the master's and doctoral dissertations of the twenty-first century may involve peer collaborations with interdisciplinary teams of mentorstlearning environments that mirror the research environments that the next generation of scholars must create to advance the field.

In conclusion, like the persons and contexts they study, great diversity is likely to characterize the development of future developmental researchers, who will access the field from a much wider range of backgrounds and perspectives. If their endeavors truly become, in the sociocultural sense, a collaborative processtthe work of communities of scholarstthen exciting gains await us in knowledge of development and in interventions that enhance well-being throughout life.


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Laura E. Berk is a distinguished professor of psychology at Illinois State University. She received her bachelors degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and her doctoral degree from the University of Chicago. She has been visiting scholar at Cornell University, UCLA, Stanford University, and the University of South Australia. Berk has published widely on the effects of school environments on childrenâs development and on the development of private speech. Her research has appeared in many prominent journals, including Child Development, Developmental Psychology, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, and Development and Psychopathology. Her empirical studies have attracted the attention of the general public, leading to contributions to Psychology Today and Scientific American. Berk has written three textbooks: Child Development; Infants, Children, and Adolescents; and Development Through the Lifespan (Allyn and Bacon). Her other books include Private Speech: From Social Interaction to Self-Regulation (Erlbaum), Landscapes of Development (Wadsworth), and Scaffolding Childrenâs Learning: Vygotsky and Early Childhood Education (National Association for the Education of Young Children). Her new book for parents and teachers, Engaging with Children, will be published shortly by Oxford University Press. At Illinois State University, Berk has taught many courses, including introductory psychology, child and adolescent development, lifespan development, research methods, seminar for senior psychology majors, and a graduate seminar in developmental psychology.

The author may be reached at

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