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Discuss the Sociocultural Theory in psychology

Discuss the Sociocultural Theory in psychology

Sociocultural theory introduces the idea that language development is a result of social interactions and activities that individuals and then groups participate in. There is a social, cultural, and physical impact on language that a society develops.

Sociocultural theory (SCT), first introduced in section 5.1, takes a closer look at language development and considers how our interactions affect learning and the construction of knowledge. Specifically, SCT places much emphasis on the effects of language in the learning process. For example, throughout history, languages have been adapted to satisfy specific needs, limitations, and social situations—environments that influence learners. Urban Dictionary ( ) would be an example of this adaptation. This resource catalogues words and phrases used among different social groups, but most of these words are not officially recognized by academic resources such as Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. But even words in Urban Dictionary are not officially recognized words until they are consistently used by others and assigned meanings through interactions. As an additional example, consider SMS language or textese (also known by several other names: txt-speak, txtese, txt, txtspk, txtk, texting language, txt lingo, SMSish, txtslang, and txt talk). This is the language developed by groups to communicate using mobile phone text messaging or Internet-based communication such as email and instant messaging. In these contexts, learners identify and apply spellings, abbreviations, or symbols that they might not use in other situations.

The excerpt featured in this section is from Alavinia, Aslrasouli, and Rostami (2014) and introduces us to SCT. SCT provides us with an additional understanding of how the individualized and unique activities we participate in affect our knowledge acquisition. Unlike other theories, however, SCT more deliberately interconnects the process of learning with the individualized contexts in which we engage. Theorists posing SCT suggest that the contextual variables (social, cultural, and physical) are not simply moderators of what and how we learn. Rather, these variables are the pendulum for what and how we learn, influencing the key learning means: language. SCT promotes the active engagement of learners with the environment to encourage effective and meaningful learning.

As you read the following section, take note of the words that come to mind that you might use only within your unique environments, such as among your friends, family, or workplace. These are the learned languages that have derived meanings based on your social circles.

Excerpts from “Reappraisal of the Pivotal Role of Social Interactionist Perspectives in Furthering Learners’ Reading, Attitudinal Dexterities”

By P. Alavinia, M. Aslrasouli, and M. Rostami

[. . .] According to Wu (1998), sociocultural theory (SCT) is a theory of the development of higher functions that emphasizes close association of culture, cognition, and development. (See section 5.1.) “Unlike the psychological theories that view thinking and speaking as related but independent processes, sociocultural theory views speaking and thinking as tightly interwoven” (Lightbown & Spada, 2006, p. 47). [. . .] Vygotsky’s concept of SCT is, indeed, based on mental development through mediation, which means that the “human mind is always and everywhere mediated primarily by linguistically based communication” (Lantolf, 2002, p. 104). Furthermore, as Lantolf (2004) maintains, SCT

is not a theory of the social or of the cultural aspects of human existence. . . . It is, rather, . . . a theory of mind . . . that recognizes the central role that social relationships and culturally constructed artifacts play in organizing uniquely human forms of thinking. (cited in Lantolf & Thorne, 2006, p. 1)


One of the fundamental axioms within Vygotsky’s SCT, scaffolding (first mentioned in section 5.1) was originally introduced by Bruner (1966) and Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976). As Schweisfurth (2013) holds, scaffolding entails the “process of building from a lower starting level towards the learner’s potential through the intervention of another,” and that “sustained dialogue is central to the process of scaffolding, as is careful and understanding modelling by the teacher” (p. 23). Berk (2002) defines scaffolding as

a changing quality of support over a teaching session in which adults adjust the assistance they provide to fit the child’s current level of performance. Direct instruction is offered when a task is new; less help is provided as competence increases. (p. 261)

[. . .] In the scaffolding process students are not passive receivers of information; rather, “they are the active learners and therefore, their zone of proximal development (ZPD) should be maximized through the help of their peers and teacher in an integrated activity” (Ellery, 2005, p. 18). Clark and Graves (2005) considered scaffolding as an effective strategy and stated that scaffolding is so effective because “it enables teacher to keep a task whole, while students learn to understand and manage the parts, and presents the learner with just the right challenge” (Clark & Graves, 2005, p. 571).

Vygotsky (1978a) also underscored the role of interaction in the processes of language development. “He concluded that language develops primarily from social interaction. He argued that in a supportive interactive environment, children are able to advance to higher level of knowledge and performance” (cited in Lightbown & Spada, 2006, p. 20). [. . .]

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