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Jerome Bruner (1915-)

psychology cognitive education language

Jerome Bruner was born October 15, 1915 in New York, the youngest of four children in a "nominally observant" Jewish family. He was a leading voice in the cognitive revolution that overtook psychology in the 1960s, ending a half-century of domination by behaviorism. As a professor of psychology at Harvard and as Director, with George Miller, of the Center for Cognitive Studies, he was a major force in redirecting psychology toward the study of cognitive processes involved in language and thought and their development. As Watts Professor of Psychology at Oxford University he extended his work increasingly into issues of children's cognitive and linguistic development and the role of education in this process. Because Bruner has applied this perspective to a number of problems (including perception, thinking, language development, and education), he is widely regarded as the world's greatest living psychologist. He is the author of some twenty books, one of which, The Process of Education (1960), has been translated into twenty-one languages.

Bruner's view of mind was shaped by his encounters as an undergraduate at Duke University with William McDougall's contrarian views: nativism versus empiricism and mentalism versus materialism. His ideas were further extended by the conflicts he encountered at Harvard as a graduate student between the whole-person theorists Gordon Willard Allport and Henry Murray, and the experimentalists Edwin Garrigues Boring and Karl Spencer Lashley. The eventual product was an experimental approach to the higher mental processes of the language and thinking of whole persons best represented in the landmark volume authored with Jacqueline Goodnow and George Austin, A Study of Thinking (1956).

Bruner's contributions to developmental psychology are no less distinctive. He introduced the work of Jerome Seymour Bruner was a leading voice in the cognitive revolution that overtook psychology in the 1960s. (Archives of the History of American Psychology) Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky to the attention of North Americans, extending and adding a cognitive process perspective to intellectual development, work well represented by the volume produced with his students Patricia Greenfield and Rose Olver, Studies in Cognitive Growth (1966). Along with Colwyn Trevarthyn and T. Berry Brazelton, Bruner pioneered the study of infant perception and their predispositions to language, work culminating in the book Child's Talk (1983).

Bruner has been a strong proponent of the importance of culture in human development, including education as an aspect of that culture. Minds, he argues, have the properties they do not just because we are all humans, but because of the rules and rituals of child-rearing and formal education. Cultural rules and routines and the narrative forms people learn to use to interpret their own and others' lives are the themes of The Culture of Education (1996).

An insightful accounting of his development as a psychologist through his first sixty years is to be found in his autobiography, In Search of Mind: Essays in Autobiography (1983). The fact that he continues to be devoted to the problem of the cultural uses of narrative and interpretation is exemplified by his books, with Anthony Amsterdam, Minding the Law (2000) and The Uses of Narrative: Law, Literature, and Life (forthcoming).

Bruner's contributions to psychology and to scholarship generally have been acknowledged through two Festschrifts dedicated to him: The Social Foundations of Language and Thought: Essays in Honor of Jerome S. Bruner (Olson, 1980) and Language, Culture, Self: The Philosophy of Jerome Bruner (Bakhurst and Shanker, 2001); the International Balzan Prize (1987); and the awarding of twenty-four honorary degrees from around the world, including Geneva, Harvard University, and University of California, Berkeley.


Publications by Bruner

Beyond the Information Given: Studies in the Psychology of Knowing. New York: Norton, 1973.

Child's Talk: Learning to Use Language. New York: Norton, 1983.

In Search of Mind: Essays in Autobiography. New York: Harper and Row, 1983.

The Culture of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Bruner, Jerome S., and Anthony Amsterdam. Minding the Law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

David R. Olson

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Jerome Bruner (1915-)