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Jerome Bruner
Born Jerome Seymour Bruner
Template:Birth date and age
New York, NY
Nationality American
Fields psychology
Known for cognitive psychology
educational psychology
Coining the term "scaffolding"
Notable awards International Balzan Prize, CIBA Gold Medal for Distinguished Research Distinguished Scientific Award of the American Psychological Association

Jerome Seymour Bruner (born October 1, 1915) is a psychologist who has made significant contributions to human cognitive psychology and cognitive learning theory in educational psychology, as well as to history and to the general philosophy of education. Bruner is currently a senior research fellow at the New York University School of Law. He received a B.A. in 1937 from Duke University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1941.[1]


Jerome Bruner was born on October 1, 1915 in New York, to Heman and Rose Bruner, who immigrated from Poland.[2] He received a bachelor's degree in psychology, in 1937 from Duke University. Bruner went on to earn a master's degree in psychology in 1939 and then a doctorate in psychology in 1941 from Harvard University.



n 1939, Bruner published his first psychological article, studying the effect of thymus extract on the sexual behavior of the female rat.[3] During World War II, Bruner served on the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditory Force Europe committee under Eisenhower, researching social psychological phenomena.[2]

In 1945, Bruner returned to Harvard as a psychology professor and was heavily involved in research relating to cognitive psychology and educational psychology. In 1970, Bruner left Harvard to teach at the University of Oxford in England. He returned to the United States in 1980 to continue his research in developmental psychology. In 1991, Bruner joined the faculty at New York University, where he still teaches students today. As an adjunct professor at NYU School of Law, he studies how psychology affects legal practice. Throughout his career, Bruner has been awarded honorary doctorates from Yale and Columbia, as well as colleges and universities in such locations as Sorbonne, Berlin, and Rome, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[4]


Bruner's ideas are based on categorization. "To perceive is to categorize, to conceptualize is to categorize, to learn is to form categories, to make decisions is to categorize." Bruner maintains people interpret the world in terms of its similarities and differences. Like Bloom's Taxonomy, Bruner suggests a system of coding in which people form a hierarchical arrangement of related categories. Each successively higher level of categories becomes more specific, echoing Benjamin Bloom's understanding of knowledge acquisition as well as the related idea of instructional scaffolding.

He has also suggested that there are two primary modes of thought: the narrative mode and the paradigmatic mode. In narrative thinking, the mind engages in sequential, action-oriented, detail-driven thought. In paradigmatic thinking, the mind transcends particularities to achieve systematic, categorical cognition. In the former case, thinking takes the form of stories and "gripping drama." In the latter, thinking is structured as propositions linked by logical operators.

Cognitive psychology

Main article: Cognitive psychology

Bruner is one of the pioneers of the cognitive psychology movement in the United States. This began through his own research when he began to study sensation and perception as being active, rather than passive processes. In 1947, Bruner published his classic study Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception in which poor and rich children were asked to estimate the size of coins or wooden disks the size of American pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and half-dollars. The results showed that the value and need the poor and rich children associated with coins caused them to significantly overestimate the size of the coins, especially when compared to their more accurate estimations of the same size disks.[5] Similarly, another classic study conducted by Bruner and Leo Postman showed slower reaction times and less accurate answers when a deck of playing cards reversed the color of the suit symbol for some cards (e.g. red spades and black hearts).[6]

These series of experiments issued in what some called the 'New Look' psychology, which challenged psychologists to study not just an organism's response to a stimulus, but also its internal interpretation.[2] After these experiments on perception, Bruner turned his attention to the actual cognitions that he had indirectly studied in his perception studies.

In 1956, Bruner published a book A Study of Thinking which formally initiated the study of cognitive psychology. Soon afterwards, Bruner helped found the Center of Cognitive Studies at Harvard. After a time, Bruner began to research other topics in psychology, but in 1990 he returned to the subject and gave a series of lectures. The lectures were compiled into a book Acts of Meaning and in these lectures, Bruner refuted the computer model for studying the mind, advocating a more holistic understanding of the mind and its cognitions.

Developmental psychology

Main article: Developmental psychology

Beginning around 1967, Bruner turned his attention toward the subject of developmental psychology. Bruner studied the way children learned and coined the term "scaffolding", to describe the way children often build on the information they have already mastered.

In his research on the development of children (1966), Bruner proposed three modes of representation: enactive representation (action-based), iconic representation (image-based), and symbolic representation (language-based). Rather than neatly delineated stages, the modes of representation are integrated and only loosely sequential as they "translate" into each other. Symbolic representation remains the ultimate mode, for it "is clearly the most mysterious of the three."

Bruner's theory suggests it is efficacious when faced with new material to follow a progression from enactive to iconic to symbolic representation; this holds true even for adult learners. A true instructional designer, Bruner's work also suggests that a learner (even of a very young age) is capable of learning any material so long as the instruction is organized appropriately, in sharp contrast to the beliefs of Piaget and other stage theorists. (Driscoll, Marcy). Like Bloom's Taxonomy, Bruner suggests a system of coding in which people form a hierarchical arrangement of related categories. Each successively higher level of categories becomes more specific, echoing Benjamin Bloom's understanding of knowledge acquisition as well as the related idea of instructional scaffolding.

In accordance with this understanding of learning, Bruner proposed the spiral curriculum, a teaching approach in which each subject or skill area is revisited at intervals, at a more sophisticated level each time. Bruner's spiral curriculum draws heavily from evolution to explain how to learn better and thus it drew criticism from conservatives. First there is basic knowledge of a subject, then more sophistication is added, reinforcing the same principles that were first discussed. This system is used in China. In the United States classes are split by grade—life sciences in 9th grade, chemistry in 10th, physics in 11th. The spiral teaches life sciences, chem, physics all in one year, then two subjects, then one, then all three again to understand how they mold together.[7]

Bruner also believes learning should be spurred by interest in the material rather than tests or punishment, we learn best when find the knowledge we're obtaining appealing.

Educational psychology

Main article: Educational psychology

While Bruner was at Harvard he published a series of works about his assessment of current educational systems and ways that education could be improved. In 1961, he published the book Process of Education. Bruner also served as a member of the Educational Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Referencing his overall view that education should not focus merely on the memorization of facts, Bruner wrote in Process of Education that 'knowing how something is put together is worth a thousand facts about it.' From 1964-1996, Bruner sought to develop a complete curriculum for the educational system that would meet the needs of students in three main areas which he called Man: A Course of Study. Bruner wanted to create an educational environment that would focus on (1) what was uniquely human about human beings, (2) how humans got that way and (3) how humans could become more so.[3] In 1966, Bruner published another book relevant to education, Towards a Theory of Instruction, and then in 1973, another book, The Relevance of Education was published. Finally, in 1996, Bruner wrote another book, The Culture of Education, reassessing the state of educational practices three decades after he had begun his educational research. Bruner was also credited with helping found the early childcare program Head Start.[8] Bruner was deeply impressed by his 1995 visit to the preschools of Reggio Emilia and has established a collaborative relationship with them to improve educational systems internationally. Equally important was the relationship with the Italian Ministry of Education who officially recognized the value of this innovative experience.

Language development

Main article: Language development

In 1972 Bruner was appointed Watts Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, where he remained until 1980. In his Oxford years, Bruner focused on early language development. Rejecting the nativist account of language acquisition proposed by Noam Chomsky, Bruner offered an alternative in the form of an interactionist or social interactionist theory of language development. In this approach, the social and interpersonal nature of language was emphasized, appealing to the work of philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, John L. Austin and John Searle for theoretical grounding. Following Lev Vygotsky the Russian theoretician of socio-cultural development, Bruner proposed that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition in general and language in particular. He emphasized that children learn language in order to communicate, and, at the same time, they also learn the linguistic code. Meaningful language is acquired in the context of meaningful parent-infant interaction, learning “scaffolded” or supported by the child’s Language Acquisition Support System (LASS).

In Oxford Bruner collected a large group of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who participated in the effort to understand how young children manage to crack the linguistic code, among them Alison Garton, Alison Gopnik, Magda Kalmar hu:Kalmár Magda (pszichológus), Alan Leslie, Andrew Meltzoff, Anat Ninio, Roy Pea, Susan Sugarman [1], Michael Scaife, Marian Sigman [2], Kathy Sylva and many others. Much emphasis was placed on employing the then-revolutionary method of videotaped home-observations, Bruner showing the way to a new wave of researchers to get out of the laboratory and take on the complexities of naturally occurring events in a child’s life. This work was published in a large number of journal articles, and in 1983 Bruner published a summary of them in the book Child’s talk: Learning to Use Language.

This decade of research firmly established Bruner at the helm of the interactionist approach to language development, exploring such themes as the acquisition of communicative intents and the development of their linguistic expression; the interactive context of language use in early childhood; and the role of parental input and scaffolding behavior in the acquisition of linguistic forms. This work rests on the assumptions of a social constructivist theory of meaning according to which meaningful participation in the social life of a group as well as meaningful use of language involve an interpersonal, intersubjective, collaborative process of creating shared meaning. The elucidation of this process became the focus of Bruner’s next period of work.

Narrative construction of reality

Main article: Narrative construction of reality

In 1980 Bruner returned to the United States, taking up the position of professor at the New School for Social Research in New York City in 1981. For the next decade, he worked on the development of a theory of the narrative construction of reality, his work culminating in several seminal publications. His book Actual Minds, Possible Worlds has been cited by over 16,100 scholarly publications, making it one of the most influential works of the 20th century.

Legal psychology

Main article: Legal psychology

In 1991, Bruner arrived at NYU as a visiting professor to do research and to found the Colloquium on the Theory of Legal Practice. The goal of this institution is to "study how law is practiced and how its practice can be understood by using tools developed in anthropology, psychology, linguistics, and literary theory."[9] Currently Bruner is Senior Research Fellow in Law at NYU.[4]


Preceded by:
Quinn McNemar
Jerome S. Bruner elected APA President
Succeeded by:
Nicholas Hobbs


In 1962 he received the APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Psychology



  • Bruner, J.S., Goodnow, J.J. and Austin, G.A. (1956) A Study of Thinking, New York: John Wiley.
  • Bruner, J.S. (1960)The Process of Education
  • J.S. Bruner, R.R. Olver and P.M. Greenfield (1966)(eds) Studies in Cognitive Growth, New York John Wiley.
  • Bruner, J.S. (1966)Toward a Theory of Instruction
  • Bruner, J.S. (1973a) Beyond the Information Given: Studies in the Psychology of Knowing, New York:W.W. Norton.
  • Bruner, J.S. (1986)Actual Minds, Possible Worlds
  • Bruner, J.S. (1990)Acts of Meaning
  • Bruner, J.S. (1996)The Culture of Education
  • Minding the Law (2000)
  • Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life (2003)


  • Bruner, J. S. & Goodman, C. C. (1947). Value and need as organizing factors in perception. Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology, 42, 33-44. Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology archive.
  • Bruner, J. S. & Postman, L. (1947). Tension and tension-release as organizing factors in perception. Journal of Personality, 15, 300-308.
  • Bruner, J. S. & Postman, L. (1949). On the perception of incongruity: A paradigm. Journal of Personality, 18, 206-223. Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology archive.
  • Bruner, J.S. and Minturn, A.L. (1955) Perceptual identification and perceptual organisation, Journal of General Psychology 53: 21-8.
  • Bruner, J,S. (1957) On perceptual readiness, Psychological Review 64: 123-51.
  • Bruner, J.S. and Kenney, H. (1966) The development of the concepts of order and proportion in children.In: J.S. Bruner, R.R. Olver and P.M. Greenfield (eds) Studies in Cognitive Growth, New York John Wiley.
  • Bruner, J.S. (1964) The course of cognitive growth, American Psychologist 19: 1-15.
  • Bruner, J.S. (1972) The nature and uses of immaturity, American Psychologist 27: 687-708.
  • Bruner, J.S. (1973b) The organisation of early skilled action, Child Development 44: 1-11.
  • Bruner, J.S. (1975) The ontogenesis of speech acts, Journal of Child Language 2: 1-19.
  • Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 17, 89-100. (Addresses the concept of instructional scaffolding.)
  • Bruner, J.S. (1991)"The Narrative Construction of Reality" Critical Inquiry, 18:1, 1-21.
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  1. President and Fellows of Harvard College (2007). About the Department. The Department of Psychology, Harvard University. URL accessed on 15 December 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Bourgoin, Suzan Michele (1997). Encyclopedia of World Biography, Gale.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Palmer, Joy (2001). Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education: From Piaget to the Present, Taylor & Francis Inc..
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bruner, Jerome Jerome Bruner Home Page. URL accessed on 2 December 2011.
  5. Bruner, Jerome, Goodman, Cecile (1947). Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Percepton. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 42: 33–44.
  6. "On the Perception of Incongruity: A Paradigm" by Jerome S. Bruner and Leo Postman. Journal of Personality, 18, pp. 206-223. 1949. [3]
  7. The Spiral Curriculum.
  8. Bruner, Jerome NYU Faculty Page. URL accessed on 2 December 2011.
  9. Bruner, Jerome section=bio&personID=19807 Jerome Bruner:Biography. URL accessed on 2 December 2011.