APA Monitor: A (Nearly) Centenarian Jerome Bruner

The May issue of the American Psychological Association‘s Monitor on Psychology features an interview with psychologist Jerome Bruner in advance of his 100th birthday this fall. As the introduction to the interview describes,

Early on, Bruner explored the ways that experience affects perception. His paper “Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception” (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1947) reported the finding that children were more likely to overestimate the size of coins than cardboard discs — and the greater the value of the coin, the more likely the children were to overestimate its diameter. What’s more, poor children were significantly more likely than rich children to overestimate the size of coins. In other words, both value and need influenced the way the children perceived the world around them.

Through research and observation, Bruner understood that human behavior is always influenced by the world and culture in which we live. His work helped move the field of psychology away from strict behaviorism and contributed to the emergence of cognitive psychology.

Bruner eventually turned his attention to developmental and educational psychology, with an interest in how children learn. He argued that the goal of teaching isn’t to pass on knowledge, but to teach students to think and solve problems for themselves. He promoted a so-called “spiral curriculum,” in which students learn basic concepts and then circle back to revisit them again and again as more complicated concepts are added over time. He is credited with coining the term “scaffolding” to describe the structured instruction between child and teacher that allows students to develop progressively greater skills and knowledge.

Of the Monitor’s inquiry “You’ll be turning 100 this year…” Bruner remarked “Yes! Isn’t that nifty?” The full piece can be read online here.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.