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Jerome Bruner. An ode to his influences in both cognitive psychology and the theories of education. Life. Bruner’s early years Born in New York City in 1915 Educated at Duke University (1937) and completed Ph.D. at Harvard in 1947.

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jerome bruner

Jerome Bruner

An ode to his influences in both cognitive psychology and the theories of education.



  • Bruner’s early years
  • Born in New York City in 1915
  • Educated at Duke University (1937) and completed Ph.D. at Harvard in 1947.
  • Honorary Doctorates: Yale, Columbia, Sorbonne, Berlin, Rome, etc


  • Made profound contributions to the fields of cognitive psychology and the ways we think about the process of education and development of curriculum theory.
  • Worked as a social psychologist for the army during WWII
  • Co-founder and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard. Founded 1960.

The Turn To Mind

Bruner’s first major contribution

to the study of cognition:

A Study of Thinking (1956)

“The obvious way to have started would have been, of course, to get people to think aloud and then examine what they did on the basis of what they said” (Search of Mind, 105).


The Turn To Mind

  • A Study of Thinking
  • Bruner’s studies were shaped by Piaget and Vygotsky. The primary question Bruner asked was how do people go about using formal logic? What “huristic devices, or ‘tricks’” are used to aid reasoning? (112)
  • Theme: it should now be “natural for psychologists to turn their attention to man as a rational being, and not only to the problems of his appetites, his folly and his will” (Turn to Mind, 121).

The Turn To Mind

  • Studies in Cognitive Growth (1966)
  • discusses the stages of representation – dedicated to Piaget despite Piaget’s distaste for the book. (Search of Mind, 146).
    • Stages of representation include enactive (action), iconic (image), and symbolic (language) representation. Unlike Piaget, Bruner did not believe that the stages were linked to age development.

Influence in Education

  • The New Curriculum
  • Bruner “was being hailed as the ‘greatest force in education since John Dewey’” (Search of Mind, 146).
  • Major shift in curriculum began with new tools in physics education to “make physics teacher-proof” (179). In 1959, Bruner was asked to head the new curriculum board.

Influence in Education

  • The New Curriculum
  • Three premises for the curriculum revolution grew out of the cognitive revolution:
    • “Mind is method applied to tasks. You don’t think about physics, you think physics.”.
    • “Certain subjects can only be taught to children after they have reached a certain level of maturity.”
    • “Knowledge is not a storehouse. […] ‘Learning’ is figuring out how to use what you already know in order to go beyond what you currently think” (Search of Mind, 183).

Influence in Education

  • Bruner’s philosophy of education
  • Rebelling against the American educational tradition, which valued “experience over reason, facts over structure, and thoroughness over intuition,” Bruner favored “models in the head:”
  • arguing that students should penetrate a subject, not cover it
  • Lead to the spiral theory of education, meaning –
    • “a first pass to get the intuitive sense of it, later passes over the same domain to go into it more deeply and more formally” (Search of Mind, 185).

The Process of Education:

Towards a theory of instruction

“To instruct someone... is not a matter of getting him to commit results to mind. Rather, it is to teach him to participate in the process that makes possible the establishment of knowledge. We teach a subject not to produce little living libraries on that subject, but rather to get a student to think mathematically for himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting. Knowing is a process not a product”(1966: 72).


Man: A Course of Study

  • What Bruner calls his most moving teaching experience.
  • The study’s daily structure:
    • Mornings – classroom instruction
    • Afternoons – critique of morning work
    • Evenings – writing and revising material for the next day’s lessons

The Properly Subversive Way to Proceed

“I think the lesson of the curriculum reform movement is that you cannot accomplish the deeper ends of education by altering only the content and spirit of the courses you teach. Schools as now constituted are not so much the solution to the problem of education as they are part of the problem. If I had it all to do over again, and if I knew how, I would put my energies into reexamining how the schools express the agenda of the society and how that agenda is formulated and how translated by the schools” (Search of Mind, 198).



Bruner, J. (1983). In search of mind. Cambridge, NY: Harper & Row.

Bruner, J. (2008). Jerome Bruner’s Website. Retreived from

Smith, M.K. (2002) 'Jerome S. Bruner and the process of education', the encyclopedia of informal education

Mind, Brain, Behavior at Harvard University. (2007). The cognitive revolution at 50. Retreived from

Sprinthall, N., and Sprinthall, R. (2002). Educational Psychology. Retreived from