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Jerome Seymour Bruner (born October 1, 1915) is an Americanmarker psychologist who has contributed to 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 Lawmarker. He received his B.A. in 1937 from Duke Universitymarker and his Ph.D. from Harvard Universitymarker in 1941 under the guidance of Gordon Allport.

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. 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.

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 1987 he was awarded the Balzan Prize for Human Psychology "for his research embracing all of the most important problems of human psychology, in each of which he has made substantial and original contributions of theoretical as well as practical value for the development of the psychological faculties of man" (motivation of the Balzan General Prize Committee).

The Narrative Construction of Reality

In 1991, Bruner published an article in Critical Inquiry entitled "The Narrative Construction of Reality." In this article, he argued that the mind structures its sense of reality using mediation through "cultural products, like language and other symbolic systems" (3). He specifically focuses on the idea of narrative as one of these cultural products. He defines narrative in terms of ten things:

  1. Narrative diachronicity: The notion that narratives take place over some sense of time.
  2. Particularity: The idea that narratives deal with particular events, although some events may be left vague and general.
  3. Intentional state entailment: The concept that characters within a narrative have "beliefs, desires, theories, values, and so on" (7).
  4. Hermeneutic composability: The theory that narratives are that which can be interpreted in terms of their role as a selected series of events that constitute a "story." See also Hermeneutics
  5. Canonicity and breach: The claim that stories are about something unusual happening that "breaches" the canonical (i.e. normal) state.
  6. Referentiality: The principle that a story in some way references reality, although not in a direct way; narrative truth can offer verisimilitude but not verifiability.
  7. Genericness: The flip side to particularity, this is the characteristic of narrative whereby the story can be classified as a genre.
  8. Normativeness: The observation that narrative in some way supposes a claim about how one ought to act. This follows from canonicity and breach.
  9. Context sensitivity and negotiability: Related to hermeneutic composability, this is the characteristic whereby narrative requires a negotiated role between author or text and reader, including the assigning of a context to the narrative, and ideas like suspension of disbelief.
  10. Narrative accrual: Finally, the idea that stories are cumulative, that is, that new stories follow from older ones.

Bruner observes that these ten characteristics at once describe narrative and the reality constructed and posited by narrative, which in turn teaches us about the nature of reality as constructed by the human mind via narrative.

Man: A Course of Study

Man: A Course of Study (usually known by the acronym MACOS or M.A.C.O.S.) was an Americanmarker humanities teaching program based upon Bruner's theories, particularly his concept of the "spiral curriculum". Popular in America and Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, the course was much criticized in the United States because of its emphasis upon questioning aspects of life, including belief and morality.

Red spade experiment

A classic psychological experiment performed 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).


  • Acts of Meaning (The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures, 1990)
    • It was, we thought, an all-out effort to establish meaning as the central concept of psychology - not stimuli and responses, not overtly observable behavior, not biological drives and their transformation, but meaning. It was not a revolution against behaviorism with the aim of transforming behaviorism into a better way of pursuing psychology by adding a little mentalism to it. Edward Tolman had done that, to little avail. It was an altogether more profound revolution than that. Its aim was to discover and to describe formally the meanings that human beings created out of their encounters with the world, and then to propose hypotheses about what meaning-making processes were implicated. It focused on the symbolic activities that human beings employed in constructing and making sense not only of the world, but of themselves. (p. 2)
    • Very early on, ... emphasis began shifting from 'meaning' to 'information', from the construction of meaning to the processing of information. These are profoundly different matters. The key factor in the shift was the introduction of computation as the ruling metaphor and of computability as a necessary criterion of a good theoretical model. Information is indifferent with respect to meaning... (p. 4)
    • Given pre-established meaning categories well-formed enough within a domain to provide a basis for an operating code, a properly programmed computer could perform prodigies of information processing with a minimum set of operations, and that is technological heaven. Very soon, computing became the model of the mind, and in place of the concept of meaning there emerged the concept of computability. Cognitive processes were equated with the programs that could be run on a computational device, and the success of one's efforts to 'understand', say, memory or concept attainment, was one's ability realistically to simulate such human conceptualizing or human memorizing with a computer program. (p. 6)
    • If the cognitive revolution erupted in 1956, the contextual revolution (at least in psychology) is occurring today. (pp. 105–6)
    • Jerome Bruner argues that the cognitive revolution, with its current fixation on mind as "information processor," has led psychology away from the deeper objective of understanding mind as a creator of meanings. Only by breaking out of the limitations imposed by a computational model of mind can we grasp the special interaction through which mind both constitutes and is constituted by culture. ( Review of Harvard University Press)

See also


  1. Kincheloe, Joe L. & Horn, Raymond A.(Eds). (2006), pp. 60–1.
  2. "On the Perception of Incongruity: A Paradigm" by Jerome S. Bruner and Leo Postman. Journal of Personality, 18, pp. 206-223. 1949. [1]


  • Kincheloe, Joe L. & Horn, Raymond A.(Eds). (2006). The Praeger Handbook of Education and Psychology: Volume 1. Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0313331235.




  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • "The Narrative Construction of Reality" (1991). Critical Inquiry, 18:1, 1-21.
  • "The Autobiographical Process" (1995). Current Sociology. 43.2, 161-177.
  • Shore, Bradd. (1997). Keeping the Conversation Going. Ethos, 25:1, 7-62. Available online at JSTOR.
  • Mattingly, C., Lutkehaus, N. C. & Throop, C. J. (2008). Bruner's Search for Meaning: A Conversation between Psychology and Anthropology. Ethos, 36, 1-28. Available online at Blackwell Synergy.

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