Artificial Concept

Artificial concepts are concepts that are formed under experimental conditions.


The formation of concepts under laboratory conditions was first carried out by the German Psychologist Narziβ Ach, whose method was critically appropriated by Vygotsky and his assistant Leonid Sakharov.


Artificial concepts are concepts “that are formed under experimental conditions” (Vygotsky, 1934, p. 51). These concepts are invariably the combination of two or more contingent sensuous attributes of simple objects, such as “red-square” or “blue-round,” indicated by 'nonsense words'. Sakharov modified Ach’s experiment to require the child subject to freely create groupings of the blocks to solve a puzzle, rather than simply observing and memorising a grouping made by the researcher, and this provided a much richer experimental process, revealing the process of concept formation. Nonetheless, the experiment had built into it the kind of result which could be expected, namely, grouping blocks according to their contingent attributes. It turned out that this limitation of the experimental design has some justification for use with children, but it also reinforced the prejudice that concepts of this type can exhibit the properties and are of the same kind as real concepts, which arise in the life of a social formation and are acquired by adolescents and adults in the course of their participation in professional and social life generally. This is not the case. In general, the concepts by means of we which orient our lives are quite distinct from the sensuous attributes by means of which we recognise things.

The types of concepts whose formation can be created under laboratory conditions are potential concepts, syncretic concepts, complexes (chain complexes, diffuse complexes, collection complexes and pseudoconcepts) and pre-concepts.

See (Vygotsky 1934a), An Experimental Study of Concept Development, Chapter 5 of Thinking and Speech, for the details of Vygotsky’s study of artificial concepts.


Sakharov, L. (1994). “Methods for Investigating concepts,” in The Vygotsky Reader, ed. R. van der Veer and Jaan Valsiner.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1934). The Problem and the Approach, Chapter 1 of Thinking and Speech, in LSVCW, v. 1, pp. 43–51.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1934a). An Experimental Study of Concept Development, Chapter 5 of Thinking and Speech, in LSVCW, v. 1, pp. 121–166

-- AndyBlunden - 13 Nov 2013


Topic revision: r10 - 19 Nov 2013, AndyBlunden

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