Diffuse Complex

The diffuse complex is a form of proto-concept where the subject unites objects according to empirical connections, but extended into domains in which they have no experience.


The attempt by the child to unite objects according to a common feature, becomes more and more diffuse as they struggle to bring a wider and wider field of activity within their domain of action. This tendency was exhibited in the ‘double stimulation’ experiment:

“Given a yellow triangle as a model, for example, the child selects not only a triangle, but a trapezoid. With its sharp angles, the latter reminds the child of the triangle. Subsequently, a square is affiliated with the trapezoid, a hexagon with the square, a polygon with the hexagon and finally a circle with the hexagon” (LSVCW v.1, p. 141).

In everyday life: “What is unique to the diffuse complex is that it unifies things that are outside the child’s practical knowledge. The result is that the connections which provide its unity depend on false, vague, and undefined features” (LSVCW v. 1, p. 141). The attempt to grasp relations outside the person’s field of experience can only succeed through the mastery of true concepts.


Vygotsky, L. S. (1934). An Experimental Study of Concept Development, Chapter 5 of Thinking and Speech, in LSVCW, v. 1, pp. 121–166 http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/words/ch05.htm

-- AndyBlunden - 14 Nov 2013


Topic revision: r1 - 14 Nov 2013, AndyBlunden

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