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Mediation means ‘acting as a go between’, specifically the use of tools and signs to act on an object.


Mediation entered the English language from the Anglo-Norman and French in the 14th century, initialling referring to the function of mediating disputes. Mediation was an important category for Hegel, but its use in Psychology dates from the first decade of the 20th century, to mean the interposition of processes between stimulus and result, or intention and realization. Vygotsky used ‘mediation’ in the specific sense of tool- and sign-mediation, and the concept is found in his earliest as well as his last works.


Mediation is an extremely broad ranging concept. As Hegel said:

“There is nothing, nothing in heaven, or in nature or in mind or anywhere else which does not equally contain both immediacy and mediation.” (Hegel 1812)

Mediation means ‘acting as a go between’, i.e., intervening between a subject and its object. We can say that a teacher mediated a child’s learning, that a computer mediated the reading of a text, or that a reading of all the witnesses’ reports mediated the investigation of an incident. Leontyev refers to “dual” mediation – “object activity and social contact.”

But there is one kind of mediation which has a special place in CHAT, and that is artefact-mediation of actions. Vygotsky describes artefact-mediation in terms of how a conditioned reflex:– stimulus A responds to stimulus B – is controlled by introducing the sign, X. X acts as the sign for B, and replaces B as the stimulus associated with A.

LSVCW, v. 3, p. 86

As Vygotsky explains this diagram:

In natural memory a direct associative (conditional reflex) connection A→B is established between two stimuli A and B. In artificial, mnemotechnic memory of the same impression, by means of a psychological tool X (a knot in a handkerchief, a mnemonic scheme) instead of the direct connection A→B two new ones are established: A→X and X→B Just like the connection A→B each of them is a natural conditional reflex process, determined, by the properties of the brain tissue. What is new, artificial, and instrumental is the fact of the replacement of one connection A→B by two connections: A→X and X→B They lead to the same result, but by a different path. What is new is the artificial direction which the instrument gives to the natural process of establishing a conditional connection, i.e., the active utilization of the natural properties of brain tissue.

This relationship is also described as ‘double stimulation’. See ‘The Problem of the Cultural Development of the Child’ (Vygotsky 1929), Chapter 5.2 of Thinking and Speech, and The Instrumental Method in Psychology (Vygotsky 1930).

For example, B might be some complex object, event or situation which requires a certain response from us, A. Once we learn the word for it, X, that word evokes responses appropriate to B. The word then enters into our language use and acquires a range of nuances and meanings, and connections with other words and concepts. When confronted with the situation, B, and the sign, X, is evoked, and both B and X act as stimuli. The sign stimulus is mediated though consciousness, rather than being a conditioned reflex directly responding to the situation B, thus the subject is able to make a learned and intelligent response to the situation B.

The same basic schema applies if X is not a sign as such, but for example, if B is the fuel injector in an automobile and X is the accelerator pedal (a technical tool for controlling the fuel injector). Once we have learnt to drive we don’t even think “I need to operate the fuel injector ...,” but simply step on the accelerator. The whole achievement of automotive engineering in controlling the fuel supply to an engine so as to regulate the car’s speed is incorporated into that simple artefact which the instructor teaches the learner driver to use; the learner easily appropriates the action of the accelerator, without even understanding how internal combustion engines work.

In short, the humanised world in which we live is a world of artefacts, which together embody the accumulated wisdom of centuries. These artefacts mediate everything we do; we think in terms of signs and tools rather than the immediate sensory stimulation of the natural, material world in itself. At first sight uttering a word seems to be an immediate action – the production of a word, and it seems odd to take the action as using the artefact to act on the mind or behaviour of another person. The spoken word itself seems to be an action, rather than an artefact. But this way of seeing things is essential to being able to separate an action from its means.

Mediation is thus the means by which the culture of an entire community enters into the psychology of an individual, through the mediation of actions by signs (psychological tools) and (technical) tools. For example, at first a child’s action may be controlled by an adult commanding the child, mediated by certain words. Later the child learns to command their own behaviour, by appropriating these words by means of egocentric, or later, inner speech, and finally the words enter into the child’s psyche and, so long as everything goes well, without conscious awareness of the word.


Hegel, G. W. F. (1812). With What Must Science Begin? in Science of Logic,

Vygotsky, L. S. (1929). The Problem of the Cultural Development of the Child

Vygotsky, L. S. (1930). The Instrumental Method in Psychology, LSVCW v. 3, pp. 85-89.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1934). An Experimental Study of Concept Development

-- AndyBlunden - 12 Nov 2013


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ArtefactMediation.jpgjpg ArtefactMediation.jpg manage 5.6 K 12 Nov 2013 - 04:16 AndyBlunden LSVCW, v. 3, p. 86
Topic revision: r8 - 28 Nov 2013, AndyBlunden

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