Psychological Function

A psychological function is a systemically identified mental faculty implicated in Action and Activity.


Within CHAT practices the term ‘psychological function’ has not been universally used. Authors such as L.S. Vygotsky (1997) and A. R. Luria (1932/1960; 1963; 2006) used the term, and its conceptual cognates, frequently whereas Davydov (2008) and Ilyenkov (1997) do not use this concept but rather emphasise the "single basis" of dialectical formulations of development. Leont'ev (Leontyev 2009, p. 288 & 403) adopted both perspectives.

Historically, the use of the term is concomitant with the emphasis upon genetic logic (Baldwin 1906; Waddington 1961; Valsiner 1988, p. 306; Wertsch 1985) and open systems (Cannon 1963; Luria 1963; Bertalanffy 1969/2003; Bateson 1980; Vygotsky 1997) as a means of explanation rather than philosophical dialectical logic alone. These two systems of thought have an ontologically different unit of analysis (an open system and a germ cell respectively) which, however, may coincide phenomenologically.

Although both approaches (Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism and functional systems) are used in Vygotskian developmental psychology at a theoretical level, the complete synthesis of these methods and theoretical bodies of knowledge was not clearly articulated by the founders of this tradition (Robbins 1999; Minick 1987; Luria 1987; Leont'ev 1997, p. 32) and has remained an area of philosophical inquiry (Lektorsky 1990).


Psychological function refers to the logical effect achieved through the coordination of mental resources rather than the use of specific apparatus or the specific manner of their use. However, although psychological function addresses the "what" aspect of effect achieved by mental work, the "how" of the psychological function is equally important as this addresses the organisation of the psychological system which emphasises the morphological qualities implicated in psychological development.


Baldwin, M. B. (1906) Thought and Things: A Study of the Development and Meaning of Thought, or Genetic Logic. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. Ltd.

Bateson, G. (1980) Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Toronto: Bantam Books

Bertalanffy, L. V. (1969/2003) General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications. New York: George Braziller Inc.

Cannon, W. B. (1963) The Wisdom of the Body. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc.

Davydov, V. V. (2008) Problems of Developmental Instruction: A Theoretical and Experimental Psychological Study, V. Lektorsky and D. Robbins (eds.), P. Moxhay (trans.) New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Ilyenkov, E. (1977) Dialectical Logic, Essays on its History and Theory. H. C. Creighton (trans.) Moscow: Progress Publishers

Lektorsky, V. P. (ed.) (1990) Activity: The Theory, Methodology and Problems. A. Mikheyev, S. Mikheyev, Y. Fillippov, (trans.) Orlando: Paul M. Deutsch Press Inc.

Leont'ev (1997) On Vygotsky's Creative Development. In: R. W. Rieber & J. Wollock (eds.); R. Van der Veer (trans.) The Collected Works of Vygotsky, Vol. 3: Problems of the Theory and History of Psychology. New York: Plenum Press

Leontyev, A. N. (2009) The Development of Mind: Selected Works of Aleksei Nikolaevich Leontyev. Ohio: Bookmasters, Inc. Retrieved August 13, 2013, from

Luria, A. R. (1932/1960) The Nature of Human Conflicts or Emotion, Conflict and Will: An Objective Study of Disorganisation and Control of Human Behaviour. W. H. Gantt (trans. & ed.) New York: Grove Press Inc.

Luria, A. R. (1963) Restoration of Function After Brain Injury. Oxford, New York: Pergamon Press

Luria, A. R. (1987) Afterword to the Russian Edition. In: R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton (eds.), N. Minick, (trans.) The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky, Vol 1: Problems of General Psychology. New York: Plenum Press

Luria, A. R. (2006) The Autobiography of Alexander Luria: A Dialogue with The Making of Mind. M. Cole & K. Levitin (eds.) New Jersey: L. Erlbaum Associates

Minick, N. (1987) The Development of Vygotsky's Thought: An Introduction. In: R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton, (eds.), N. Minick (trans.) The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky, Vol. 1: Problems of General Psychology. New York: Plenum Press

Robbins, D. (1999) Prologue. In: R. W. Rieber (ed.), M. J. Hall (trans.) The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky, Vol. 6: Scientific Legacy. New York: Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers

Valsiner, J. (1998) The Guided Mind, A Sociogenetic Approach to Personality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Vygotsky, L. S. (1997) On Psychological Systems. In: R. W. Rieber & J. Wollock (eds.), R. Van Der Veer (trans.) The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky, Vol. 3: Problems of the Theory and History of Psychology. New York: Plenum Press

Waddington, C. H. (1961) Genetic Assimilation. Advances in Genetics, 10: 257-290.

Wertsch, J. V. (1985) Vygotsky's Genetic Method. In: Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press


-- HuwLloyd - 25 Nov 2013
Topic revision: r2 - 26 Nov 2013, HuwLloyd

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