In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jerome Bruner

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Supplementary Resources to Understand Bruner

Childhood Studies Jerome Bruner
Keiichi Takaya
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 March 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 March 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0177


Jerome Seymour Bruner was born on 1 October 1915 in New York City, and he died on 5 June 2016 in New York City. He is one of the most influential figures in psychology, cognitive science, and education in the past one hundred years. Although he was a psychologist by training, his interests spanned over a wide range of disciplines and issues, including psychology, philosophy, linguistics, education, literature, and law. His research and writings were also notable for their interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches; he freely borrowed findings and insights from other areas, and, in return, he inspired not only psychologists but also philosophers, educators, and anthropologists. He led the cognitive revolution and the cultural turn in psychology and the curriculum reform movement, and he was involved (albeit indirectly) in the introduction of Head Start in the United States. Bruner wrote in his 1983 autobiography that he was “an intellectual first and a scientist in support. . . . I used psychology to pursue matters that existed for me in their own right. Psychology was (and remains) only one way to use mind in behalf of these pursuits” (Bruner 1983a, cited under General Overviews, p. 77). His colleagues and collaborators included people in almost every field of intellectual activity, and his research locations were widespread from laboratories in Harvard to villages in Senegal, nursery schools in Oxfordshire, and preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. His overall interests lay in how the human mind works and develops in sociocultural contexts and by acquiring cultural tools. His interests lay also in developing finer research methods that are more attuned to the human mind in real, lived experiences. In his early career in the 1940s and 1950s, he worked on the foundations and limits of human perception and thought. In doing so, his “New Look” psychology critiqued behaviorism for being narrowly scientistic and devised clever research methods in seemingly standard experimental studies. Dissatisfaction with the existing psychological approaches had led him to initiate the cognitive revolution in the 1950s, but he later became disenchanted with cognitive science’s increasing reliance on computer or information-processing models in understanding how the human mind works. More recently, his research focused on the role of narrative in our individual thoughts and collective culture.

General Overviews

Bruner’s contributions are mainly in developmental psychology, cognitive science, and education. There are many overviews of his work in books and articles, but Bruner 1983a and Gardner 2001 are probably the best places to begin. More recent accounts include Greenfield, et al. 1990; Shore 1997; Olson 2007; Smidt 2011; Takaya 2013; Lutkehause and Greenfield 2014. Essays in Greenfield, et al. 1990 (by Patricia Greenfield, Alison Gopnik, and David R. Olson, et al.) and Lutkehause and Greenfield 2014 include personal accounts as Bruner’s students and colleagues, and Shore 1997 and Olson 2007 record conversations between the authors and Bruner on both theoretical and personal topics.

  • Bruner, Jerome S. In Search of Mind: Essays in Autobiography. New York: Harper Colophon, 1983a.

    Considering Bruner’s work continued for another three decades after the publication of this autobiography, perhaps one might say it was published a bit prematurely. The book, however, gives us an excellent account of how he came to embrace his multifaceted approaches to the life of the mind and the intellectual and personal influences he received and gave other students of mind.

  • Gardner, Howard. “Jerome Bruner.” In Fifty Modern Thinkers of Education: From Piaget to the Present Day. Edited by Joy A. Palmer, 90–95. London: Routledge, 2001.

    A concise overview of Bruner’s work, particularly in education but with relevant reference to his research in cognitive science.

  • Greenfield, Patricia, Akison Gopnik, David R. Olson, Jerome Bruner, Graeme S. Halford, and Harry Beilin. Special Issue: Jerome Bruner–Construction of a Scientist. Human Development 33.6 (1990).

    In this special issue on Bruner, his former students and colleagues give personal accounts of Bruner’s contributions to cognitive science in three periods when he worked in different locations: Patricia Greenfield on the Harvard years, Alison Gopnik on the Oxford years, and David R. Olson on the works in the 1980s.

  • Lutkehause, Nancy L., and Nancy Greenfield. “From the Process of Education to the Culture of Education: An Intellectual Biography of Jerome Bruner’s Contributions to Education.” In Educational Psychology: A Century of Contributions; A Project of Division 15 (Educational Psychology) of the American Psychological Society. Edited by Barry J. Zimmerman and Dale H. Schunk, 409–430. New York: Routledge, 2014.

    A brief overview of Bruner’s work in education and cognitive science. This essay is unique in that it incorporates the perspective of one of his former students (Greenfield) who undertook cross-cultural research in Senegal for her PhD dissertation upon Bruner’s encouragement, which, in turn, gave Bruner an inspiration to turn his eyes toward cultural foundations of cognition (See Bruner 1971, cited under Bruner’s Works: Education, chap. 2).

  • Olson, David R. Jerome Bruner: The Cognitive Revolution in Educational Theory. London and New York: Continuum, 2007.

    Is the most accessible and comprehensive overview of Bruner’s ideas both in cognitive science and in education. Olson has worked with, and exchanged ideas with, Bruner for many years, and he is in a good position to write such a book.

  • Shore, Bradd. “Keeping the Conversation Going: An Interview with Jerome Bruner.” Ethos 25.1 (1997): 7–62.

    DOI: 10.1525/eth.1997.25.1.7

    This is a record of an interview with Bruner by the anthropologist Bradd Shore. It is a part of the Ethos interview series with figures who are influential in contemporary psychological anthropology. Their conversation covers a wide range of topics from the relation between psychology and anthropology to Bruner’s outlook on research, publication, and life.

  • Smidt, Sandra. Introducing Bruner: A Guide for Practitioners and Students in Early Years Education. London: Routledge, 2011.

    The volume offers a concise introduction to Bruner’s cognitive and educational theories and their applications to early childhood education. It is written in plain, accessible language and includes concrete examples to understand his theories in real-life contexts.

  • Takaya, Keiichi. Jerome Bruner: Developing a Sense of the Possible. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-6781-2

    A brief introduction to Bruner’s educational ideas and their influences on educational discourse and practice. The emphasis is on his educational ideas (including the transition from his earlier to more recent views), but a chapter is devoted to his cognitive theories.

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