Piaget Vygotsky and the cultural development of the notions of possibility and necessity: an experimental study among rural South African learners

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South African Journal of Psychology

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University of Cape Town

I employ the theories of Vygotsky and Piaget in analysing the modes of experimental task performance in order to elaborate on the role that cultural content plays in the development and functioning of the notions of possibility and necessity. I challenge the notion of cognitive lag that has hitherto pervaded explanations of the development of subjects from non-industrialised, diverse socio-cultural settings. A Piagetian experimental task, comprising half circles of contrasting colours, is used in the investigation. One of these half circles, covered with tinfoil, is assumed to be either red or green in colour but not knowable in advance, and it is used as a basis for hypothesising about the possible colour values of circles that could be made from combining this half with the uncovered one. Eighty Venda-speaking learners, 20 learners from each of four grades (Grades 1, 3, 5, and 7), with ages ranging from an average 6.5 years in Grade 1 to 12.5 years in Grade 7, participated in the study. The results reveal that learners, although functioning at the operational level of thinking, employ both concrete-functional and formal-abstract and conceptual modes of thinking at the same time. Thus the concept of possibility is conceptualised as constituting both its concrete, functional form (involving a conception of the possible as the possible-real) and its formal, conceptual form (involving the conception of the possible as a hypothetical state of affairs, disembedded from its concrete context of problem manifestation and involving holding two or more cognitive categories constant during problem solving).