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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: May 2019

16 - The Study of Cognition in Europe and the United States (1920–1960)


Three Influential European Cognitive Psychologists: Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bartlett

Extensive research in cognition took place in the United States and Europe throughout the first half of the twentieth century. In Europe, where American behaviorism had little influence, some of the most creative and influential cognitive psychologists did most of their work.

Jean Piaget, a dominant figure not only in child psychology but also in cognitive psychology, began his research in the 1920s. His early work was known in Europe and the United States, but it was not until the 1950s that he was recognized as a central figure in psychology. His Russian contemporary, Lev Vygotsky, exerted a profound influence on Soviet psychology from the 1930s, but his work first became influential in Western psychology in the 1960s. The Gestalt psychologists carried out extensive studies in cognition throughout the period 1920–60. The British psychologist Frederick Bartlett of Cambridge University began to have an impact on US cognitive psychology only in the 1960s, but his main work was already published in 1932, and so he belongs in this chapter.

The study of animal learning attracted the greatest interest among US experimental psychologists, but a number of researchers also pursued the study of memory in the Ebbinghaus–Müller tradition. Their work, as well as that of other US cognitive psychologists outside this tradition, has a place in the history of psychology and shall be reviewed in this chapter.

Jean Piaget (1896–1980)

Jean Piaget was interested and active in research in biology, logic, philosophy, and psychology. A book on language and egocentricity in children made him famous as early as 1924. His reputation as a central figure in child psychology rests mainly on his idea that philosophical problems, particularly logical problems, can be elucidated by a study of ontogenetic development. When his book La psychologie de l'intelligence (The Psychology of Intelligence) was translated into English in 1950, it aroused enormous interest, and in the 1950s and 1960s, this interest spread like wildfire. I shall concentrate on Piaget's ideas of language and egocentricity, and the development of intelligence and logical thinking.

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A History of Modern Psychology
  • Online ISBN: 9781316272442
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