What is constructivism in psychology?

We know that psychology is a young science, which has not yet fully matured. One of its aspects where it becomes more evident is the fact that within psychology there is no unifying theoryIn other words, a theoretical pillar on which all the knowledge extracted from researchers is based.

On the other hand, there are many schools of thought and totally different and, to a large extent, opposing schools of thought and approaches and viewpoints. Constructivism is one of these sets of academic currents and has always been very important., Especially in educational psychology. Let’s see why.

The constructivist approach

It is very possible that the term “constructivism” may ring true for people who have studied philosophy, as it can be used to refer to a philosophical stream that emerged in the twentieth century and which is closely related to postmodern thought. From this philosophical constructivism, the emphasis is on the interpretive component of everything we learn to know, instead of emphasizing the importance of striving for objectivity and realism.

Thus, there is a moderate constructivism which is limited to arguing that reality cannot be known directly and that our totally subjective interpretations will be the foundation of what we think we know, and another radical constructivism according to which reality is, directly, the construction we perform from our interpretations. In other words, reality, as we usually understand it, does not exist, because it is not independent of our thoughts and cannot be detached from our mental activity.

The difference between moderate constructivism and “extremism” is that the former does not deny the existence of a material reality beyond ideas, while the latter does. however, both are part of a school of thought that addresses epistemological and ontological problems, And that is why they formally belong to philosophy and not to psychology. Constructivism in psychology is something that stems from other types of questionsAlthough, as we will see, it bears several similarities to its philosophical parent.

Psychological constructivism: what is it?

If philosophical constructivism is responsible for trying to respond to the unknown of what we can learn and how this knowledge relates to “reality,” the constructivism of psychology it’s rather more pragmatic and focuses on the study of how the learning and generation of meaning patterns in the way we think is done so that we can apply these scientific findings, particularly in two branches of psychology: psychotherapy and psychology .

This way, the idea of ​​”knowledge construction” used in the constructivism of psychology is less abstract that of its analogy with philosophy, and its raison d’être is in the need to create scientific theories capable of predicting part of what will happen in the behavior of people (in general), and of giving solutions to specific problems (in particular).

Thus, the constructivism of psychology can be defined as a set of theories and schools of thought (Belonging to this scientific field) which are based on the idea that the way in which individuals generate knowledge from their experiences an active role in which they create one-way systems and the value is not more or less similar to reality.

Two examples: Piaget and Vygotsky

Among researchers who are normally considered part of constructivism in psychology, there are two of the great figures in the history of developmental and educational psychology: Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky.

Both are based on the idea that the engine of knowledge creation from which learning is developed is interaction with the environment (And, in Vygotsky’s case, with the society he lives in), driven by curiosity. Therefore, it is not a task based on internal activities, but something that arises from the relationship with the immediate context.

This idea is reflected in his way of approaching childhood, a stage marked by the forced creation of systems of meaning which, although they do not reflect reality at all, if they are very useful for continuing to quickly learn from previous experiences, What allows to learn to exist. We may not live by having reliable pictures of what is going on, but at least these allow us to develop properly in the face of the issues that beset us no matter what stage of life we ​​are in. let’s find.

To learn more about these two researchers, you can consult these few articles:

  • “Jean Piaget’s Theory of Learning”
  • “Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory”

Between theoretical currents and philosophy

As we have seen, constructivism is a set of very heterogeneous ideas which are united only by a very broad link and quite complicated to delimit. In other words, the concept of constructivism in psychology it is broader than that of the definitions of typical psychological currents, Such as behaviorism or cognitivism.

And, of course, it is perfectly possible that there are various theories which can be encompassed in constructivism and yet are difficult to reconcile with each other or which cannot even be connected by applied psychology. After all, being part of this set of theories does not imply using the same methods or toolsAnd there is nothing in the definition of constructivism that involves the adoption of several very specific commitments on what should be done and how it should be done.

The constructivism of psychology may be a collection of theories, but it is such an abstract category that it is one step away from entering the realm of philosophy. In fact, it is very easy for the way Constructivism points out that the value of the sense systems that we have created to generate knowledge to have value in itself goes beyond just being a purely scientific (and therefore useful) position. to achieve certain goals). to a philosophical and moral position without our realizing it. This can sometimes become a political discourse on how education should be based only on a certain scale of values ​​in which the idea that students should have a lot of freedom looms large.

A meta-psychology?

So if psychological constructivism is neither a philosophical position nor a psychological current and even less a school of psychology, what is it? One way to answer this question would be to conclude that constructivism is simply a type of grouping of theories which, by its magnitude, lies between philosophy and the mainstream of psychology.

Another way to look at it is to conclude that constructivism is a meta-psychology., What is often said also of psychoanalysis. In other words, it would be a kind of step back that many psychologists and researchers have taken to see their field of work from a certain distance and to, from this position, be able to make decisions on what to do and what to do. how to understand the ” individual, then back to work.

In any case, using one or the other word to denote the same, the important thing is that, in practice, constructivism has generated types of psychological and psychopedagogical interventions in which greater autonomy is given to students and patients, also valuing the personalized treatment necessary to understand the systems of meaning that each individual constructs. Of course, these contributions are not without criticisms, but it is clear that they have left a significant imprint in the educational contexts of the last decades.

Bibliographical references:

  • Carretero, M. (1994) Constructivism and education. Buenos Aires. Here.
  • Norman, D. (1981) Perspectives on Cognitive Sciences. Barcelona. Paidós.
  • Piaget, J. (1985) Treatise on logic and scientific knowledge: Nature and
    epistemological methods. Flight. 1. Tr. M. Prelooker. Mexico. Paidós.
  • Vygotsky, LS (1977) Thought and language. Buenos Aires: the Pleiades.

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