Bruner, Jerome Seymour

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BRUNER, JEROME SEYMOUR (1915– ), U.S. psychologist. Bruner was born in New York City and educated at Duke University (A.B., 1939) and Harvard, (M.A. 1939; Ph.D., 1941); he served in the U.S. Army during World War ii as an intelligence officer, studying public opinion and propaganda. He joined the faculty at Harvard in 1945 and remained there through 1972; with George Miller, he founded Harvard's Center for Cognitive Studies in 1960 and was its director from 1961 to 1972. That year he became Watts Professor of Psychology at Wolfson College, Oxford. In 1980 he returned briefly to Harvard and in 1981–88 was George H. Mead University Professor at the New School in New York. From 1991 he was research professor of psychology and adjunct professor of law at New York University. Among other organizations, Bruner was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Academy of Education. He was a member of the executive committee of the International Union of Scientific Psychology and was president of the American Psychological Association in 1964–65.

Bruner's work focused on the study of perception and cognition and their implications for education. He is considered to be a seminal thinker in these areas and a founder of modern cognitive psychology – the study of how people think. His work of the late 1940s and 1950s, drawing on contemporary developments in linguistic philosophy and anthropology, is credited with turning American psychology (and educational theory) away from the sort of physiologically based behaviorism associated with B.F. Skinner and toward a more flexible understanding of the (culturally conditioned) psychological process of discerning the logic of a given problem ("to perceive is to categorize"). In 1959 Bruner chaired a curriculum reform group sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences (a response to the national anxiety induced by the Soviet success in 1957 in launching Sputnik), and his summary report, The Process of Education, became a classic (and a bestseller in 1960). Its conclusions ("Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child … providing attention is paid to the psychological development of the child"), recommending that children be taught in such a way that they develop a grasp of the logic of the material being taught, rather than being made to remember contextless facts, became highly influential among educators in the 1960s and 1970s.

In later years Bruner concerned himself with the function of narrative, or "storytelling," as a way of mediating or creating a context for information, and in the creation of a culturally characteristic "folk psychology." He collaborated with law professor Anthony Amsterdam in examining the role of narrative and rhetoric in the shaping of legal cases.

Bruner was a prolific and influential author. Among his more important books are A Study of Thinking (1956), The Process of Education (1960), On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand (1962), Man: A Course of Study (1965, a proposed school social studies curriculum), Toward a Theory of Instruction (1966), Processes of Cognitive Growth (1968), Beyond the Information Given: Studies in the Psychology of Knowing (1973, edited by Jeremy M. Anglin), In Search of Mind: Essays in Autobiography (1983), Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986), Acts of Meaning (1990), The Culture of Education (1996), Minding the Law: How Courts Rely on Storytelling, and How Their Stories Change the Way We Understand Law and Ourselves (2000, with Anthony Amsterdam), Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life (2002).

[Drew Silver (2nd ed.)]