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On Development of Mental Actions and

Galperin, P. Ya.
What is an intellectual action? Any action is characterized by the change it effects
on its object. Intellectual action is characterized in the same way: it is a specific
purposeful change of its object, only the object in this case is mental[1], and its
changes are also mental. Intellectual action is the skill of making mental
transformation of the object.
Of course, such skill must be learned, and the question is how this skill is obtained
in the process of learning. We are only at the beginning of studying intellectual
actions, but that which we know by virtue of researches of V.V.Davydov,
N.I.Nepomnyashaya, I.E.Golomshtok. N.S.Pantina, A.G.Hrustaleva, V.Y.Nos[2] and
others, allows us to understand much of what was before obscure, as well as many
facts from works of previous authors, and most importantly - to trace the end of
Ariadnes thread in the labyrinth of psychic life.
In general the method of applied psychological research of the development consists
in bringing together, crossing the results of analysis in two fields: firstly, the analysis
of mistakes in the actions of testees who with poor progress in the subject, and,
secondly, the analysis of conditions which lead to the development of full-scale
action, to elimination of such flaws. Basing on the research of basic arithmetical
actions and basic reading, basic algebraic, geometric, grammatical concepts, motor
skills, verbal memory, etc. the following result was achieved: the development of an
intellectual action undergoes the following main stages:
composition of the orientation basis of the action;
formation of the material form of the action;
formation of the verbal form of the action;
formation of the action as an intellectual act.
This line of changes of action is its main, but not only parameter. In order to obtain
the general idea of these changes, one must remember that there are three more
parameters of changes of the action in the process of its development and that these
parameters, as we know today (can trace them), to a great degree are independent
from each other. As a result of combination of different changes in all three
parameters there are most diverse forms of the same action. That is why the picture
described below is a clean line which can coincide with the process of development
but which in fact differs from it.
Thus, on the first stage the orientation basis of the action is formed. It consists of
three parts: the idea of action which is to be learned and which is the content of the
task, the idea of environment to which this task belongs and the idea of relationship
between them. For example, if I have to learn a new physical action, such as the skill
of writing letters, I have to know, firstly, the picture of this letter as a whole and its
parts in the process of writing them; secondly, I have to know how to define
objectively every point of the sheet on which the letter is written; thirdly, I have to
know how to relate this letter with its objective coordinates - such relation for the first
time allows to identify the reference points which are parts of the letter, to identify
their position of the sheet of paper and to reconstruct the picture of the letter using
If I have to learn to read, I have to know, firstly, that the object of my action is the
sound of speech, and letters are only a means of denoting these sounds, secondly,
I have to know how to differentiate and relate separate parts in the continuous flow
of sounding speech, thirdly, I have to know the relation between the order of letters
of a written word and sounds of its pronunciation.
If I have to learn to count, I have to know, firstly, the successive names of
subsequently composed groups, I have to, secondly, identify that side of things
which is considered in counting and what is taken as its unit, and, finally, I have to
understand how the counting unit is used in formation of successive groups.
That which is put on the second place in these examples is the most important and
the most difficult, the most inconstant in explanation of a new task. Its share in such
explanation can vary greatly, but both conscious attention to it and spontaneous
disregard invariably, but in opposite ways, influence the content of a new task.
The general and main point is that on this first stage one gets acquainted with the
action as an objective process [with the objective content of the action]. The question
is how specific and differential is the way we can show it and the student can see it.
But this view is only the orientation basis of action, and its performance and
learning start at the next stage. If there is such orientation basis we are allowed to
perform the new action even without knowing at all how to produce it, using only
previous skills. As neither orientation basis of the action nor the action itself at this
time are learned, the orientation basis of the action bust be given externally and the
action itself can be performed in external manner. What will this external form be -
will it be an action on objects or on a drawing or as a record on paper - depends on
the character of the object of the action and the action itself, and, therefore, on the
level of the new action in relation to previous knowledge and skills. But no matter
what they were, the new action will at first have either direct material or materialized
nature, i.e. actualize its relations either materially or through material representations
of the copies of such relations.
The objective logic of this action is such that none of its parts can be omitted without
stopping the action as a whole. That is why at first the action can be shown or started
only as a full complex of its operations. But later, when we know the continuous flow
of the action, such performance is no longer needed and even hinders the action - it
starts to shrink through omission of an increasing number of its operations. Thus, in
counting the first omitted operations are [unclear word] of the new group of counted
objects, then - moving of a subsequent object, then - touching it with the counting
finger, and, at last marking of the object and counting are done with eyes only. In
basic reading the break-down of a long word is also at first done through moving the
syllables apart, then they are only marked with a finger, and, at last, they are
immediately perceived by sight simultaneously with the reading of the word. In this
case - and it is very good - only specific shortening of the action first makes it suitable
for using in the known task.
Shortening of the action may happen spontaneously but in this case the shortened
action is performed without taking account of the reality to which relates its shortened
part, blindly, formally and only in very limited conditions. That is why the shortening
must be specially trained and the student must understand that shortening of an
operation means its notional performance, and that the action always maintains its
full content, although it is not successively performed. Preservation of the image of
the shortened part of the action is the condition of its consciousness.
To the report of May, 11th[3]
To show
1) how intellectual actions are formed - from material actions;
2) how images, simultaneous phenomena, are formed, on the basis of action, a
successive phenomenon:
a) the characteristics of a phenomenon are successively identified;
b) [4]a stereotype of characteristics-irritants of such phenomenon is formed;
c) this stereotype constitutes the material basis of the image.
Remarks of L.I.[5]:
- the action is separated from the object;
- characteristics are present form the very beginning (!);
- there is no sense of reality, process (= there is no image of this action)
Theses for a report[6]. On development of intellectual actions and concepts
Intellectual action is psychologically characterized as a skill to mentally perform
certain transformations with an object. A combination of such skills is the active part
of consciousness, on which depend, in one way or another, all other psychic
phenomena. That is why research of intellectual concepts is a key part of research
of the mind.
Generally psychic activity was distinguished from all object activity and set against
it. That is why intellectual actions in their actual, object content were not considered
an object of psychology and were not studied by it. We also set ourselves a task of
studying intellectual actions as such specific, object skills.
The main way of research of intellectual actions is studying them in the process of
their development, and the main way of development of intellectual actions of a
modern man is the school education. That is why we studied the development of
intellectual actions in the process of education and approached it from two sides:
firstly, by analyzing the defects of intellectual actions which were already obtained
and, secondly, by identifying the conditions of their full-scale development.
According to the data received through our researches, the development of the
intellectual action proceeds as follows.
At first the orientation basis of the action is formed. It consists of two parts: concept
of the content of the action - its object, aim, means and operations, and, most
importantly - objective indices of all these elements, a system of reference points for
its performance.
The action itself is learned on this orientation basis. It starts with the action in its
external, material (or materialized) form and in its full form, i.e. containing all its
operations. Then on the same stage the action undergoes a number of successive
generalizations and shortenings.
On the next stage it leaves its direct reliance on objects and is fully transferred to the
verbal field, becomes a verbal form of this action.
At the last stage the action is performed inwardly, mentally. As its conditions here
significantly change, it undergoes a series of transformations. In this most
generalized and shortened verbal form the action which is learned is subject to
automatization and in general comes to the point when for self-observation it seems
deprived of any sensuous content, an act of pure thought.
Thus, the process of learning the action consists of gradual formation of its various
forms, from a full-scale external object action to the most shortened verbal mental
action. In each of such forms the action is not only performed but also reflected in
consciousness. That is why a system of various forms (of a single action) is matched
by a system of their operations which objectively connects its final mental form with
its initial material form. This connection is the actual content of the so-called
consciousness of the action and is the principal condition of its completeness. But
the complexity of the processes of development of mental action causes a broad
range of possibilities for different defects of its organization.
Only the research of development of intellectual actions reveals their true content,
elucidates the related illusions of self-observation, explains the different success rate
of the same action among different people and shows the way to development of
full-scale intellectual actions.
Researches on development of intellectual actions allow to approach the study of
another important component of the psyche images, sensuous and abstract. We
studied their development in the process of education. In the present report we will
analyze only the development of abstract images, i.e. concepts.
We[7] studied the development of concept in action, in the process of its application
as a means of definition of existence or absence of the known phenomenon in the
material. The necessity of any preliminary learning of concept was removed because
its characteristics were given as a list on a sheet of paper. The demands which the
future concept must meet and the material on which the concepts characteristics
which meet them were marked in advance. By virtue of methodical performance of
the action in pre-determined form and order, with an orientation for specific
characteristics of the concept and with their use on the systematically varied
material, we achieved full control on the process of development of the concept and
its reliable development in predetermined volume and quality.
At first only the characteristics of the concept took part in the action, and then in the
process of action with objects the very concept corresponding such characteristics
was formed. As then the development of the concept happened simultaneously with
the development of the action (which applied it), it underwent the same stages which
were described above: from the external material action to the externally-verbal
action, and to the shortened mental action. At this point the shortened and
automatized action disappeared from self-observation, leaving only its end result
the formed concept in consciousness.
Thus, the concept as a phenomenon of individual consciousness is a product of
action which uses it at first its characteristics for solution of specific tasks. The
concept is formed on the basis of action, and automatized performance of the latter
is the psychological mechanism of this concept.

[1] The authors spelling and punctuation were left intact
[2] Under P.J.Galperins supervision V.V.Davydov, N.I.Nepomnyashaya,
A.I.Golomshtok and N.S.Pantina carried out the following research works:
Davydov V.V. Development of the basic concept of quantity among children (To the
question of psychological mechanisms of concepts originating in the process of
development of intellectual concepts). M., 1958.
Nepomnyashaya N.I. Development of basic counting among mentally retarded
children: to the question of ways of overcoming the defect in cases of mental
retardation. M. 1957.
Golomshtok I.E. Forms of intellectual action and their relation to academic progress
(On the material of learning of arithmetics among pupils of the first grade of primary
school). M. 1958.
Pantina N.S. Dependence between the development of action and the type of
orientation in the task (On the material of writing letters). M., 1958
[3] These notes are placed immediately after the text of the intended report on the
right side of the sheet of paper, and, according to the date, the notes were made
before the workshop session
[4] Between the points b and c there are notes in the margin:
not a characteristic beyond the stereotype, but any stimulus composing it
[5] Archive notes from 1950s allow us to assume that the author of the remarks is
Lidia Ilyinichna Bozhovich
[6] Published in shorthand form in Theses of reports of philosophy department on
the Anniversary session devoted to the bicentenary of the Moscow university (M.,
[7] Authors remarks in the margin:
In traditional researches of learning of concepts the action of learning was not
controlled. It developed spontaneously and the results of this spontaneous learning
were considered the learning norm.
Taken from: