Application to Diversity
Vygotsky's approach to human development today is highly associated with cultural psychology. This is a branch of psychology aims to understand a culture fully, in and of itself, rather than attempting to compare data and ideas between two or more cultures (often referred to as cross-cultural psychology). Two methods are often used to study developmental phenomenon with culture in mind as a variable. In culture-as-difference studies, a task or procedure that has been investigated in multiple studies are compared. In culture-as-medium studies, a task or procedure specific to a particular culture goes under study, in order to understand a culture without comparison. As discussed in more detail below, research with infant sleeping arrangements is an example of culture-as-difference study, while research with child candy vendors in Brazil is an example of a culture-as-medium study.

The Vygotskian approach to looking at developmental processes through a cultural lens has been utilized with many different populations in research studies. Some of these studies have been cross-cultural in nature, in order to better what behaviors may be universal in nature versus culture-specific. A summary of some of these findings follows (Miller, 2002):

Infant Sleeping Arrangements
Typically, American babies are encouraged to sleep in rooms other than their parent's rooms as early in childhood as possible. American parents hold the view that the child is born dependent and must develop independence; thus, the sleeping separation aims to foster this sense of independence. However, this behavior sharply contrasts with arrangements in Japan, Central America, and Africa. In these cultures, children sleep with their parents, even if there is extra space available. This example shows how culture affects behavior of both children and adults, rather than the other way around.
infant_sleeping.htm

Mother-Baby Interactions
Interactions between mother and child also differ between American mothers and Japanese mothers (Bornstein et al., 1990, 1991). Research has shown that American mothers are more responsive to their babies when focus on an object, while Japanese mothers are more responsive when their babies focus on them. These behaviors are clear indicators of the link between development and cultural values and belief systems. In focusing on objects, American mothers are reinforcing values of individualism, independence, and autonomy. On the other hand, Japanese mothers, by focusing their babies' attention on them, are reinforcing societal values such as dependence and relational ties.

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Mathematics
The influence of culture on the development of cognition can be seen in ways of learning mathematics around the globe. For example, computing complex mathematical operations in one's head (without a calculator) is difficult for most American adults. However, children who are candy vendors in Brazil learn to calculate complicated mathematical computations at an early age. The reason for this relates to the demands of their job - to compute numerous mathematical operations at once. Brazilian children' participation in this work changes their cognitive functioning, increasing their ability to think abstractly. Interestingly enough, when the children were asked to compute these operations outside of the context of candy selling, they were not able to achieve the same level of performance (Carraher, Carraher, & Schliemann, 1985). Thus, the cultural context in which this behavior occurs in appears to be critical to the child's ability to compute complete mathematical functions.
brazil.htm

Vygotsky and Culturally Diverse Learning Environments
Much of Vygotsky’s theory and research has been applied to the education field. Concepts such as scaffolding and zone of optimal development have been integrated into classrooms to enhance learning. Vygotsky’s work, which largely took into account cultural differences, is particularly applicable in today’s increasingly diverse society. The below article is a contemporary application of Vygotsky’s work. An assistant professor in education at the University of Deleware, Shuiab Meachum applies his theory to sustain the proposition that a culturally diverse learning environment supports higher-order conceptual development. This article is just one example of Vygotskian theory applied to diversity in today world. While the article appears to focus on child learning environments, the same principles can be applied to individuals learning at the college and post-baccalaureate level. Below are a few, brief points of this article.



The Deficit Model: History and Problems
Cultural diversity has typically assumed a secondary role in teaching and learning, particularly in relation to literacy development. Until recently, the majority of research has focused on a deficit-oriented model, focusing solely on the low achievement of ethnic minority students. However, recent sociological approaches have shown that different literacy levels between mainstream Caucasian students and minority students is more of a matter of cultural differences rather than deficit. Research has shown improvements in literacy and reading skills among non-majority students when changes are made that create cultural matches between the assumptions of literacy learning and instruction methods.

Vygotsky and Cultural Connections
Vygotsky’s research supports the assumptions inherent in the cultural matching concepts. His theory supports cultural matching in various ways:
1) Learning does not occur in cognitive isolation, but inside social activities and relationships.
2) Learning is affected by interaction between home and school.
3) School learning is enhanced when meaningful learning assumptions are matched between the school context and the home context (a primary source of cultural context and learning).
Vygotsky suggested that the goal of conceptual learning is a stage of ‘generalization,’ in which an understanding of a concept is removed from its association with only one, local context (e.g., the school) and connected a general categories intertwining many conceptual connections. This occurs when home-based concepts (or school-based) are viewed as “one language among many” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 203). Higher-order conceptual development is thus achieved when conceptual applications can be made in multiple contexts. Intercultural connections are helpful in developing higher order thinking, but is often absent from classrooms. These ideas of intercultural connections and linkages remove minority students from a strict comparison with a mainstream ideal (through actively discouraging mainstream connections only).