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Alexei Nikolaevich Leontiev (Russian: Алексе́й Никола́евич Лео́нтьев; IPA: [lʲɪˈonʲtʲjɪf]; February 18, 1903 – January 21, 1979), was a Soviet developmental psychologist, philosopher and the founder of activity theory.


Alexei Leont'ev's life was closely linked to the Lomonosov Moscow State University (MGU). In 1921, he began his studies at the historical-philological Faculty of the University. The historical-philological Faculty, at the time, included a Department of Philosophy at which G. I. Chelpanov was teaching psychology, and Leont'ev studied psychology with him. In 1924, Leont'ev graduated from what became the Faculty of Social Sciences. A.N. Leont'ev worked with Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) and Alexander Luria (1902–1977) from 1924 to 1930, collaborating on the development of a Marxist psychology as a response to behaviourism and the focus on the stimulus-response mechanism as explanation for human behaviour. Leont'ev left Vygotsky's group in Moscow in 1931, to take up a position in Kharkov. He continued to work with Vygotsky for some time but, eventually, there was a split, although they continued to communicate with one another on scientific matters (Veer and Valsiner, 1991). Leont'ev returned to Moscow in 1934. Later, he became the Head of the Psychology Department at the Faculty of Philosophy of Moscow State University. In 1966, Leont'ev became the first ever Dean of the newly established Faculty of Psychology at the Moscow State University, where he worked until his death in 1979. He died of a heart attack.

Scientific work

Leont'ev's early scientific work was done in the framework of Vygotsky's cultural-historical research program and focused on the exploration of the phenomenon of cultural mediation. Representative of this period is Leontiev's study on mediated memory in children and adults The development of higher forms of memory, 1931.

Leont'ev's own research school is based on the thorough psychological analysis of the phenomenon of activity. Systematic development of the psychological foundations of activity theory was started in the 1930s by Kharkov group of psychologists headed by Leont'ev and included such researchers as Zaporozhets, Gal'perin, Zinchenko, Bozhovich, Asnin, Lukov, etc. In its fullest form, activity theory was subsequently developed and institutionalized as the leading psychological doctrine in the Soviet Union in the post-war period after Leont'ev had moved to Moscow and took a position at the Moscow State University.

For Leont'ev, ‘activity’ consisted of those processes "that realise a person’s actual life in the objective world by which he is surrounded, his social being in all the richness and variety of its forms" (Leont’ev 1977). The core of the Leont'ev's work is the proposal that we can examine human processes from the perspective of three different levels of analysis. The highest, most general level is that of activity and motives that drive it. At the intermediate level are actions and their associated goals, and the lowest level is the analysis of operations that serve as means for the achievement of the higher-order goals.

Leontiev's texts online

In English

  • Problems of the Development of the Mind, 1959 (1st ed.), 1965 (2nd ed.), 1972 (3rd ed.), 1981 (4th ed.); translated in English in 1981:
          • In Russian
  • Леонтьев А.Н. (1947). Психологические вопросы сознательности учения
  • Леонтьев А.Н. (1977). Деятельность. Сознание. Личность (idem)
  • Леонтьев А.Н. (2000). Лекции по общей психологии
  • Леонтьев А. Н. (1978). Воля
  • Леонтьев А. Н. (1986). Проблема деятельности в истории советской психологии
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