The ideas of Vygotsky have been increasingly influential in accounting for social–environmental influences on the development of social understanding (SU). In the first part of this article, I examine how Vygotskian ideas have to date been recruited to explanations of the development of SU. Next, I present a model of SU development which draws on two implications of Vygotsky’s ideas: the importance of semiotic mediation for mental functioning, and the dialogic nature of the higher mental functions. I then consider the value of the proposed model in accounting for evidence from three areas of enquiry: the typical development of SU in infancy and early childhood, relations between individual differences in SU and social–environmental variables, and atypical development. The model is suggested to be particularly helpful in understanding the transition from intentional-agent to mental-agent understanding, and the role of language in SU. Remaining challenges include a need to specify further the cognitive processes underlying internalization, and to gather more extensive evidence on the roles of typical and atypical social experience in SU development.
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