Bruner’s Theory on Intellectual Development Moves from Enactive to Iconic and Symbolic Stages

Bruner’s Theory

Jerome Bruner is regarded as one of the most influential and renowned educational psychologists of the twentieth century. In 1966, he researched the cognitive development of children and identified three stages of representation namely, the enactive stage, the iconic stage, and the symbolic representation stage. He believed that the intellectual development of an individual should be the primary goal of education instead of rote memorization.

Bruner’s Theory on Intellectual Development Moves from Enactive to Iconic and Symbolic Stages– Jerome Bruner Three Modes of Representation

Enactive Stage

The enactive stage is Bruner’s first stage of representation. It is characterized by encoding and storing information. Objects are directly manipulated disregarding the objects’ internal representation. For instance, when a child shakes a rattle, he or she will expect the rattle to make a noise or sound based on his or her past experience.

Iconic Stage

The iconic stage is the second stage of representation. It begins from one to six years old. In this stage, external objects have internal representation through visual forms of mental icons and images. For instance, a child drawing a car is characteristic of this stage.

Symbolic Stage

The symbolic stage is the third stage of representation and starts from seven years and above. During this stage, information storage takes place through symbols or codes such as language. Each symbol is representative of something it relates to. For instance, mangoes are a symbolic representation of one kind of fruit.


According to Bruner, learning happens according to these three stages and the direct manipulation of objects is responsible for the beginning of learning.

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