Bruner was born in New York City and educated at Duke University. During World War II, Bruner worked on the subject of propaganda and popular attitudes for U.S. Army intelligence at General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters in France. He obtained his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1947, after which he became a member of the faculty, serving as professor of psychology, as well as cofounder and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies. In 1972 Bruner left Harvard to teach for several years at Oxford University. He returned to Harvard as a visiting professor in 1979 and two years later joined the faculty of the new School for Social Research in New York City.
Bruner's books include A Study of Thinking (1956), On Knowing: Essays For the Left Hand (1962), On Knowing (1964), Toward a Theory of Instruction (1966), Processes of Cognitive Growth (1968), Beyond the Information Given (1973), and Child's Talk (1983).