Ananiev’s approach shares the Activity Theory (AT) paradigm, dominant in Soviet psychology. Ananiev builds on the main fundamentals of the AT paradigm, considering psyche as a special procreation of the matter, engendered by the active interaction of the individual with the environment. The unique feature of his approach to AT is that he turned it “toward the inside,” focusing on the relation of the human individual to his own physicality, to his own bodily substrate. Ananiev sought by his intention to keep a holistic vision of a human being, considering the latter in the context of his real life, that is, the bodily substrate in its biological specificity in context of the concrete sociohistorical life course of the personality. Like no other psychologist, Ananiev did not limit his research to the sphere of narrowly defined mental phenomena. He conducted a special kind of research, labeled as “complex,” in the course of which characteristics of the same subjects: sociological, socio-psychological, mental, physiological, and psychophysiological indicators—life events of the subjects—were monitored for many years. He focused on ontogenetic development in adulthood, which he, ahead of his time, considered as a period of dynamic changes and differentiated development of functions. The focus of his attention was on individual differences in the ontogenetic development of mental and psycho-physiological functions, especially those deviations from general regularities that resulted from the impact of the life course of the individual. Individualization, the increase of individual singularity, is the main effect of human development and its measure for Ananiev.
Ananiev developed a number of theoretical models and concepts. The best-known of Ananiev’s heritage is his theoretical model of human development, often named the “individuality concept.” According to this model, humans do not have any preassigned “structure of personality” or “initial harmony.” The starting point of human development is a combination of potentials—resources and reserves, biological and social. The human creates himself in the process of interaction with the world. Specialization, individually specific development of functions, appears here not as a distortion of the pre-set harmony of the whole but as the way of self-determining progressive human development. The most important practical task of psychology he viewed as psychological support and provision in the process of developing a harmonious individuality, based on the individual potentials.