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Cognitive Development Beyond Piaget

2. Classic Study: Baillargeon’s Drawbridge Study

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In this module, we look at a classic violation-of-expectation study by Baillargeon et al. (1985), the so-called Rotating Drawbridge Study. We examine the study’s experimental procedure in which 5 month-old infants were habituated to an event which involved a drawbridge rotating through a 180° angle. They were then presented with (a) a possible event, in which the drawbridge was stopped by a block placed behind it; and (b) an impossible event in which the drawbridge seemingly continued to move through the space occupied by the block. The researchers measured the infants’ looking time throughout this and found that the impossible event captured the infants’ attention for longer than the possible event. We discuss Baillargeon’s conclusions from these findings and how they call into question Piaget’s theory that very young infants do not yet have a conception of object permanence.


In this course, Dr Richard O’Connor (University of Hull) discusses different ideas within the field of cognitive development that go beyond the work of Jean Piaget. In module one, we introduce the violation-of-expectation looking time method as a research method which has revolutionised our understanding of infant cognition since the 1980s. We then look at a classic violation-of-expectation study by Baillargeon et al. (1985) in module two, before moving on to an evaluation of this research method in module three. Module four introduces an alternative set of ideas to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development which focuses on the role of social interactions and culture. The final two modules look at the socio-cultural theory of cognitive development proposed by Piaget’s contemporary Lev Vygotsky, focusing on the distinction between ‘elementary’ and ‘higher’ mental functions in module five and key concepts such as the ‘zone of proximal development’ in module six.


Dr Richard O'Connor is a cognitive developmental psychologist with research interests in cognition from infancy through to adulthood.

Particular areas of interest include theory of mind, representation of objects and actions, and word learning.

Dr O'Connor joined the University of Hull in August 2016, after completing his PhD at the University of Cambridge and teaching positions at Royal Holloway and the University of Oxford.

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APA style

O'Connor, R. (2019, December 16). Cognitive Development Beyond Piaget - Classic Study: Baillargeon’s Drawbridge Study [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

O'Connor, Richard. "Cognitive Development Beyond Piaget – Classic Study: Baillargeon’s Drawbridge Study." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 16 Dec 2019,

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