You are not currently logged in. Please create an account or log in to view the full course.

Cognition and Development – Beyond Piaget

5. Vygotsky: Elementary and Higher Mental Functions

This is the course trailer. Please create an account or log in to view this lecture.

  • Description
  • Cite

About this Lecture


In this lecture, we introduce the cognitive theory of Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist and contemporary of Jean Piaget’s, focusing in particular on: (i) contrasting the two researchers’ theories, showing the similarities between the two, e.g., the notion that development occurs in distinct stages and proceeds through moments of crisis; (ii) an important marker of difference in Vygotsky’s theory being the suggestion that social interaction – learning from a more knowledgeable other – lies at the heart of a child’s cognitive development; (iii) the distinction between ‘elementary mental functions’ (e.g. perception) which Vygotsky describes as universal and innate and ‘higher mental functions’ (e.g. problem solving) which involve the mediation of culturally determined symbolic systems (such as language); (iv) how a child can acquire the latter, more complex cognitive skills through social interaction.


In this course, Dr Richard O’Connor (University of Hull) explores different ideas within the field of cognitive development that go beyond the work of Jean Piaget. In the first lecture, we introduce the violation-of-expectation looking time method as a research technique which has revolutionised our understanding of infant cognition since the 1980s. In the second lecture, we look at the classic violation-of-expectation study by Baillargeon et al. (1985). In the third lecture, we evaluation this research. Next, we think about an alternative set of ideas to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development which focuses on the role of social interactions and culture. In the fifth lecture, we 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 the sixth and final lecture, we think about some key concepts such as the ‘zone of proximal development’.


Dr Richard O’Connor is a cognitive developmental psychology in the Faculty of Health Sciences and School of Psychology and Social Work at the University of Hull. Dr O’Connor’s research interests include theory of mind and word learning. Some of Dr O’Connor’s recent publications include Autistic Adults Show Similar Performance and Sensitivity to Social Cues on a Visual Perspective Taking Task as Non-autistic Adults (In Press) and Stroop interference is a composite phenomenon: Evidence from distinct developmental trajectories of its components (2020).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

O'Connor, R. (2019, December 16). Cognition and Development – Beyond Piaget - Vygotsky: Elementary and Higher Mental Functions [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

O'Connor, R. "Cognition and Development – Beyond Piaget – Vygotsky: Elementary and Higher Mental Functions." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 16 Dec 2019,

Image Credits