Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Slater I 86
Object Permanence/Baillargeon: Thesis: Piaget (1954)(1) object permanence - an awareness that an object continues to exist when not available to the senses (literally „out of sight, out of mind“) - was not fully acquired until the second year of life had dominated thinking about early infant cognition.
BaillargeonVsPiaget: (Baillargeon, Spelke and Wasserman (1985)(2) showed that infants as young as 5 months of age and later 3.5 months of age, Baillargeon 1987(3)) appeared to remember the continued existence of hidden objects and are aware that they maintained some of their physical properties.
The key was to move away from the Piagetian criteria of active retrieval (e.g., reaching) for a hidden object as a measure of knowledge.
Solution/Baillargeon: [she used] the so-called violation of expectation (VoE) paradigm: it is built on the idea that infants will orient more to novel or surprising events than familiar or expected ones (see Charlesworth, 1969(4).
Slater I 87
In particular, [Baillargeon] found that between 3.5 and 12 months of age infants became sensitive to the height (Baillargeon, 1987(3); Baillargeon & Graber 1987(5)), location (Baillargeon & Graber, 1988)(6), and solidity of hidden objects (Baillargeon, Graber, DeVos, & Black, 1990)(7). Baillargeon and colleagues also gradually pieced together infants’ understanding of the physical support relations that can exist between objects placed next to or on top of one another (Baillargeon, 2004(8); Needham & Baillargeon, 1993(9), 2000(10)).
Experiment/Drawbridge study/HaithVsBaillargeon: (Haith 1998)(11)the conclusion of the drawbridge study are a product of „rich interpretation“ (Haith 1998) on the part of the researchers, rather than rich conceptual abilities on the part of young infants.
Slater I 88
Haith: There was always a more parsimonious perceptual explanation for the infants’ responses. >Object permanence/Haith.
Drawbridge study/VsBaillargeon: Rivera, Wakeley, and Langer (1999)(12) Thesis: young infants simply have a general preference to look at the 180-degree rotation for cognitively uninteresting reasons (e.g., longer-lasting movement). Like Haith: Baillargeon’s findings can be explained without any attribution to an ability to think about an unseen object.
VsBaillargeon: Bogartz, Shinskey, and Schilling (2000)(13): the relatively high looking times to the 180-degree impossible event in the original drawbridge studies reflected a simple familiarity preference rather than a mental representation of a hidden object.
Slater I 89
After nearly two decades of argument in the literature and two highly anticipated debates on this topic at major conferences (Haith vs. Spelke at the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), 1997; Baillargeon vs. Smith at the International Conference for Infant Studies (ICIS), 1998), it became clear that behavioral methods alone were not going to produce a scientific consensus. Two key questions that emerged from these debates are
(1) what actually constitutes evidence of object permanence (i.e., does passive surprise suffice or is active engagement required?) and
(2) where and how does this competence originate? >Object permanence/neuroscience, >Object permanence/connectionism.



1. Piaget, J. (1954). The construction of reality in the child. New York: Basic Books.
2. Baillargeon, R., Spelke, E. S., & Wasserman, S. (1985). Object permanence in five-month-old infants. Cognition, 20, 191–208.
3. Baillargeon, R. (1987). Object permanence in 3 1/2-and 4 1/2-month-old infants. Developmental Psychology, 23, 655–664.
4. Charlesworth, W. R. (1969). The role of surprise in cognitive development. In D. Elkind & J. Flavell (Eds), Studies in cognitive development. Essays in honor of Jean Piaget (pp. 257–314). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
5. Baillargeon, R., & Graber, M. (1987). Where’s the rabbit? 5.5-month-old infants’ representation of the height of a hidden object. Cognitive Development, 2, 375–392.

6. Baillargeon, R., & Graber, M. (1988). Evidence of location memory in 8-month-old infants in a nonsearch AB task. Developmental Psychology, 24, 502–511.
7. Baillargeon, R., Graber, M., DeVos, J., & Black, J. (1990). Why do young infants fail to search for hidden objects? Cognition, 36, 255–284.
8. Baillargeon, R., (2004). Infants’ reasoning about hidden objects. Evidence for event-general and event-specific expectations. Developmental Science, 7, 391-414.
9. Needham, A., & Baillargeon, R. (1993). Intuitions about support in 4.5-month-old infants. Cognition, 47, 121–48.
10. Needham, A., & Baillargeon, R. (2000). Infants’ use of featural and experiential information in segregating and individuating objects: A reply to Xu, Carey and Welch (2000). Cognition, 74, 255–284.
11. Haith, M. M. (1998). Who put the cog in infant cognition? Is rich interpretation too costly? Infant Behavior and Development, 21, 167–179.
12. Rivera, S. M., Wakeley, A., & Langer, J. (1999). The drawbridge phenomenon: Representational reasoning or perceptual preference? Developmental Psychology, 35, 427–435.
13. Bogartz, R. S., Shinskey, J. L., & Schilling, T. H. (2000). Object permanence in five-and-a-half-month-old infants? Infancy, 1, 403–428.


Denis Mareschal and Jordy Kaufman, „Object permanence in Infancy. Revisiting Baillargeon’s Drawbridge Experiment“ in: Alan M. Slater & Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Baillargeon, Renée
Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012


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