Why every child loves to play Peekaboo

Why every child loves to play Peekaboo

Now you see me, now you don’t! Peekaboo game reveals interesting insights in to when a child believes they are invisible.


But why is the peekaboo game so popular and enduring? Researchers at the University of Cambridge have offered a convincing new theory that suggests the appeal of the game is fooling the children into thinking they are invisible.


Testing children aged three and four, the team, led by Dr James Russell from the Department of Psychology, first asked them whether they could be seen if they were wearing a blindfold, and whether the researcher could see an adult who was wearing one.

Nearly all the children felt that when they were wearing a mask they were hidden, and most thought the adult wearing a mask was hidden too.


Next, the researchers tested whether children think it is the fact that a person’s eyes are hidden that renders them invisible, or if they think the act of being blinded is the decisive factor.


To test this, a new group of young children were quizzed about their ability to be seen when they were wearing goggles that were completely blacked out, meaning that they could not see and their eyes were hidden. They were then asked about the same issues when wearing a second pair of goggles which were covered in mirrored film – meaning that they could see, but other people could not see their eyes.


Unfortunately, this test did not go quite according to plan. Out of the 37 children involved, only seven were able to grasp the concept that they could see out, but people couldn’t see them.

Of these seven, six believed that they were invisible regardless of the goggles that they were wearing. In other words, the children’s feelings of invisibility seem to come from the fact that their eyes are hidden, rather than from the fact that they can’t see. This suggests that a child’s


In both studies, when the children thought that they were invisible because of their eyes being covered, they nonetheless agreed that their head and body were visible. The researchers argue that this represents a distinction in the child’s mind between the concealment of the “self” and that of the body.


It appeared a child’s invisibility beliefs were based around the idea that there must be eye contact between two people – a meeting of gazes – for them to see their “selves”.

Many of the children felt that they were hidden so long as they didn’t meet the gaze of the researcher. They also felt that the researcher was hidden if his or her gaze was averted while the child looked on.


“It seems that children apply the principle of joint attention to the self and assume that for somebody to be perceived, experience must be shared and mutually known to be shared, as it is when two pairs of eyes meet,” Russell said.


The revelation that most young children think people can only see each other when their eyes meet raises some interesting questions for future research. For example, children with autism are known to engage in less sharing of attention with other people (following another person’s gaze), so perhaps they will be less concerned with the role of mutual gaze in working out who is visible.

Another interesting avenue could be to explore the invisibility beliefs of children born blind. The authors speculate that skin-to-skin touching may serve as a proxy for eye-contact in the congenitally blind.


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