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Peekaboo! Why do children really believe they're invisible?

Thursday, 24 January 2013
Peekaboo! Why do children really believe they're invisible?
Have you ever wondered why young children think they can’t be seen when covering their eyes with their hands? Researchers at Cambridge University wanted to see what the significance behind the simple game of peekaboo was.

The Cambridge team led by James Russell looked at groups of children aged between 3 and 4 years old, used a variety of tests in an attempt to understand why children felt they were invisible.

Firstly they used a mask to cover each child’s face, and asked them whether they thought they could be seen, almost all of the participants felt they couldn’t be seen by the university scientists. They were also asked if the researchers wore masks whether they thought they could be seen by other adults – most of the children believed they would not be visible. This lead Mr Russell’s team to conclude that young children thought any person whose eyes were covered would not be spotted by someone else.

In an effort to identify what gave children the perception of invisibility they conducted another test, asking the group to wear a pair of mirrored goggles, which allowed the child to see out, but for their eyes not to be seen. Unfortunately, out of the 37 children only 7 could comprehend that their eyes were not visible leading to diminished results. However, out of the 7 that understood the concept, 6 thought that were not evident to the human eye.

All of the children shared a notion that although their eyes were hidden and they felt obscured from view, they had a sense that their bodies were still seen, implying that they were able to distinguish between their body and their “self”. The “self” being a part of them, that can only be accessed by making eye contact with another, to make it simpler to understand think of the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul”, and it may have more significance.

In a final experiment to back up their theory, researchers looked each child in the eye but then asked them to avert their gaze to see whether they felt they were still being watched, nearly everyone believed they were invisible.

Posted By +Emma Haskell

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