The Psychology Behind Peek-A-Boo

are you curious as to why peek-a-boo is such a fun game for infants?

If you have any sort of regular contact with an infant or toddler, then you’ve probably played a fair share of peek-a-boo.

Personally speaking, it’s my son’s favorite game. If you follow me on Instagram, you have probably seen that he’s finally learned how to play!

Now, as adults, the game is not too fun. If you’re playing peek-a-boo, then you’re probably playing to help that little one get a smile or two in. If you’re playing peek-a-boo with your other adult friends, then we have different ideas of “fun”.

So, if we as adults are uninterested in the game, why then do children love it so much?

We can find the answer by looking at an idea in psychology known as object permanence.

Object permanence lets us know that objects exist in the world even if they are not currently visible or within our surroundings. For example, I am currently sitting at my computer in my house, yet I know that the statue of liberty is physically in New York despite being nowhere near it. I know that it exists outside of my current surroundings and visibility due to object permanence.

Infants typically begin to develop object permanence around 7 months. They continue to develop this ability until around 2 years of age.

This means that infants under 7 months don’t understand that if you hide your face behind your hands, that you’re actually still present. Thus, it’s surprising and exciting to them when you suddenly appear out of nowhere.

Wouldn’t you be excited if one of your favorite people in the world suddenly appeared?

The development of object permanence is a major step in a child’s cognitive development. As it develops, a child will become more proficient at passing tests such as the A-not-B test.

The A-not-B test tests a child on finding a hidden object in one of two places. To try it out, you’ll need two blankets and an object. Put the child’s attention on the object and then put that object under one of the blankets. If the child has developed object permanence, the child will look for the object under the blanket where you put the object. Do this a few time with the same blanket. Then, put the object under the second blanket. If the child has not had enough time to develop object permanence, they will look under the first blanket that hid the object rather than the one it is currently under. This is a failure of the A-not-B test.

Here’s a video demonstrating successful use of object permanence and a failure of the A-not-B test.

The next time you play peek-a-boo with a child, explore the idea of object permanence. Test the child with the A-not-B test, hide behind a wall and talk to the child to see if they can find you, or hide an object in a new spot that’s in the child’s field of view. It’s often that you’ll be able to see the wheels turning in the child’s head as he tries to figure out what’s going on.

Stay psyched

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