We play peekaboo with babies like it’s some tradition or something, and well they love it. We close our eyes, covering them with our hands, and then slowly uncover them. We do it again and again and again. And babies love it! Every single time. They laugh, which in turn makes us laugh. Didn’t really know the reason why babies fall for it each time, until now.
So why do babies all over the world love playing peekaboo so much? According to the Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, babies lack “object permanence” (the ability to know an object still exists even when it is hidden). So, when you hide your face, babies think that it does not exist anymore. And when you uncover your face, they are pleasantly surprised because you’re back!
Piaget first noticed this when his 13-month-old nephew was playing with a ball. If the ball fell down or was moved to a place where his nephew could still see it, he would grab it and start playing with it again. But if the ball rolled into a place where the boy could not see it, he would look for it where he had last seen it.
This compelled Piaget to study the age of babies when they exactly develop object permanence.
He did this by hiding a toy under a blanket, which would be in full view of the child. He would then watch to see where the child looked for the toy. If the child looked under the blanket, that would be the proof of existing object permanence in the child.
Piaget found that very young toddlers would not look for the toy and move onto other things. It is around the age of 8 months that the children started to look for the toy under the blanket. This gave the conclusion that children develop object permanence around the age of 8 months.
Peekaboo has its own variations as the infants grow older. But the cycle of disappearing and appearing never gets old. It’s amazing how babies find it amusing to think that something that just disappeared came back. The game is just not a joke, but according to studies, it actually helps babies test and re-test a fundamental principle of existence: that things stick around even when you can’t see them.
Well, that’s the science behind it all. Now you know.