Hide-and-seek with a three-year-old: an experiment in cognitive science

Playing hide-and-seek with a three-year-old is a psychological experiment; we played for fun not science–but there was scientific learning all the same.

One of us was three-and-a-half, Alexander, one 65, me, and one of unknown age but indisputably young, Lin. We didn’t explain the game to Alexander. We just started. We took it in turns to hide the golf ball. Two of us would stand in the kitchen while one hid the golf ball in the front room, which has generous spaces, particularly lots of cushions, for hiding a golf ball.

I went first. Alexander in the kitchen put his hands over his eyes and counted loudly to ten, accelerating as the numbers got higher. I hid the golf ball under a cushion on a sofa. Alexander burst into the front room, knowing that he had to find the golf ball; but he wasn’t sure how to go about it. I don’t think that it initially occurred to him to look under things. Why would it? I shouted “warmer, warmer” as he and Lin came closer and “colder, colder” as they went further away. I don’t think that Alexander ever grasped this clue. Eventually we got him to lift the cushion and find the golf ball.

Next it was his turn. He too hid the golf-ball under a cushion, but when we entered the front room he shouted “Here it is,” showing us where he’d hidden the golf-ball.

Now it was Lin’s turn. When he entered the room Alexander went straight to the cushion where I’d hid the ball. That was logical–based on the epidemiological observation that something already having happened (perhaps a heart attack or even being struck by lightning) is the best predictor of it happening again–but showed an initial misunderstanding of the point of the game.

When it was Alexander’s turn again he’d learnt not to show us immediately where the ball was hidden, but he couldn’t wait for us to find it–and so pointed us in the right direction. He also learnt quickly that the ball would not be hidden where it has been hidden before.

Alexander now knows how to play hide-and-seek, and we must play another game soon to see if he’s remembered how to play. He probably will as he can remember four weeks later the jokes from Christmas crackers. https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/a-three-year-old-christmas-crackers-and-bad-jokes/



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