So do babies/toddlers REALLY think you stop existing during peekaboo?

I’ve seen it mentioned many times that if a baby or toddler can’t directly see you they think you don’t exist, but I can’t really find any concrete information on it online. There seem to be a lot of problems with this. For one, how can you tell what a baby is thinking? Okay, maybe for a toddler, but I almost exclusively hear the baby one reported.

Second, and what I think is the main problem, is that babies at least seem to have a concept that people tend to them. If they didn’t believe anything they couldn’t directly observe at that moment existed, it doesn’t seem likely that they’d bother crying. Especially at the later stages of infancy where some babies start exhibiting very clear behaviour of attention whoring, where they cry not because anything is wrong, but because they want attention. I suppose you could rationalize as some sort of operant conditioning, where they don’t realize that an “agent” comes to feed them, but rather a cause-effect relationship between crying and being fed. In addition, if anything not in their direct line of sight doesn’t exist, why do they seem to feel more comfortable around their parents (a sign that they remember them in some way)?

I could understand, maybe, if the fact was that they didn’t realize that things not directly observable were close to them, i.e. thought they went into a different room, but the whole “they don’t even know you exist!” thing seems a bit of a philosophical notion to pin on an 8 month old.

So where did this originate? Is it even true? Is it one of those things that originally meant something useful in Early Childhood Development and then got misreported by the media? It seems like it’s something that might have been corrupted from the development of empathy. I have loose memories of studying something about childhood development of empathy (or maybe it was Kohlberg’s stages of morality, I can’t really recall), where it was said that until age 5-8 or so they don’t really comprehend that other people think and feel just like they do. It seems pretty easy to corrupt that into not thinking you exist. But I’m just theorizing now, I’m curious what the facts on the claim are.

It’s called object permanence. Piaget tested it by covering toys with blankets. If the infant tried to remove the blanket to expose the toy, it was considered a sign that the infant understood this concept.

The one I like is when you learn that a baby figures out it’s him-/herself in the mirror. Show a baby a mirror and the baby may wave at the “other” kid or otherwise check out the reflection Turn baby around and touch his face, at one point smearing a little red stain on the end of his nose during the process (casually, not enough to make the kid realize something is up). Turn the baby around again and show him the mirror. If the baby grabs at his own nose, he realizes that’s him in the mirror. :smiley:

When you consider how little of a baby’s brain is actually operational, especially anything approaching a higher function, words like “realise”, “believe”, “know” and “exist” are almost certainly meaningless and bear no relationship to reality. Trying to rationalise behaviour using them is doomed, and indeed any theory that uses such words almost certainly just plain wrong, at least in terms that an ordinary person would understand those words.

It’s called “object permanence” and it means you understand that an object persists when hidden from view and babies aren’t born with it.

A guy named Piaget was an important figure in studying childhood cognitive development. He found children develop a full concept of object permanence by age two. I imagine it varies by individual to some degree. Your stupider dogs and horses never achieve it, smarter ones do.

There are some simple tests you can try on a dog. Take a desired item that isn’t smelly, like a toy, cover it with something easily removed, like a cloth, while they watch. Can they figure out how to find it?

Recent study confirms it is a recognized stage in child development and finds it’s linked to activity in the prefrontal cortex:

i don’t know where that thought came from. all i know is i’ve got your nose.

A friend had a very young baby. The baby would yank its own hair out…and scream because it hurt. The baby didn’t comprehend that it was its own actions that hurt.

Very young babies do not have “common sense.”

ETA: Hey, how am I gonna smell?


I heard a dolphin expert talking about doing the mirror test with dolphins, theres a whole series of behaviors that show the subject has figured out that’s them in the mirror.

At a certain point, a child will stop indicating out of sight means out of mind.

Another test I read of - they tested smarts and memory persistence by showing a monkey food, then putting it behind a barrier and see how long it takes for the subject to stop reaching for it. Someone decided to do this with children. They showed a child a candy, put it behind the screen, then asked the child a series of questions. After a while, the kid says “you’re just trying to make me forget about the candy!”

So would babies/toddlers eventually solve the “object permanence” dilemma on their own or would they need the peekaboo exercises from adults in order to do so?

Well, it’s probably a good bet that they would figure it out sometime before college.

(I’ll bet that a lot of what parents think that they “teach” to normally functioning children is stuff that the kids basically figure out on their own. For instance, you’d have to put a child in a sensory deprivation chamber for most of their early childhood to have them *not *develop language.)

Not a sensory deprivation chamber, just with no-one to communicate with. Parents still teach specific languages, though. And some people never figure out what the “point” of language is: the most extreme cases of autism.

I don’t know if this is related, but I’ve read that one of a child’s earliest philosophical ideas is solipsism. Where you think everything stops if you’re not around. Like, when people walk out the door they cease to exist; all phenomena in the world is created for the child.

It seems to be related to exploring through touch + the normal development of the prefrontal cortex. I don’t think pure sight exercises like Peekabo do much – it’s just entertaining for the baby, like a magic trick.

I was just doing some interesting experiments along those lines today, with the Small Boy. Not “object permanence” exactly, more like “object continuity”

We watched a show about stage magic a few days ago, so this morning he’s “playing magician” - sticking Bear into a box and saying Abracadabra, seeing if he can make him disappear. And he’s very disappointed to find that he does not, in fact, have the ability to make Bear disappear by saying Abracadabra at the box.

So I help him out. “Oh, I’ll be the magician. Just close your eyes while I say Abracadabra. Ooh look. No Bear in the box! Now close your eyes again and I’ll say Abracadabra and put him back.”

So we do this for some time, appear, disappear, etc etc, with various objects. At some point in the process, he notices that when Bear is “disappeared” out of the box, he’s actually behind my back. But here’s the interesting thing. This knowledge has absolutely no impact on his firm belief that I am “magicing” Bear out of the box and back into it again.

In fact, at some point after he discovers the Bear behind the back, he ends up with his arms on the box and is very upset to feel it moving as I slip objects in and out. I’m Not Doing It Right - I have to use magic, like normal, not just take the things in and out. I have to explain that I can only do the magic while he’s not touching the box, and he accepts that. Then later, he gets inside the box himself and wants me to disappear him too and again is very upset to find me simply picking him up out of the box and depositing him on the bed.

I have now explained to him, multiple times, that that’s how the trick is done - taking things in and out while his eyes are shut is how I’ve been doing it all along. He categorically refuses to believe it. He is absolutely convinced that I can teleport small objects from one spot to another within his bedroom, but only while his eyes are shut. In fact, I’ve had to drop the subject because he gets quite angry at me when I try to explain.

He’s currently four and a half years old.

Now, his autism is definitely a factor in his inability to understand that Things Do Not Teleport - I’m quite convinced that every single neurotypical four year old in existance would have figured out the trick by now. But he doesn’t do abnormal development stages, only exaggerated, or unusually far behind (I think he’s operating about 2 years behind the curve on this one). So I’m pretty sure that this is also a thing that all kids have to laboriously figure out for themselves in their toddlerhood - not only do objects stay existing when you’re not looking at them but they stay in the same place - no jumping about, no teleporting.

Oh, and that TV program on magic that sparked this whole thing off? It was called “The Secrets of Magicians” or something like that - it was explicitly a program showing us exactly how they do all this stuff on stage! That aspect of the show just…didn’t go in.

So what your saying is that if a tree falls in the woods it does make a sound.

As opposed to never falling because it’s not observed and therefore doesn’t exist.

I can verify with a related anecdote.

In first grade I was one of the kids that didn’t take to reading. My teacher pulled a few of us aside for individual instruction.

After she explained to me that words are little pictures, and they are put together to tell a story. She explained just as pictures has elements(birds, trees, the sun), words do too; the letters. Each page of our books had two ways of showing the same thing.

Interestingly, I understood the link between spoken words and text(and elements and words); as an adherent of the way of Sesame Street, I well understood how the word “cookie” was assembled. Om nom nom!

Cookie break:

What I hadn’t assembled was the idea of written-words-as-narrative. Once I understood that words form stories, I was off like a shot. I loved books for the pictures; now I loved reading.

So yeah, I didn’t see the ‘point’ in a sense. I can understand how some autistic people cannot connect “make specific sound sequence” with “get slice of pie”. They might even have all the pieces of the puzzle and just fail to assemble them.

In 6th grade I was accused of cheating on spelling tests by the studious girls; I never got less than a 96%(24/25) on a spelling test(nor the years prior) despite getting in trouble for not paying attention. “Antelope”? I know what they look like, so how could I not know how to spell it?

By happen-stance in seventh grade(at a different school) I sat beside a book shelf containing senior high school syllabus material: I remember my discovery of “The Chrysalids” and how much better it was than our assigned material.

I borrowed a book on poetry from one of my teachers; “Invictus”, “the Unquiet Grave” and “Porphyria’s Lover” were wonderful, and “archy and mehitabel” introduced me to a new way of narrating a story. I learned of Haiku and other literary techniques.

I didnt take the book back. I couldnt take it back. I can turn my head and look at it today.

I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to read advanced literature till that point. We lived on a farm, then on an acreage outside of town. Small town schools.

Mum signed us up for some sort of inter-library loans, so after that I could read what I wanted. Yearly they would mail a list of books with a few paragraphs on each, or you could ask for something “A book about…” For instance, mum made sure to order a few books about male and female puberty.

And she bought a set of Encyclopaedias. It was an astronomical cost in 1981… about 750 dollars. Apparently she agonized over potentially wasting the money. It wasn’t; I cherished them. I cherish her.

I think it is important that kids be shown things outside the experiences of their daily lives. They should communicate with more than the mundane lives around them. Show them early; show them often; stuff their brains.

To wit, and to steal:

Kids used to be fed intellectual junk food. I mean, they still are, but they used to, too.
“Coookie!” Om nom nom!

it seems to me that one needs the notion of object permanence in order to think that something has disappeared. Before that the coming and going of objects and entities is just the way it is.

If I am saying that, I don’t know it.

Six simple words …and such a nice feeling.
Thank you for providing today’s feel-good warm-and-fuzzy moment.

Dolphins, elephants and the great apes.

“Child” is a meaningless term hear without reference to the age of the child.