Young children across the globe enjoy playing games of hide and seek. There’s something highly exciting for children about escaping someone else’s glance and making oneself “invisible.”
However, developmental psychologists and parents alike continue to witness that before school age, children are remarkably bad at hiding. Curiously, they often cover only their face or eyes with their hands, leaving the rest of their bodies visibly exposed.
For a long time, this ineffective hiding strategy was interpreted as evidence that young children are hopelessly “egocentric” creatures. Psychologists theorized that preschool children cannot distinguish their own perspective from someone else’s. Conventional wisdom held that, unable to transcend their own viewpoint, children falsely assume that others see the world the same way they themselves do. So psychologists assumed children “hide” by covering their eyes because they conflate their own lack of vision with that of those around them.
But research in cognitive developmental psychology is starting to cast doubt on this notion of childhood egocentrism. We brought young children between the ages of two and four into our Minds in Development Lab at USC so we could investigate this assumption. Our surprising results contradict the idea that children’s poor hiding skills reflect their allegedly egocentric nature.