My proudest achievement of the last month has been teaching a six-month old person to blow raspberries. When I explained to Cecelia’s mother that she had imitated my own farty noises, blown in an attempt to entertain, she told me it was the first time her daughter had copied in this way.
She went on to mention that her older daughter had become fascinated with the game hide and seek at exactly the time as, but independently from, her best friend. They had never played it together but when they discovered their shared passion became unstoppable.
This reminded me of some famous experiments in developmental psychology which I garbled to my friend between gulps of hangover tea. I will try to explain them better here.
A child watches a furnished stage set on which Molly doll watches Milly doll hiding. Say Milly gets in the wardrobe. Molly then exits stage left. Milly is made to come out of the wardrobe and hide again, this time under the bed.
“Where does Molly go to find Milly?” the developmental psychologist asks the child observer.
Before a certain age – something like three to three and a half from memory – the child points under the bed, where she knows the Milly doll is. The conclusion is that the child has not yet learnt to see from another’s point of view, and to be able to reason that the last place Molly saw Milly go was actually into the wardrobe.
Something clicks beyond this age, and quite reliably all children begin to point at the wardrobe. They know that Molly is missing a crucial bit of information, and that her point of view is different from the truth.
This fundamental change in understanding the world is also crucial for hide and seek. If, at a young enough age, a child thinks that other agents, even ones not present, can see and know what she knows, then what would be the point in hiding?
I wondered whether my friend’s daughter and her small friend had gone through this change at the same time and so suddenly ‘got’ hide and seek, which once discovered is endlessly compelling. Part of me hopes this is the right explanation and all that pondering over psychological experiments has finally borne fruit. If not, then it was a lot of fun playing, despite my ultimate humiliation. It’s a lot harder to hide when you’re over five feet tall, after all.
Cecelia may have got the hang of blowing raspberries, but I am making a mental list of all the other funny noises I can teach her next time. I’m a hopeless whistler, though; she’ll have to figure that one out for herself.