By Cassandra Willyard for The New York Times
Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, one of the founding fathers of developmental psychology, spent hours each day observing his children as they grew. He recorded his observations in a raft of notebooks. Lore has it that his wife even carried a notebook on her necklace to jot down observations that Piaget himself missed.
One day, in 1925, his 7-month-old daughter, Jacqueline, was playing with a plastic duck in her crib. She tried to grasp it, but the duck slid down behind a fold in the sheet. Jacqueline saw the duck fall, “but as soon as the duck has disappeared — nothing more!” Piaget wrote. She seemed to forget the duck’s existence. Piaget picked up the duck and held it out and, just as Jacqueline was about to grasp it, he moved it “very obviously” under the sheet. But she still didn’t look for it.
This disappearing duck trick didn’t work forever. Piaget observed that babies do begin to hunt for and retrieve hidden toys starting at about 8 months. He saw this understanding that an object you can’t see still exists — what we now call “object permanence” — as a significant achievement (and perhaps why peek-a-boo loses its appeal).
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