Children think covering their eyes makes them invisible

26. July 2014

Young children nearly universally seem to think that closing or covering their eyes makes them invisible to others. Cambridge researchers are finding out why.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have turned their attentions to this mystery by performing a variety of simple tests on groups of 3 and 4-year-old children. The researchers first placed the children in eye masks and asked them whether they could be seen by the researchers, as well as whether the researchers could see other adults if those adults were wearing eye masks. Nearly all the children felt that they were obscured from view as long as their eyes were masked, and most of them also thought the eye masks shielded the adults from view as well.

So when kids’ eyes are covered up, they feel invisible. But there’s a twist here. When pressed on exactly what their invisibility meant, the children in both of the aforementioned phases of the study admitted that, okay, their bodies were still visible when their eyes were covered. It was their “self” that was hidden, or at least that is the implication; children seem to draw a distinction between body and “self” and the self seems to be universally described as living in the eyes in some sense--unless the eyes of two people meet, they cannot actually perceive each other.