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Hide And Seek Might Be Good for Kids’ Brains

By switching perspectives from hider to seeker, kids get experience in putting themselves in someone else's shoes - a skill that comes in handy for the rest of their lives

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Hide and seek is a classic kids’ game, and new research suggests that it could be a particularly a good one for encouraging kids’ development. The study didn’t actually look at kids, though. This is just the researchers’ hypothesis—that by switching perspectives from hider to seeker, kids get experience in putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, a skill that comes in handy for the rest of their lives.

What the researchers actually looked at was whether shifting perspectives could make people better at working together. They recruited a small group of adults and gave them an annoying task. They paired them off and assigned one person in the each pair to be the leader and the other a follower. Both had maps of the same city. The leader’s map was marked with a route. The followers was not. Leaders has to describe the route to followers, who had to duplicate it on their maps.

The pairs had to do this exercise a few times. Some switched off between being the leader and being the follower. Others kept the same positions each time. On the fourth time the researchers thew the pairs a curve ball. This time, the follower’s map had a discrepancy on it—an extra street that made following the leader’s path impossible. To finish, the leader and follower had to point out to the experimenter that they couldn’t do the task.

So what does this have to do with hide and seek? Well, the teams that switched back and forth wound up being much more likely to figure out the inconsistency in the fourth map. Of the 22 pairs who switched roles, more than half of them reported the mix-up to the experimenter. Of the 22 pairs that did not swap, not a single one reported the error. Switching perspectives made the people more perceptive. Perhaps hide and seek should become a new office retreat game for corporations, too.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek Uncovers an Intricate Visual History of Gay Relationships
Highlights from Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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