What age do children understand magic as something that experience tells us can't be real, yet still appears to happen?

This morning I made my 11 month old daughter's stuffed giraffe disappear and I swear she was truly surprised and couldn't work out where it had gone. Is she old enough to be amazed by magic, or are we projecting ourselves onto her?

2 Answers 2


Your question sounds related to object permanence -- the understanding that an object should still be there even when it's out of sight. There's been research and studies into those ages in which babies start showing an understanding of object permanence. According to wikipedia, by the age of 8 to 12 months, babies will start showing the earliest understanding of object permanence.



I agree that your child probably appeared astonished because she was starting to exhibit object permanence:

The ability to create and hold a mental schema of an object is one of the milestones in cognitive development. Developmental scientists have named the behavioral manifestation of this competence object permanence.

The great child psychologist Piaget maintained that object permanence develops around 8 months of age, but he named that process of cognitive development the sensorimotor stage:

Piaget hid a toy under a blanket, while the child was watching, and observed whether or not the child searched for the hidden toy. Searching for the hidden toy was evidence of object permanence. Piaget assumed that the child could only search for a hidden toy if s/he had a mental representation of it.

Once we develop object permanence, we never lose it. That is precisely why magic works: it goes against what we've learned as a fact through experience. Babies are as astonished as we are as adults; it's just a lot easier to trick them.

Frontal Lobe Activation during Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy
Object permanence in five-month-old infants
Sensorimotor Stage

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