Why Masked Costumes Lead to More Tricks and More Treats

Every year for about the past 10 years, my friends and I have pooled together some money to get a bunch of Halloween costumes for the tutoring kids. (The kids can't just wear some of Mom's makeup or cut up a sheet for a ghost costume. Mom can't afford makeup, and they only have a couple sheets for the entire family.)

Several years ago, it had been a rough year for all of us tutors financially. At the same time, there were about 50 kids on our list for costumes and candy. So I decided to economize: instead of full-body costumes, I opted for hats, masks, and capes. It was close, but we could take care of everyone. I was as thrilled as the kids when we distributed everything.

Then the Monday after Halloween, I was crushed to find out that our efforts were largely for naught. The local school didn't allow anyone to wear costume masks because of security concerns, so that they could always identify the kids on campus.

Now, in light of a famous experiment by a team lead by Arthur Beamer, I think the school may have had a wiser policy than it realized.

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One Halloween night, Beamer's team set up shop in one of the researchers' houses. Trick-or-treating children who came to the door were instructed to help themselves to the candy—but they were only allowed to take one piece.

Many kids took two pieces or more, even handfuls. Beamer's team noticed a pattern. Kids who wore costumes that didn't hide their true identity, such as costumes that didn't use masks or other head covers, tended to take just one piece of candy. Kids whose costumes truly disguised their identity were grabbing extra. The costumes freed the children from the rules that normal kids have to play by.

So for some kids the researchers asked the children to tell them their names or addresses. This worked miracles—those kids then only took a single piece.

Then the researchers tried a subtler trick: they placed a large mirror behind the bowl of candy. The kids only took one piece. Even kids wearing full-costumes.

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It wasn't until the kids identified themselves or literally saw themselves in the mirror that they had an awareness that the kid underneath the costume was still the same kid. And the rules applied once more.

Why Masked Costumes Lead to More Tricks and More Treats | News