Why Do Kids Love Blind Bag Toys? The Psychology of Surprise

Blind bag toys, surprise toys, mystery toys. Kids are seriously going bananas over these gifts. What are blind bags? Toys you're buying "blind," contained in packaging that makes what's inside inscrutable. Like baseball cards, you'll have an idea of what characters you might find inside, but you won't know which exactly which one until it's opened.

Lots of toys are baffling to us parents: little monkeys that wrap around your finger, block-shaped adventurers, slime. The appeal of blind bags might be just as elusive. We shared a gift list of blind bag toys in a previous article, but now we're wondering just why they are so popular. Why would you want a toy when you don't even know what you're getting?


Double the Wrapping, Double the Mystery?

With these toys you have to unwrap them twice. First kids tear through the gift packaging to find out what's inside. And then they have to open that "blind bag" to get to the real gift. Though it's baffling to most parents, it's not that hard to understand why kids love blind bags so much.

If you dial it back a few years to the unboxing videos that are super popular with toddlers, you might get a clue. I read about these videos when my daughter was three years old, and that very same day, when I picked her up from my mom's house, she had navigated YouTube on her own to a video of a woman unwrapping, then opening and slowly unpackaging a new toy, pulling out each component and describing (and exclaiming over) each one.

A favorite game for her at that age was called "the gift game"—she'd hand us a gift bag and close her eyes, and we'd choose something to put inside and top with some well-worn tissue paper. This was a game she could play over and over again, and it didn't matter what we put inside: a baby rattle, her favorite doll, a pair of her socks, a pencil.



Grown Ups and Gabor MatÉ

Some of the most popular blind bags require the child to do a lot of work to get to what's inside. Take the super popular LOL Surprise Dolls. The plastic ball containing the doll also has outer compartments. Each one is covered with plastic wrap printed with a zipper for the child to open. With each zipper pops out an item—a pair of doll shoes in one, next a sippy cup or another accessory. By the time the child gets to the middle of the package, they've already opened three or four other things.

LOL has the surprise game down. If she had the choice, my daughter would gladly fork over the entire contents of her piggy bank for one of these glittery plastic balls, rather than two of the dolls already opened and ready to play with.

Shop LOL Surprise Dolls here

So what if it's not about the toy inside, but about the opening of it—the anticipation, the expectation? Kids get bored with toys quickly, but they never get tired of opening gifts.

I once heard psychologist Gabor Maté talk about the ego. I'm paraphrasing, but what he said was, "The ego doesn't want things; it wants to want things." At our basest instincts, the appeal of desire is not the acquisition of something new—it's the desire itself and the journey we take to fulfill it.

And if kids demonstrate our basest instincts, with virtually no hesitation or discrimination—no filters—then this explains the appeal of the unboxing videos, the "gift game," and yes, the blind bag. We're not gifting our child with a tiny glittery doll or a squishy cartoon character.

It's not the gift, but the opening of it. The anticipation. The expectation.



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