Children exposed to religion 'more likely to believe in fairy tales'

Religion has a 'powerful' impact on a child's ability to separate reality from fiction, say researchers

A young girl reads a children's book
(Image credit: FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Children who have been exposed to religion find it more difficult to separate fact from fiction than children from secular backgrounds, according to a study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science.

The study found that while all children possess "sensitivity to the implausible or magical elements in a narrative", those who had little or no exposure to religion were likely to be far more sceptical that a narrative or a character was real, reports website RawStory.

The experiment was conducted on 66 children between the ages of five and six. They were read three different types of stories; one based on fact and "ordinary events", another including fairy tales, magic and fantasy and another based on religious teachings. They were then asked if they believed the characters in them were real or fictional.

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Both groups of children, irrespective of religious upbringing, judged that the characters in the "ordinary narrative" were real.

Children from secular backgrounds were able to tell when characters in narrative were imagined due to the use of "fantastical elements" such as "invisible sails" or "a sword that can protects you from danger every time". Likewise they judged characters from the Biblical extracts to be imaginary.

However the children from religious families were much less likely to think the characters in both the fairy tales and Biblical stories were made-up. Young children who have been exposed to religious teachings will view the "protagonist in such narratives as a real person – even if the narrative includes impossible events".

"The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction", said researchers.

The study's findings go against previous research which found that children were "born-believers" in fantasy and fiction.

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