A couple studies were done recently to check how believable 5 and 6 year olds find stories that stretch the imagination.
In two studies, 5- and 6-year-old children were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion.
The abstract briefly touches on the reasons for that. Kids without exposure to religion treated the religious stories as fictional tales about fictional people. Children from church-going families/religiously educated believed them all to be true.
Upbringing also played a role in the studies in terms of fantasy and magic and how easily each group of kids would buy into them.
Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.
Ideally I’d be reading the studies rather than reporting on an abstract but some of this feels like “duh!” research. Then again, anecdotes aren’t science whereas now there is data to support any claims that religious upbringing can impede a person’s ability to tell fact from fiction.
I may have told this story previously but back in my university days I was friends with a woman who was from a very religious family. My secular lifestyle bothered her enough to try the witnessing business and offers to attend church and the like and, to be social, I did do some of that. It was a different time, before I ever heard the term Freethinkers let alone thought of myself in terms of unabashedly atheist, though I was.
I was also a fan of Star Trek and enjoyed reading the books based on it, too. One day we were near a particular used book store I’d been frequenting and she waited around in there while I browsed the shelves a bit and picked a couple things to buy. When we got outside my friend stopped me on the sidewalk and pretty much begged for me never to set foot in there again because she felt the devil in there. Read the rest of this entry »