A new study has highlighted yet another danger of immersion in religion. Children who are exposed to religion have difficulty differentiating between fact and fiction, according to an abstract published by Cognitive Science.
Five and six year old children in two studies were tested to see how they perceived the main characters in stories with no mystical elements and in stories that included supernatural elements. The children were questioned about the protagonist in three different types of stories.
Researchers took 66 children and asked them questions about stories, some of which were drawn from the Old Testament and other from fairy tales, in order to determine if the children believed them to be real or fictional.
The study, “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds,” was led by Kathleen Corriveau, a Boston University Assistant Professor with degrees from Harvard, Cambridge, and Brown. Corriveau has published nearly two dozen papers or studies on how children learn to trust facts.
“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.”
According to the study:
Children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school, or both, judged the protagonist in religious stories to be a real person, whereas secular children with no such exposure to religion judged the protagonist in religious stories to be fictional. Children’s upbringing was also related to their judgment about the protagonist in fantastical stories that included ordinarily impossible events whether brought about by magic (Study 1) or without reference to magic (Study 2). 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.
This study contradicts previous studies in which children were said to possess a “natural credulity toward extraordinary beings with superhuman powers. Indeed, secular children responded to religious stories in much the same way as they responded to fantastical stories — they judged the protagonist to be pretend.”
Researchers determined that “religious teaching, especially exposure to miracle stories, leads children to a more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is, a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary causal relations.”