Results from a study published in the latest issue of Cognitive Science suggest that 5- and 6-year-old kids from religious backgrounds judge fact from fiction differently than those with non-religious upbringings.
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Unsurprisingly, when children were presented stories that depicted "ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention," kids who either went to church or were enrolled in parochial school (or both) judged the protagonists to be real people, whereas secular children judged them to be fictional. (The tendency for Children who used God as an explanation for events to show higher levels of belief in the factuality of those events has been demonstrated in a previous study, and may actually strengthen with age.)
But according to BU Psychologist Kathleen Corriveau, first author of the study, the same was shown to be true of non-religious stories of a fantastical vein:
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.
Previous studies had indicated that God's involvement in a story could influence children's belief in the reality of the characters in that story – but believing in the fantastical characters of a story without God? That's a whole different kettle of mysticism. One wonders how children from different religious backgrounds might judge the characters of a story in which fantastical forces are used to fight against God. Head asplode?