Study Shows Children Raised With Religion Find It Challenging To Judge Fact From Fiction

By Rachel Zarrell | 28 July 2014

It’s difficult for young children to differentiate between fact and fiction after they have been exposed to religion, a new study in this month’s issue of Cognitive Science says.

Researchers presented 66 5- and 6-year-old children from public and religious schools three types of stories — religious, fantastical, and realistic — to determine if they could identify fictional elements in the narratives.

The authors found that when presented with stories that included “ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention,” children who had been exposed to religion were less able to differentiate the made-up elements, like talking animals, as 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,” the study concluded.

According to the Huffington Post:

By relating seemingly impossible religious events achieved through divine intervention (e.g., Jesus transforming water into wine) to fictional narratives, religious children would more heavily rely on religion to justify their false categorizations.

The researchers suggest that religious teaching and exposure to miracle-based stories give children a more common acceptance of the impossible, despite what’s actually realistic.

About 83% of Americans are affiliated with a religion, and 86% said they believe in God, according to recent Gallup data. Additionally, 28% of Americans believe the Bible is God’s words verbatim and should be interpreted literally.

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  1. 86% believe in something for which there is absolutely no evidence. It makes sense they will be more likely to believe in other things that have no logic or evidence supporting them.

    • Probably, but not necessarily. This study and the ability to my generalizations from it aren’t as compact as it might appear.

      • Yes and ‘probably’ means usually whereas you are referring to the few exceptions of a proven general rule who might not be affected…

      • Atheists don’t believe in nothing. Atheism is simply ‘the lack of belief in god or gods’. All other beliefs are dependent on the person.

      • Rich,
        why is it so hard to understand the meaning of the word atheism ? There are numerous online dictionaries to tell you that it is simply the absence of belief in a deity.

        Are theists so threatened by the meanining of words ?

        My fellow atheists say the same thing that i do, give us evidence for a deity and we will believe. However n the absence of a theistic epistemology that COULD posit the existence of a deity, by definition there CANNOT be evidence for a god.

        Why on earth would i believe in something for which it is impossible to have evidence ?

      • Rich, that is a bizarre thing to say. Atheism isn't a believe in nothing, it is simply not believing myths. Rich, you are an atheist with respect to Allah, Thor, Neptune, Kali, and the thousands of other gods manufactured by people's fertile imaginations.

        What is delusional about what Richard Dawkins says? It is embarrassing that religious people believe the absurdity that a primitive man could build a boat to house two of every species on the planet, or that Jesus could walk on water, or that each of the mutually contradictory tales of Jesus' crucifixion are all true, yet can't understand the simple, obvious process of evolution.

    • Saying there's "absolutely no evidence" for believing in a deity is quite false. If there were no evidence, there wouldn't be a question of it. There's more evidence that Noah's Ark existed than there is for the lack of a deity..

  2. The problems I have with this is the tiny study group ( also where is your control group) and age ( only 5-6 year olds) again, very much limiting the scope of the study. Not a great or scientific study. however the fact that only 28% of americans take the bible litteraly is a positive sign in my book

    • 28% believes VERBATIM. That does not include the believers thinking that a dead man woke up after 3 days and disappeared into the clouds.
      Yes, the sample group should have been bigger, but just for one reason: to be able to say “a large group of 5 to 6-year Olds…” The result would have been the same across any amount of children across any religion as they all depend on myth.

  3. And admittedly tiny sample population (but don’t all studies start small?) But the elegantly simple hypothesis will likely bear-up under larger tests. Religionist parents’ desires to raise credulous children lays the foundation for unintended consequences.

  4. Well, when you are raised to believe that snakes can talk, and that women were made out of a rib, etc, etc, etc….what do you expect to happen?

  5. in other news, most 5 to 6-year-olds still believe a fat man slides down their chimney and delivers presents at Christmas time. Most even believe in the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy. I would say this study is highly suspect given that most young children will believe anything they’re told by an adult. I would also say that most children who grew up playing violent video games somehow believe that there may be a reset on life. Watching movies about transformers and other sci-fi movies me convince children that there really are living robots around. Since there are a whole lot of adults that still believe in the Bible and miracles and these children still have a long way to go to grow up, I don’t think there’s any issues with them believing in fantasy whether religious or not.

    • No, actually even 5 year old kids can distinguish movies and video games from reality.
      growing up watching movies and playing video games – as everyone around me,
      everyone knew the difference between real life and fiction. no one thought they can reset their life.
      no one believed movies are real. no one ever suggests they are. kids understand a lot more than people think. they aren't so stupid.

    • Right, but the point is that children without religion who believe in these things are also still better at distinguishing fact from fantasy.

    • These children are not encouraged to believe in Santa et al after they have reached a certain age, but are forced to continue to believe in religion as a truth when they are entering adulthood.
      Fantasy and imagination are important for growing up, but religious fantasies don't know when to stop and therefore is a detriment.

    • These children are not encouraged to believe in Santa et al after they have reached a certain age, but are forced to continue to believe in religion as a truth when they are entering adulthood.
      Fantasy and imagination are important for growing up, but religious fantasies don't know when to stop and therefore is a detriment.

  6. I don't see an issue with children of this age believing in fantasy. I think it strengthen their imagination and will improve their creativity as an adults. I think it is wonderful and I'm an atheist.

    • James, not necessarily morons, but yes, deluded. You can still be an intelligent person, but deluded by religion, sadly.

  7. nonsense ……what happened to all those kids which were exposed in religion studies in the past years?
    Those adults today – are they crazy?

  8. Water is wet.
    Religion is harmful to one’s mental status. It is another form of schizophrenia. IMHO all religious nutjobs must be thrown into the looney bin. Seriously. They’re so crazy xD

    • That's why my Church explains to the kids that these are stories made up by people in pre-scientific eras to explain what was to them unexplainable. They are allegories. We tell and retell them now for entertainment. Science tells us facts. Religion can (and usually will) feel us fairy tales.

      • Siegrun, in other words, your religion cherry-picks their Bible. Don't get me wrong, I applaud the fact that they do. The Bible is a horrifically immoral book and if children are to be raised not to be religious monsters then the Bible MUST be cherry-picked for the good things therein. But it would be even better if they abandoned that awful promoter of slavery and misogyny and religious murder, and chose a humanist direction.

  9. Religion was intended to be a "Vision Statement", not "blind obedience" that mimics mental illness and can be the source of illusion, delusion, hate, and violence. Leaders, Dictators have always used illusion, delusion to take advantage of the "masses" Casinos and Sweepstakes are always in favor of the house. Who benefited from Trump University? Trump University was an illusion.

    • George, actually religion was always intended to be about blind obedience. There are plenty of passages in their texts to prove that. I'm glad many religious people are abandoning that for a more vague "vision statement" letting them express more secular morals. That is a good thing and should be encouraged.

  10. Not a huge surprise. When you are asked to believe that a man was swallowed by a whale, lived in the whale's stomach then survived, or that Ezekiel saw a flying, flaming chariot in the sky, or that Moses was given stone tablets by a burning bush or that all of the dead raised and walked in Jerusalem after Jesus died, then you too might have a little problem telling the difference between real science and David 'Avocado' Wolfe……

  11. If you talked men from stone age about computer, internet, mobile phones….. They would not understand and they simply say.. all these things are impossible. At that time..nobody has evidence as well.. but today we know it is true.


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