April V. Taylor
The Huffington Post is reporting on a new study published by Cognitive Science that concluded that young children who have been exposed to religion have a hard time determining whether or not stories presented to them are fact or fiction. The study, “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds,” looked at a group of children who were 5 and 6-years old. The children were divided into groups based on there exposure to religion with children who attended church or were enrolled in a parochial school in one group and those who were not in another group.
The children were presented with three different types of stories that were either religious, fantastical, or realistic. Children who had been exposed to religion either through school or church were significantly less likely to be able to determine that supernatural elements in stories, such as talking animals, were fictional events. The study concluded that children exposed to religion, “were less likely to judge characters in the fantastical stories as pretend, and in line with this equivocation, they made more appeals to reality and fewer appeals to impossibility than did secular children.”
These findings are significant for multiple reasons including the fact that so many children are exposed to religion in America. Gallup data from 2013-2014 shows that approximately 83 percent of Americans report having some sort of religious affiliation, with 86 percent reporting that they believe in God. Even more interesting is that 28 percent of those polled believe that the Bible should be taken literally as the actual word of God , and 47 percent believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.
The study is also significant not just because of the reach of religion in American culture but also because the findings refute earlier hypotheses that claim that children are “born believers.” Regarding this matter, researchers from this study suggest 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.”