The Bible is full of fantastical stories, including Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark and Jonah and the Whale, among many, many others. We also know that there are many people in the world who believe the stories are real. Which brings us to the fact that scientists have found that children who grow up in religious homes don’t always know that Cinderella and the Prince aren’t real people.
The scientists conducted two studies, both of which were published in Cognitive Science. Five and six year old children were read three different types of stories. The first stories were realistic and all of the children thought the protagonists were real.
When the children were read religious stories, not surprisingly, the religious children felt the stories were real and the children who grew up without religion did not. However, in fantastical stories that were not religious in nature, the religious children still thought the protagonists were real and the non-religious children knew they were fictional.
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 may explain why so many religious people grow up to believe that Barack Obama is the anti-christ, a fictional character, or why they turn extremely flawed human beings, like Ronald Reagan, into deities.