Is Religious Exposure Affecting Child’s Perception of Reality and Fiction?

Do you raise your child in a religious world?

According to a study led by researchers from the Boston University, religious exposure makes it more difficult for children to understand the difference between fact and fiction.

As researchers explain, early exposure to religion affects child’s ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality.

More About The Research

The research was conducted on children at the age of 5 and 6. They listened to 3 types of stories, realistic, fantastical, and religious.

Next, researchers divided Christian religious children into 3 groups – churchgoing children who attended public, or parochial school, and non-churchgoers who attended parochial school.

There was one more group consisted of non-churchgoers attending public school with no religious exposure in school or church.

Researchers wanted to find out if the child’s ability to identify whether the protagonist of the story is real or fictional is affected by their exposure to religion.

The results showed that differentiating between fact and fiction was more difficult for those attending church services or parochial school, than for children raised in a non-religious household.

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.

All children found the main characters from the realistic stories are real. However, when it comes to religious stories, religious and secular children were split.

Those with a religious exposure saw the figures in religious narratives as real, while those with a non-religious upbringing view them as fictional. What’s more, their interpretation of fantasy stories was also different.

Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional, wrote the researchers.

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.

Some believe the religious exposure helps children explain the magical elements of fantasy narratives.

By relating seemingly impossible religious events achieved through divine intervention (eg, Jesus transforming water into wine) to fictional narratives, religious children would more heavily rely on religion to justify their false categorisations, says Shadee Ashtari for the Huffington Post.

Hemant Mehta, an atheist blogger, says the blurring of fantasy and reality is not always a good thing, even for children.

Religion blurs the lines between fact and fiction. You only hope kids exposed to it figure it out soon enough, he states in Patheos.

Hemant says the research can be seen as “an evidence for those who believe religious indoctrination is a form of mental child abuse.”

Still, not everyone view this research as critical of a religious rearing.

This study proves a benefit of religion, not a detriment, because research shows how imaginative and fictional thinking, fantasy play, aid in the cognitive development of children, says Eliyahu Federman for USA Today. Raising children with fantastical religious tales is not bad after all.

So, Eliyahu believes religion can hardly be seen as an obstacle for developmental growth, even though it can sometimes cause problems in the world of science.

Those claiming that belief in religious stories harms children should be interpreting research and science correctly, he says.

Not only is there benefit in allowing children to think imaginatively without forcing them into the mindset of perceived reality, but according to at least one study, raising children with religion also increases self-esteem, lowers anxiety, risk of suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, and dangerous sexual behaviour.

On the other hand, others believe the research implications shouldn’t be taken so seriously.

Are we really going to say that kids who are taught to believe the Bible is true are somehow developmentally delayed because they’re more likely, at age 5 or 6, to believe fantastical things? writes Jenny Erikson for the Stir.

Flip side to this equation could be that secular kids are taught to lose their sense of wonder and imagination at an earlier age than their Bible-believing friends.

Helen De Cruz, from Prosblogion, says the research actually shows the children with religious exposure know their Bible stories.

The Bible characters are presented to them as historical, so of course they would be more likely to judge them as historical than children who didn’t hear about these characters, she writes.

De Cruz believes this topic needs more research before anyone can draw a conclusion. For example, if some children are exposed to scientific study from the earliest age, would they believe pseudoscientific claims? Also, would Christian children believe miracle stories more than those from other religions?

Still, one thing is certain – we are not born believers. Depending on the religious exposure, we can be shaped into believers or non-believers.

Source BBC

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