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Mar 29 2011

Children and the Supernatural

I read this really fascinating article about children and the ages at which they are prone to believing in the supernatural.  So often we think of faith as childlike, and no matter what religion or superstitions you hold to, those of other people always seems silly and naive.  Something a 4 year old might believe in, but not an adult.

Now, I know one study doesn't prove anything, but there are some interesting conclusions.  The younger a child is, the less likely they are to believe that a supernatural being is trying to communicate with them.  And, without being primed with information, children aren't very likely to believe something supernatural is causing events.  Very young children are the most skeptical of all!

The researchers gave the children a game to play and during it knocked pictures off the wall and made the lights flicker — the control group wasn't told anything about it and the experimental group were told there was a friendly ghost in the room ahead of time.  The control group didn't make anything of the supposed signs, but the way the children reacted was sharply different between age groups.

The eldest children (7-9) got the idea that the spirit was doing those things to signal them and responded accordingly.  The middle group (5-6) thought that it was the spirit, but didn't or couldn't make anything of the intention behind the behavior, she was "like a mischievous poltergeist with attention deficit disorder: she did things because she wanted to, and that’s that."

But the youngest children (3-4) simply thought that the picture wasn't stuck to the wall very well or the light was broken.

So, it seems that believing in magical beings who can communicate with you through the real world is an acquired cognitive skill or requires some development that doesn't happen until you're a bit older.  

Skeptical Baby is Skeptical

skeptical baby is skeptical

1 comment

  1. 1
    DataJack

    I have heard similar claims before, and it makes sense. Believing in superstition requires a type of self deceit, and we humans don’t understand how to think in deceptive ways until we are older.

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