Scientists Figure Out When Children Stop Believing In Santa

Eventually, children come to accept this isn't possible. One scientist is studying when and how this happens. Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock

A survey is underway of people's memories of when and how they stopped believing in Santa Claus. Although the final results won't be published until 2019, the psychologist responsible has taken advantage of the Christmas season to release preliminary data in the hope publicity will boost participation.

Dr Chris Boyle of the University of Exeter is asking people worldwide questions about their relationship to the Christmas gift-giver. So far, 1,200 have responded. "During the last two years I have been overwhelmed by people getting in touch to say they were affected by the lack of trust involved when they discovered Santa wasn't real,” Boyle said in a statement.

Indeed, 30 percent said their trust in adults was affected by the discovery, arguably a good lesson to learn. Fifteen percent of those who took part in the survey described feeling betrayed by their parents on learning of the lie, and 10 percent said they became angry.

Despite these experiences, 72 percent of parents said they were happy to tell their children Santa was real and 31 percent had even lied when their offspring expressed doubts.

The fact that most children in historically Christian countries believe in Santa at one time and eventually stop doing so proves we can change our minds in the face of evidence, something people increasingly question. With the science of why people choose to believe evidence or myth gaining increasing prominence, investigating this widespread experience isn't just for fun.

On average, Boyle's respondents said they were eight when they discovered Father Christmas was a myth. “It has been fascinating to hear why they started to believe he is fictional. The main cause is either the accidental or deliberate actions of parents, but some children started to piece together the truth themselves as they became older,” Boyle said

Stories of how people worked out Santa's non-existence range from being woken in the night by a clumsy father to seeing hidden presents that were subsequently reported as coming from the North Pole. Most impressively, one started calculating the logistics of delivering so many presents in a single night and decided the whole thing defied the laws of physics.

If all this is raising your opinion of children, consider that 65 percent of participants admitted they pretended to believe after they had realized the truth so as not to endanger the supply of presents.

Like any opt-in survey, Boyle's sample is far from random. While he describes it as worldwide, most participants so far have come from the United Kingdom. This has provided a large enough sample to reveal Scottish children go on believing for half a year longer than their English counterparts. Those who wish to take part, however, can do so here

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