Study examines motives behind Santa myth

Having kids believe there's a jolly man in a red suit who visits on Christmas Eve isn't detrimental, although some parents can feel they're outright lying to their children, according to a new analysis by Serge Larivée.

"When they learn the truth, children accept the rules of the game and even go along with their parents in having younger children believe in Santa," says Larivée, a psycho-education professor at the Université de Montréal. "It becomes a rite of passage in that they know they are no longer babies."

Larivée, along with colleague Carole Sénéchal from the Univerity of Ottawa, examined a study from 1896 involving 1,500 children aged 7 to 13, which was repeated in 1979. More than 46 percent of children in 1896 and 44 percent in 1979 gradually found out on their own that Santa didn't exist.

The studies also analyzed the reaction of the children once they discovered the jolly old elf wasn't real. More than 22 percent in the 1896 study admitted to being disappointed compared with 39 percent in the 1979 study. But only 2 percent and 6 percent, respectively, felt betrayed.

"The constant outcome of the two studies was that children generally discovered through their own observations and experiences that Santa doesn't exist," Larivée noted. "And their parents confirmed their discovery.

"Children ask their parents, for example, how Santa gets in the house if there's no chimney," he says. "And even if the parents say they leave the door unlocked, the child will figure out that Santa can't be everywhere at the same time and that reindeer can't be that fast."

Close to 25 percent of children in the 1896 study learned the truth about Santa from their parents, compared with 40 per cent in 1979. Those who didn't find out from their parents learned the truth from other children.

Larivée says belief in Santa diminishes as children approach the age of reason. "But cognitive maturity and level of thought that would allow a 7-year-old to differentiate between the imaginary and reality are insufficient to let go of the myth," he adds, pointing out that half of children of that age in a 1980 study still believed.

In 1896, 54 percent of parents said they perpetuated the myth of Santa since it made their children happy; compared with 73 percent in 1979 and 80 percent in 2000.

Larivée and Sénéchal now want to explore a deeper question: If children attribute the same supernatural powers to Santa as they do to God, why do they stop believing in Santa, but continue their belief in God?

Source: University of Montreal


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Dec 08, 2008
And the scientific value of this study? Or maybe these guys were just overdue to research and publish something....anything? I used to consider this type of stuff to be "soft science" - now I feel unable to label it as even this!!

agg
Dec 08, 2008
Whaaat?

Dec 08, 2008
At least there was nothing assigned to global warming causing belief.

Dec 08, 2008
"Larivée and Sénéchal now want to explore a deeper question: If children attribute the same supernatural powers to Santa as they do to God, why do they stop believing in Santa, but continue their belief in God?"

This clearly has something to do with the fact that many people never really mature enough to stop relying on that myth.

Dec 09, 2008
"If children attribute the same supernatural powers to Santa as they do to God, why do they stop believing in Santa, but continue their belief in God?"

Because their parents know that Santa isn't real so the "game" can be played on that level... but their parents really, really actually really really do think their is an invisible entity... anytime the child dare challenge that they are in for a serious battle... because not only are they battling their parents, but their parents parents (their parents hold memories of their own parents irrational beliefs)... it's a tough cycle to break.

Dec 09, 2008
tigger: Ok, in that case I really want to be a parent to all the believers. Mom always knows better.

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