Children Pretend Playing More Likely to Change Religions as Adults

Playing Children

According to a new study, children intensely engaged in playing make believe are more likely to change their religious views as adults. The study, which was published in the latest issue of The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, classified five groups of individuals through a survey that was handed out to 431 undergraduate students at the University of Waterloo, Canada.

The study found that on one hand, there are lifelong believers who have had the same religious identity since their childhood; while on the other there are lifelong nonbelievers who have identified as atheist, agnostic or nonreligious since their youngest years.

The three other groups constituted of switchers, converts and apostates. Switchers identified themselves with one religion during their childhood and changed to a different religion upon growing up.  Converts had no religious identity as children but grew up to adhere to at least one. And apostates were religious as children but turned to atheism or agnosticism during their adult years.

Chris Burris, head of the study and a professor of psychology, said that pretend play has the same effect on individuals as religion and spirituality do.

“It requires one to go beyond a ‘what you see is what you get’ way of relation to the world,” he said. 

Burris substantiated his claim with the findings of the study, which revealed that both lifelong religious and lifelong nonreligious individuals did not engage in pretend play during their childhood years. However, switchers, converts as well as apostates engaged intensively in pretend play as children and experienced significant changes in their religious views over the following years, the study found.

Even though the findings of the study do not mean that pretend play essentially causes shifts in religious identity, it could be one of the probable underlying factors that influences the same. 

Burris said. “Pretend play is a way of answering the question. ‘What would it be like if…?  People who used to play pretend seem to develop that skill set early on such that for whatever reason, they ask the question in their real life in a big way later on.”

Of the five groups, apostates were the ones that happened to intensively engage in pretend play as children. Burris explained that this is the case as the realm of nonbelievers is a lot less structured that the realm of believers. He concluded that every person’s cognitive, emotional and intellectual needs are not met adequately by any single faith tradition in the world.

Photo Credits: Smithsonian Mag

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