Young Kids May Know Fact From Fiction
Preschoolers Develop the Ability to Tell What's Pretend and What's Real
Nov. 16, 2006 -- Young children might be savvier than you think about
telling truth from fiction.
Kids typically learn to tell what's real and what's pretend when they're 3-5
years old, new research shows.
Those findings come from researchers including Jacqueline Woolley, PhD, an
associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
Woolley and colleagues studied nearly 400 kids aged 3-6. The findings appear
in Child Development.
"These studies provide new insight into the development of children's
ability to make the fantasy-reality distinction," Woolley says in a news
"It is clear from the present studies that young children do not believe
everything they hear," she says.
First, the researchers read each child a story that was either imaginary or
Imaginative stories included a tale about a princess and a dragon. Factual
stories included information about dinosaurs.
Next, the researchers read the children a series of words.
Some words, such as "cat," described real things. Others, such as
"dragon," described fantastical things. A third set of words, such as
"surnit," were gibberish made up by the researchers.
The researchers asked the kids if the words described real or pretend
As you might expect, the youngest kids were the most likely to think all the
words were real, while the oldest kids were the savviest about telling truth
But the study wasn't quite that simple.
Children who heard a factual story before the word test tended to say all of
the words in the word test were about real objects.
Those who heard a fantasy story before the word test tended to be more
skeptical about the words in the word test.
The difference may be all about context, the researchers note.
After hearing a factual story, the kids may have expected more facts, not a
mix of facts and fantasy, in the word test.
But after hearing imaginative stories, the kids may have figured that the
words in the word test were also from the land of imagination.
Some kids weighed the words carefully.
For instance, a 5-year-old responded, "I don't know. I've never seen
one. This is a hard one," when asked about a made-up word.
Another child said, "If a scientist is real then a surnit must be
real," after hearing "surnit" after "scientist" in the word
The bottom line: Young kids may not be as gullible as grown-ups think.