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Revisiting the Fantasy–Reality Distinction: Children as Naïve Skeptics


  • We thank Chelsea Cornelius, Rami, Elali, Paul Harris, Gabriel Lopez-Mobilia, Marjorie Taylor, and members of the Imagination and Cognition Lab for insightful and constructive comments on the manuscript. The writing of this article was supported in part by NICHD Grant R01-HD030300 to Jacqueline D. Woolley.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jacqueline Woolley, Department of Psychology, 1 University Station, A8000, The University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712. Electronic mail may be sent to


Far from being the uncritical believers young children have been portrayed as, children often exhibit skepticism toward the reality status of novel entities and events. This article reviews research on children's reality status judgments, testimony use, understanding of possibility, and religious cognition. When viewed from this new perspective it becomes apparent that when assessing reality status, children are as likely to doubt as they are to believe. It is suggested that immature metacognitive abilities are at the root of children's skepticism, specifically that an insufficient ability to evaluate the scope and relevance of one's knowledge leads to an overreliance on it in evaluating reality status. With development comes increasing ability to utilize a wider range of sources to inform reality status judgments.