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Does God Make It Real? Children’s Belief in Religious Stories From the Judeo-Christian Tradition


  • This research was supported in part by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant HD-30300 to Jacqueline Woolley, and by a grant from the Deborah Beth Lobliner Graduate Fellowship to Victoria Cox Vaden. We are grateful to Rebecca Bigler, Catharine Echols, and Ansley Tullos Gilpin for insightful and constructive comments on the original manuscript. We thank the children and adults who participated and the staff at the Children’s Research Lab, as well as the following people who helped with data collection: Michael Aguhar, Amanda Amescua, Lacy Cervenka, Rebecca Feng, Janette Flores, Dorna Hoseiny, Matt Maa, Claudia Mejia, Oshma Raj, Rachel Riskind, Christine Setty, Elizabeth Shults, Betsy Sohmer, Courtney Stollon, Hayley Stulmaker, and Van Winn. Preliminary results were presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Boston, MA, in March 2007. Final results were presented at the biennial meeting of the Cognitive Development Society, San Antonio, TX, in October 2009.

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


Four- to 6-year-old children (= 131) heard religious or nonreligious stories and were questioned about their belief in the reality of the story characters and events. Children had low to moderate levels of belief in the characters and events. Children in the religious story condition had higher levels of belief in the reality of the characters and events than did children in the nonreligious condition; this relation strengthened with age. Children who used God as an explanation for the events showed higher levels of belief in the factuality of those events. Story familiarity and family religiosity also affected children’s responses. The authors conclude that God’s involvement in a story influences children’s belief in the reality of the characters and events in that story.