The Surprising Psychology Behind Santa Claus – Why Children Really Believe in Santa Claus

We promise to our children that he will sneak in under cover of darkness on a certain date. His judgment will be given here. It is traditional to decorate and build a fake tree in one’s house (a dead one will work just as well) and leave high-fat cookies and milk rich in nutrients to prepare. The polar caribou that accompanied him would help him repeat the act many billions of times.

Why would children accept something so absurd as true? Can it tell us something about how children learn to distinguish between the real and the unreal?

Children are wise

Children are more susceptible to the fantastic. While this is not entirely unfair, it’s important to note that children exhibit a variety of skeptical and judicious behaviors. It isn’t easy to get them to accept the unbelievable without a lot of effort.

In one study known as the “Princess Alice” study, researchers told children that the invisible and imagined Princess Alice was “present” and sat in a chair nearby. Then, the children were given the chance to cheat for a reward. Some children were drawn to the empty chair, but fewer waved their arms in Alice’s direction. There was very little statistical evidence that this method influenced children at all.

The “Candy Witch,” on the other hand, is a study. Two adults visited the school twice and told the children about her. They also showed them pictures. The Candy Witch promised to exchange some of the Halloween candy they brought for a new toy if only they would refrain from eating them (not an easy task for children). Parents had to call the Candy Witch ahead of time. Many children, even up to a year after the event, still believed in Candy Witch.

The main difference between the two studies is how much effort (many adults) put in to convince the children. Children are sensitive to effort, and for good reason.

Words are not enough. Actions are more powerful than words.

Childhood is an evolved stage of life in which the sexual maturation process is deferred in favor of brain development and social learning. In the past, it was only possible to learn something about which you had not directly experienced by relying on testimonials. Children are able to distinguish between history and fantasy. They can also evaluate the strength and credibility of evidence. And they prefer claims that have a scientific frame. In many cultures, children are less likely to seek supernatural explanations. Children are taught how to make bizarre claims.

Who was the first to insist on the tree? You or your children? Shutterstock

According to theory, rituals can be an especially powerful form of testimony. Joe Henrich’s theory of credible enhancing displays states that to avoid exploitation by learners (such children), they should pay attention and try to judge the level of belief of the model (such adults) based on the cost of their actions if the beliefs were not sincerely held. Simply put, actions are more powerful than words.

Santa Claus is a great example of how adults willingly participate in a long-lasting, expensive cultural ritual. Santa Claus must be real. Otherwise, why would my parents behave this way? It is important to tell your children that Santa will be bringing the tree, Christmas lists, cookies, and milk.

It isn’t easy to generate belief.

We take Christmas for granted because it’s a part of our culture. We don’t consider Santa a mature subject because we treat him as a childish lie. Both Christmas and Santa can teach us a lot about ourselves and our understanding of reality.

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny all have a unique character. Other supernatural figures (except religious figures) do not require children to participate in cultural and social rituals. Children aren’t so much confused as to what is real. They pay attention to the many cues that adults give.

When it comes to Santa Claus we not only claim to be him, but also engage in numerous actions that would seem to be too expensive to undertake if we were liars. According to my own preliminary research, the figures associated with rituals have been endorsed by the public as being real. They are even more real than other figures, such as aliens or dinosaurs.

Children notice our actions, such as singing carols or putting up dead trees in our homes. They also pay attention to the milk and cookies we leave out. The result is that children believe that parents wouldn’t put out milk and cookies if they did not believe. So Santa must be real.

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