International ‘Santa Survey’ shows when children stop believing

It’s that time of year when children look forward to a stocking full of presents - but the first international academic “Santa survey” shows many adults also wish they still believed in Father Christmas and some had felt betrayed when they discovered the truth.


A large, ongoing international study from the University of Exeter, dubbed the ‘Santa survey’ is investigating how, and at what age, children begin to change their minds about the existence of Santa Claus. The research also examines whether a child’s trust in adults is threatened by the discovery that Santa isn’t real.

The survey has collected in excess of 1,200 responses and psychologist Chris Boyle is keen to get more information before officially distributing the outcomes one year from now. The examination looks at how beliefs around Santa Claus differ over the world, yet there is a specific spotlight on understanding what sort of effect it has on kids when they take in this jolly gift-giving symbol does not exist.

The outcomes suggest that the average age children stop believing in Santa Claus is eight. However, the result follows on from earlier research that found that somewhere in the range of eight and nine was the normal age most adults tend to remember stopping believing in Santa.

When researchers directly interview children they tend to discover belief in Santa drops off at a much younger age. They found when talking to children directly, belief peaks at around five years of age and tapers off significantly by the age of eight or nine.

Adults often prefer to think children believe in the existence of Santa Claus much longer than the kids actually do. This conclusion does sync up with a finding from the new Exeter Santa Survey suggesting 65 percent of respondents, played along with the Santa myth, as children, even though they knew it wasn’t true.

Psychologist Chris Boyle said, “More interesting than what age the disbelief arose were the findings on the why and how children started to question their reality. It has been fascinating to hear why they started to believe he is fictional. The main cause is either the accidental or deliberate actions of parents, but some children started to piece together the truth themselves as they became older.”

Of course, not everyone Scrooged on the mystery of Santa Claus, in fact, the survey found over 70 percent of respondents are happy to continue the ruse with their children.

Richard Dawkins noted, “The inevitability of a child learning Santa doesn’t exist can result in an important early lesson in skepticism.”

“Santa Claus again could be a very valuable lesson because the child will learn that there are some things you are told that is not true.”

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