THE STUDY APRIL 21, 2011
On Sunday morning, children all over the country will embark on an annual hunt for Easter eggs, hopefully full of sugary treats. The White House expects 30,000 attendees for its annual Easter Egg Roll, and Americans will buy 71 million pounds of chocolate candy for the holiday. In spite of her responsibilities as the mother of 21 children, the Easter Bunny is one of the most familiar mythical figures in American folklore. Nevertheless, not every child believes in the Easter Bunny, as anyone who's ever debated said bunny's existence in kindergarten can tell you. (Note: I was pro-Easter bunny.) But what accounts for different levels of belief?
Well, if you thought scientists would never lie to children just to explore this question, think again. In 2005, just before Halloween, psychologists at the Universities of Mississippi and Texas introduced 81 children from preschool through first grade to the "Candy Witch," who would replace leftover Halloween candy with a toy if the child asked for the Candy Witch to visit. In one group of children, the parents "simulated" a visit from the Candy Witch, while in the other group, the children did not receive any "visit." The researchers interviewed the children twice after Halloween, and once a year later, to measure levels of belief. Two findings stand out: First, even though older children were less likely to still believe in the Candy Witch one year later, they were just as likely to initially believe as younger children. Second, older children were more likely to believe if they had received a visit from the witch, while younger children were more likely to believe if they believed in other "fantasy figures" such as Santa Claus. All the children did agree on one thing, though: the Halloween candy was delicious.