Pretend Play

Pretend play does the same as religion and spirituality: it requires one to go beyond a “what you see is what you get.”

A new study suggests that people who intensely engaged in pretend play as children were more likely to change their religions in later life, the Deseret News National reports.

The study, published in the current issue of The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, identified five groups of people through a survey distributed to 431 undergraduate students at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

There are the lifelong religious people who have the same religious identity as they did in their childhood. On the other hand, there are the lifelong non-religious people who identified themselves as agnostic, atheist or non-religious as children and today.

The other groups were the converts, the switchers and the apostates. The converts are people who were non-religious as children, but identify themselves with a religion today. The switchers identified themselves with one religion as children, but have switched into a different religion as adults. The apostates were religious as children, but are now agnostic, non-religious or atheist.

Chris Burris, the study’s author and professor of psychology at St. Jerome’s University federated with the University of Waterloo, said that pretend play does the same as religion and spirituality: it requires one to go beyond a “what you see is what you get” way of relation to the world.

According to the study, the lifelong religious and the lifelong nonreligious didn’t engage in pretend play as children. The converts, the switchers and the apostates underwent significant changes in religious identity, and engaged intensively in pretend play as children.

While the findings don’t mean pretend play causes shifts in religious identity, there could be an underlying process, Burris said. “Pretend play is a way of answering the question, ‘What would it be like if…? People who used to play pretend seem to develop that skill set early on such that for whatever reason, they ask the question in their real life in a big way later on,” he said.

The apostates were the ones most intensively engaged in pretend play during childhood.  Burris suggests that this is because of the realm of the non-believer is much less structured than the realm of belief is, and because people’s cognitive, intellectual and emotional need aren’t met sufficiently by faith traditions.

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