Kids Aren’t As Gullible As You Think

This episode is sponsored by Child and Teen
Checkups. If you’re in Minnesota, go to
to learn more. [ ♪ Intro ] Life can be pretty confusing if you’re a
kid. Like, you thought Elsa was just a cartoon
on the tv screen in Frozen, but then your parents took you to Disney World, and there she is! Are you just supposed to believe this person
claiming to be Elsa is the real McCoy, and if so, does she have the same magical powers? And what’s she doing in decidedly-not-frozen
Florida? It’s easy to think of young kids as being…
dumber than adults. Meaning maybe it’s easy to trick them into
thinking fantastical things about the world. But studies show that they’re more sophisticated
than you might guess. The way their minds develop is more complex
than just “dumb version of adult gets less dumb over time.” In fact, studies show that they may be able
to grasp more intricate ideas earlier than many adults would assume, with the right guidance. To understand the ways children can be tricked
into thinking fantastical things, we need to know how they learn what other people are
thinking as they grow up. And developmental psychologists are very interested
in the changes that happen in most kids between the ages of three and five. One of the ways psychologists have studied
this is with something called a false belief task, in which researchers induce a false
belief in children, then reveal the truth. For example, they might fill a candy box with
pencils. They show kids the box, then reveal the pencils
and ask kids what they thought was in there. But when you show them the pencils inside,
the kids explain their confusion in different ways. An early study, published in 1988 in Child
Development, used a couple versions of this task, including the candy box and a sponge
painted to look like a rock. Across two experiments, 34 five-year-olds generally had no problem saying they were wrong initially, for example, they thought
the box had candy in it. But when 34 three-year-olds were asked what
they thought was inside the box before it was opened, they were more likely to say…
pencils. As if they had always thought that. And if you ask them what another child who
wasn’t in the room would think, someone who didn’t see the box opened, three-year-olds were more likely to say that the other kid would think it was pencils, too. It’s almost like for a three-year-old, knowledge
they have is all the knowledge there is. Even what they themselves used to think, that
there was candy in the box, doesn’t count. But by the time you’re five, you start to realize that people can have different levels of knowledge, and that things like a misleading
label can trick them. This understanding is what psychologists call
theory of mind. In part, it’s the understanding that other
people have other minds that are filled with different ideas. Theory of mind may differ in some people,
such as those on the autism spectrum, but it’s helpful for understanding how our minds
mature in general. And we’re starting to see that that might
happen earlier than we used to think. Experiments published in 2013 showed that
kids as young as three can pass the false belief test, if you modify it a little. The researchers introduced kids to a doll
who just loves bananas. The experimenter would put some toy bananas
in a toy fridge, then make the doll go for a walk. Then, with the child watching, they’d sneakily
switch the bananas to a different toy fridge. When the doll got back from her walk, the
experimenter would ask the child what would happen next. 20 out of 25 children, aged between three
and four, guessed that the doll would look for a banana in the wrong place, even though far fewer of them passed the more standard candy box version of the task. So maybe kids understand false beliefs earlier
than we thought, and can communicate that fact, given the means and the right framing. And if you give them the option of saying
they’re not sure, it becomes clearer that they’re learning. A study published in 2004 tested this by asking
64 kids about real and fantasy creatures, including some examples that were specific,
like Santa Claus, and some more generic, like “a monster,” or “a fairy.” And then they asked a variety of questions
about them, like, “do they dream?” “do they get older every year?” and the oh-so-important,
“can they travel the world in one night?” Finally, they asked the kids to sort all the
creatures into three piles: things that were definitely real, things that were just pretend, and things they weren’t sure about. Three-year-olds in the study sorted things
kind of randomly, their accuracy wasn’t any different from chance overall. Both four- and five-year-olds were better
at telling the imaginary entities from the real ones, though yes, Virginia, they did
believe in Santa Claus. Which, the researchers pointed out, is a belief
that many parents encourage. And the kids made a lot of use of the “not
sure” option, suggesting they were genuinely unsure, rather than incorrectly believing
monsters are real. And both four- and five-year-olds said that
the human-like traits, things like dreaming and getting older every year, were more likely to be true of the real entities than the imaginary ones. The five-year-olds in particular were nearly
identical to adults in their answers. All of this suggests that kids this age were
better than previously believed at navigating the distinction between what’s real and what’s
not. And sometimes, even if kids tell you they
believe something pretend is real, they still might not behave as if they do. Like when researchers in 1994 asked 42 kids
to imagine an object, such as a pencil, being in a box. They were asked for details like what color
the pencil was, and whether it was really in there, to which about a quarter of four-
and five-year-olds said, yes. But then, when another researcher came into
the room and said they needed a pencil to do some work, almost none of them volunteered
the pencil they said they believed was in the box. Even the three-year-olds, of whom a third
said their imaginary pencil actually existed, mostly didn’t volunteer it to help. Almost all the kids would offer a real pencil
they knew was there. Kids are helpful that way. They just didn’t volunteer the pretend one. So next time you run into a kid who’s excited
to go meet Elsa, keep in mind that research shows they might not really believe she’s real, and they’re just enjoying playing pretend. That kid likely knows there are some things
about Elsa that aren’t the same as real people, or might not expect her to use her
powers to help if they were in trouble. But if nothing else, kids are more sophisticated
and less gullible than you might guess. They just might need a little more explaining,
or the right kind of question, to know what they know. When you’re a parent, it seems like everyone
has a different idea of what it means to take good care of your kid. But one way you can definitely do it is to
make sure they see a doctor regularly. Annual check-ups help catch potential problems
early on when they can be most easily dealt with. And kids’ bodies and brains are constantly
changing, so it’s especially helpful to stay up to date on their health. And the good news is, if you have a kid, you might be eligible to get this kind of appointment
for free! If you live in Minnesota, you can learn more
at And if you don’t, you can click the link
in the description to learn what kind of benefits might be available for you and your family. In Minnesota alone, over 500,000 kids are
eligible for these check-ups, where their doctor will check out their hearing, vision,
teeth, and other health details depending on their age. And that’s the kind of information that
always helps you and your child live healthier, happier lives. [ ♪ Outro ]

100 thoughts on “Kids Aren’t As Gullible As You Think”

  1. This video is brought to you by the Child and Teen Checkups program of the Minnesota Department of Health. If you live in Minnesota, learn more at If you live somewhere else in the United States go to

  2. I hope people take this to mean "put effort into tv shows aimed at children, because mindless schlock isn't long-term sustainable even if kids do watch it".

  3. It's crazy that the US is not supporting children for free like that. Like "Oh your parents are broke? Sorry kid, gotta get sick, that's how it is." Barbaric

  4. Depends how good of an actor you are. Kids aren’t born stupid, they adopt their parents stupid beliefs. Assuming they can be maniupulated ,believe anything you say or do as their told is a hypothesis made by someone who has never been around children. It only takes a few times of being betrayed before the child becomes a sketpic. They should track parent behaviour and parenting style if they want to be safe. It might just be the reflection of the results of certain parenting behaviours.

  5. I remember every year I asked my dad if Santa Claus was really actually real, and every year he said yes, then eventually I stopped because I trusted my dad, then I cried when he told me Santa wasn't real cause I asked him over and over and he just lied. I don't want to act as if he's real to my kids because of this. It's kinda cruel to me to, as the person a kid is supposed to trust most in the world, straight up lie to them and distort their vision of reality, for no real reason. It breeds mistrust for many other things.

  6. I remember meeting a child psychologist who asked me to make up a story. I specifically remember making up a story that would be "appropriate" for my age instead of the stories my brain was actually thinking up.

  7. A great example of this was Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. In an episode one of the actresses (sorry I don't know her name) was having a delightful conversation with one of the puppet characters. Until the puppet asked her what does assasination mean. Thus episode was made following the murder of Robert F Kennedy (brother of John F. Kennedy who was already dead and RFK was running for Democratic nominee for president). The two characters had a brief conversation on the topic of assassination, then it cut back to Mr. Rigers giving some context as to why, and briefly talked about coping. While they used a soft but calm tones, and od course used words children can grasp (if you never learned a word, hearing it does nothing for you) he did his best to talk about it. While taking a different approach with kids then you would adults is a good idea, they may be smarter, and more ready for discussions then older people may think. You just may need to approach it differently, keeping age in mind. The video is on YouTube. Also with the candy box experiment, I think some kids may understand pencils better, off they grew up with sewing supplies if cookie tins.

  8. 0:27 – 0:38 It also has alot to do with age and when they were born. Watching Kids React made me realize that kids are more aware and intelligent than I was when I was there age. Granted, maybe my Autism prevented me from understanding much for a long time but I would be surprised if kids understood what they know now in the 90's and 00's.

  9. At age 4 my nephew asked why Santa was taking pictures with people and not at the North Pole. Then he saw Santa at a different mall and was like… Santa is fake.

  10. Kids are smart, but then they grow up and get dumber.

    Adults then project their stupidity on the kids. Underestimating the smaller thing.

  11. You might want to look up the history of Santa Claus. He was a real person. Here's a link.

  12. Part of our personal narrative is that we have changed, grown, gotten better with time, etc. That belief is strengthened by imagining our past selves as worse than we actually were because that means we've made more progress.

    Combine that with the assumption that other people are like us and it's really easy to conclude we were gullible as kids. That's before you even get into social norms reinforcing that belief.

  13. Some kids are gullible, but they also grow up into very gullible adults. Some adults are much more gullible than some kids. The same as not all teens are silly and irresponsible, some are more responsible than many adults

  14. Maybe the kids don't quite know the difference between "what do you think is in the box?" and "what do you think was in the box?". When they research these things and ask questions to children there might be a lot of miscommunication due to their underdeveloped language skills. They could think the correct thing, but if they understand the question incorrectly or their answer doesn't match what they think, then we assume they can't grasp the idea whereas in fact they just need more time to learn the language.

    (I'm trying to learn a different language, and I'm quite intrigued by the differences in how children learn a language versus how adults learn a language. And of course by all other kinds of differences in the learning process and in the languages themselves)

  15. When I was little, although I believed in Santa, I never believed that the men who came to our kindergarten dressed as Santa were actually Santa. I also never believed in any type of monster or fairy.

  16. My 5yo son's imaginary friend is also a real friend he doesn't get to see that often. He easily distinguishes between Pretend Kellie and Real Kellie.

  17. People mistake gullible for honest trust from kids. Kids are by no means gullible. They trust others, and expect that they are trust worthy. When you break that trust with a child it's worse than breaking it with an adult. They will absolutely refuse if they can to do anything for you, or with you again, and they will for as long as they remember what you did hold it against you, and remind you of what you did wrong. This is why you will see new children when added to a friendly group ask around if that adult is trust worthy. If they get a negative they will avoid you like you're death itself. If they get a positive. You just gained a very honest, kind, loyal friend by reputation alone. This is why you'll see kids cling to one adult over others in a group. They know which adults they can and can't trust.

  18. Didn't read the studies but seems like they all make a not substanciated assumption: Beliefs are concrete. That is, they don't change under different setting, and they obey the identity rule (A=A). I don't think this is always the case. The brain is not a binary decision/output machine exactly. This is obvious in phoneme identification experiments, i.e. there are instances where ambiguity exists but the brain goes with one decision anyway (I believe I heard 'o'). However, the decision might change after some cognitive processing (I did thought I heard 'o', but then I realized it was 'a' as it was the word 'cat'.

  19. I feel like I already knew this stuff because adults always treated me like I was dumber than I was. Characters in costumes never fooled me. My parents had to tell me that santa's elves go to malls to pretend to be santa, and that's why they all look different and aren't in the north pole.
    After that I worked in daycare and basically treated the kids like mini adults who need care, guidance, and positivity. They liked it just fine.

  20. I remember how my friends and I were as kids and I have always assumed all kids were pretty much just as smart or smarter.

  21. We're working on adopting a 15 year old who is autistic – he still believes in santa. Not sure if we should crush this belief.

  22. I heard from an education expert that the only reason they don't teach calculus in grade school is because they don't have the algebra background needed. They're actually mentally capable of surprisingly complex ideas.

  23. Have the researchers looked into how many kids pretended to believe in Santa just so they could keep the game up?

  24. Is it a failure in the theory of mind department for so many adults who believe that anyone who runs from the cops is guilty? They seem to be planting their own thoughts into someone else's head.

  25. I was about 9 years old, when the Sunday School teacher said, "When everyone believes in God, God will stop the suffering and make life a paradise for everyone." I thought to myself, "Why is God waiting? If he could do it now, why not do it now?"
    I looked around the room at the other boys standing on chairs throwing paper airplanes, and thought, "there's no way that everyone will ever believe in God; doubtful, that even everyone in this room will ever really believe in God."

    I stopped believing in God, but I was still afraid of how mean God could be. As an adult, I bought a Bible and a Quran. I saw the violence of religion. Those books can be (are) interpreted in so many different ways because they are so poorly written. Now I'm unafraid and completely free of God.

  26. I told my parents I believed in Santa for YEARS after I figured out he wasn't real, because I didn't want to risk them not giving me the extra presents "from Santa."

  27. Autistic woman here. Please quit spreading the falsehood that all autistics lack theory of mind. In fact some of us are better at it than some neurotypicals. It's just a deeply damaging, outdated preconception that needs to die yesterday…

  28. I don't remember exactly how old I was, but I was about waist-height of the adults. My grandma invited "santa" around christmas time.
    I refused to talk to him and generally just thought "what is this guy doing here". I did not realise how condescending and insulting this actually was until much later, though.

    That said, some other time (I was in 3rd grade, I believe), I was balancing along a low wall and some stranger told me not to fall off. First, I won't. Second, even if I do – it's like half a metre high and I'll land on my feet…
    THAT annoyed me quite a bit.

  29. Kids learn that there is a magical man called god and does things that are never proven to affect reality around us and kids almost never grow up to realizing that pattern in order to be aware that a certain belief is set in stone to them by others.
    And since i personally noticed that pattern when i was 3, and haven't really found any kids let alone adults around me and all around the world to be at least this logical, not the majority at least, don't tell us that kids are not as gullible as we thing because they actually are, they are so much in fact that they cannot notice that very simple pattern to notice i've mentioned so…

  30. Linguistics has a lot to do with this. Many children fail theory of mind tasks because the language associated with the task makes it too taxing to get correct. When the language aspect is removed even infants have been shown to have theory of mind. (I don't have the study on hand but I'll go find it if anyone cares.)

  31. 0:46: Dumb version of adult -> less dumb version -> less dumb version -> TRUMP!! this theory just got smashed

  32. On a hot and humid summer day, sweating in the family car, my Mother drove by the big local swimming pool. I was just a kid. in the late 1950s; early 1960s. I asked my Mother why we no longer went to the swimming pool. She said that because now, they have to let the Black People in. I didn't understand what that meant. As we drove up the hill, I could see the swimming pool filled with people, of different color skin having fun, staying cool. I didn't know that I was supposed to be racist.

    The swimming pool closed shortly afterwards. I doubt that it closed because of a lack of customers. Racism hurts everyone.

    And now we have a cruel, racist president. We have right-wingers committing mass shootings. The USA hasn't really changed much.

    I don't understand why people who make racism such a big part of who they are, then go and deny that they are racist.

  33. The real question becomes how much of that “gullibility” is actually introduced by indictrination and forcing children to “believe” in fantasy entities like Santa Claus and God, squashing any legitimate curiosity and critical thinking skills they might otherwise exhibit if it weren’t discouraged or denied. No, I’m not bitter about that at all, why are you asking? ???

  34. I was never taught to believe in Santa, but he wasn't barred from my home. Santa and the reindeer were just a game. I played along and never told the kids at school since they seemed so excited and the teachers were also playing along. My folks taught me the tooth fairy, but I figured it out when I was barely 6 and found Mom's collection of my baby teeth. She tried to play it off like the tooth fairy gave them to her, but it didn't take much for me to realize since I had just 'tricked' the tooth fairy by holding tight to my tooth and still got my dollar. No big deal, I kept playing along until my last baby tooth came out when I was 10 and I didn't get a dollar for my tooth. I told Dad that the tooth fairy had forgotten about me and he very seriously explained that now that I was older, I should know that the tooth fairy was not real. I explained that I had figured it out already and I had been continuing to play the game to get money. He gave me a dollar.

  35. I remember going to Kings Dominion and being excited to meet Scooby Doo. I was so happy when he indicated he would let us take a picture of him and me. Then when he squatted next to me I was about to kiss his doggy snoot .. and realized that it was a costume with a fan in it. It was obvious then why he hadn't been talking. I continued to pretend for the picture, but 5 year old me was disappointed. I still enjoy that memory, because it is where I got fascinated by complex costumes.

  36. I mean, I believed all of it because I was such a daydreamer, a wisher, a reader. I loved to fantacize and would wish on every star, dandelion seed, necklace clasp, all of it. "Active imagination" doesn't even begin to ce anywhere close to being enough to describe me. I hoped so much it was all true. I had a wonderful childhood.

  37. I reserved judgement on Santa until I was six. That year, my mom forgot to mark any presents 'from Santa' (possibly connected to scruples about lying about Santa in the first place), and I'd been extra good that year, so I figured that was proof.

  38. When I went to Disney I remember my parents taking me to get autographs and me just going along with it because I was scared they'd tell me off for being ungrateful if I said I didn't care about getting autographs from people in cartoon character costumes and I just wanted to go on the rides. I was maybe 8? They also tried to tell me Santa wasn't real when I was 11 and were shocked when I said I'd known for years and was just pretending I still believed in him so I didn't upset my younger siblings.

  39. I don't think I ever actually believed in the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa, etc, but I didn't want to tell my parents because I didn't wanna stop getting the money under my pillow and stuff.

  40. I remember when I was really little, I didn't believe in Santa Claus. However, my brother did. So, I went along with the story. I felt so socially pressured to believe in Santa that when my parents finally told us that Santa didn't exist, I felt the need to pretend to be upset. However, I really wasn't. And to this day, I'm still upset about my reaction to Santa Claus. I wish I had made it clear that I wasn't gullible.

    I always found it very suspicious that Santa's wrapping paper was the same as my parents. Or, that the years that we were really poor we got very little presents, while so many of my friends got really amazing presents from Santa for Christmas.

    There was just a lot of little things. I guess I just wish I didn't react the way I did. My sister still kind of makes fun of need for believing in Santa when I was 11… when really, my faith in Santa was shaken much younger.

    In fact, I don't actually remember a time that I did believe in Santa. I'm sure I did, but that was when I was much too young for me to question.

    Short story long, this video was incredibly validating.

  41. Honestly the pencil research is the best way to explain how I was like with all of the adults in my life due the fact that I knew that they weren't willing to believe that I knew some truth like where babies came from or the fact Santa didn't really exist like it was just obvious but all the older folks just kept telling me that he existed.

  42. I think perhaps that a lot of adults confuse kids loving to play pretend with fantastical creatures and imaginary objects with kids believing that these things are actually real.

    My parents did the whole ‘tooth fairy’ thing, but often it was more of a joke – they never tried to convince us outright that the tooth fairy existed, we just played along. It was fun. We got money.

  43. I "figured out" Santa was not real as far back as I can remember because there were too many jokes about people saying he wasn't real in cartoons and movies. Adults would also have disagreements and speak in hushed tones about whether to "tell them" about Santa Claus. I played along for years. That kind of thing happened a lot, kids really do just want to pretend more

  44. Judging from my oldest memories, 5 years old me would have failed all these tests, because 5 years old me was obsessed with guessing what answers the adults wanted. Once you know there's pencils in the box, "pencils" is the right answer and it's unacceptable to admit you or anyone else could get it wrong, because there's an adult asking about it.

  45. This test could still trip up a scary number of adults if you tweaked it to use more mature concepts instead of monsters and santa

  46. i remember being 3 and thinking every time i learned a new word that word just got invented and got 'uploaded' into everybody's minds 😛

  47. My little brother convinced himself that shadows were both alive and actively trying to take over and replace us, so idk….

  48. I was a toddler once, you know. Really funny when adults talked about sex and thought I would not understand.

  49. This is why my dad hated anyone baby talking at me /talking down to me as a baby/child. He’d say “she’s not stupid and she’s learning so you can speak to her normally.” Thanks dad ?

  50. My daughter is 6 but has already said she knows that the characters at Disney World aren’t real and it’s just a fun place to use your imagination

  51. The mere fact children are more willing to go along with playing pretend than some adults is not really proof they don't know how pretend differs from reality.

  52. Kids have all these theories about death and nobody feels comfortable talking about it so they come up with crazy theories

    Kudos to whoever thought of the design for the pencil experiment, genius

  53. That thing where kids assume others have the same information as them is interesting and kind of holds on in later years…
    My 5th-graders have very different foreknowledge. Over and over again some pupils call other kids "stupid", because they think e.g. that dolphins are fish ("Vertebrate classes" is not a topic in school before 5th grade). That makes me mad. I ask them, where they got their information from – of course they didn't studied dolphins or even came to that conclusion themselves. Someone told them! And if nobody told them before, they wouldn't know it now either!
    I know, it has very little to do with the topic of this video, but it remindet me of that.

  54. I pretended to believe in santa clause etc. because i thought my mom would be sad that i knew. I was right XD

  55. i grew up not believing in santa but pretending to because all the kids who didn’t believe in him in movies were portrayed as bullies or generally rude or bad kids and i didn’t want to seem like a mean person.

    also, the way my mom handled the whole santa situation was that she would never specifically say “yes he’s real yes believe in him” because she felt that was dishonest, but let us absorb the santa narrative through movies and conversations with other kids. her policy was that she’d give the gifts, not say anything about it, but the second either me or my brother asked if santa was real, she’d tell us the truth. she figured if we were old enough to question it, we were old enough to know. she didn’t want to lie to us for no reason, we’d still get the presents anyway so what’s the big deal? well it worked out for me because after a while i just stopped pretending to believe and we had a mutual understanding. my brother did ask, however, when he was about 9. when she told him santa wasn’t real, he broke out into tears.

    i still don’t know if this plan was the right one or not.

  56. i do think the nail in the coffin for the santa belief when i was little was when the rich bitchy girl of the class who everyone hated got amazing presents from santa, despite still being one of the rudest people i’ve ever met

    she should’ve been on the naughty list

  57. I have long thought that a potential problem with the theory of mind tests was the verbal communication limitations of the children. If you ask them a multifaceted question like what they thought they knew before they knew what was in the box, they might not understand what you are in fact asking for, not that they dont understand what they thought was in the box.

    Similar with asking them to imagine/pretend a pencil is in the box, asking if they actually think the pencil is there, they could be answering still within the context of imagining/pretending that it is there like you asked them to

  58. Adults: Reee Children cant tell fact from fiction!
    Also adults: Hey want to go say hi to Elsa?
    Also adults: Children are so gullible!
    Also adults: >dressing up the entire society to propagate the lie of santa claus, with movies, stories and elaborate hoaxes to protect that lie

  59. I said I believed in Santa until pretty late in my childhood because I was afraid my little sister would find out he wasn’t real.

  60. I wouldnt volunteer a pretend pencil either because then you would know its not real. Lies are like elastic bands. Dont stretch them until they break.

  61. I appreciate the mention of the difference of theory of mind in us on the spectrum! Remembering that other people don't necessarily think as I do is sometimes troublesome for me.

  62. I realized actors were regular people and had lives outside of shows when I heard Steve left Blue’s Clues to go to college. I was probably 2 or 3 then.

  63. Let's be clear about autism: theory of mind is a process of extrapolating from your own mind to imagine the minds of others. As an autistic parent, I found it much easier to understand my autistic son, than my neurotypical daughter, even though I am female. If neurotypical people cannot understand our minds, then there is an equivalence where learning disabilities are not a factor.

    I would have thought that it was obvious that the children who didn't offer the nonexistent pencil were not confused about it's existence, but rather about the social expectations of communication. If the adult models imaginary play, how is the child supposed to know when the imagining as a shared social endeavor is supposed to end?

    Surely the issue in that situation is that the child is attempting to follow social ques and cooperate with the adult. You don't have to be autistic to understand that that is happening with neurotypical children as well, especially as adults are clearly authority figures by virtue of their vastly superior competence. Someone is supposed to make supper and the child knows it is not them!

  64. I remember coming up with Xeno's paradox when I was like 6 or something. Not because I was especially clever, but because kids are just natural thinkers.

  65. The thing is, what do people mean when they say "kids are stupid"? Do they mean 5 year olds or 10 year olds? Because those are two VERY different ages.

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