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The science of Santa: new study probes children's belief

Santa Claus walks through a Christmas Tree forest on December 12, 2010.
Santa Claus walks through a Christmas Tree forest on December 12, 2010.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

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How sure are you that your kids believe in Santa Claus? A new study out of Occidental College suggests children are not as gullible as we might think. 

Psychology professor Andrew Schtulman studied how children ages 4-8 perceived extraordinary situations, things like fantasy tales, the possibility of an alligator appearing under the bed or the existence of Santa.

He found that as children grow older, they become quite skeptical of the possibility of extraordinary and physically impossible things happening. 

To test how this applied to beliefs in Santa, Schtulman had kids write letters to Santa and prompted them to ask Santa questions. The older children asked more probing questions, trying to get to the bottom of the more mysterious practices of Santa - such as flying through the air, visiting the entire world in a night or fitting down a chimney.

The exercise suggests that children quickly begin thinking critically about how realistic Santa mythology is. Schtulman says most children stop believing in Santa altogether around age 8 or 9.