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Is Santa Real? Study Finds Kids Are Too Smart For Their Own Good

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A new Santa study explores when and why kids stop believing in Santa.
A new Santa study explores when and why kids stop believing in Santa.

If you're wondering if your kids are still expecting Santa to bring their presents this year, most have stopped believing in Old St. Nick by the age of eight, according to the first international academic "Santa survey," while many parents wished that they still believed in Father Christmas even as adults.

Carried out by psychologist Chris Boyle, from the University of Exeter, U.K., people around the world were asked to report on what prompted them to change their minds about Santa, and how they felt when they realized he didn't exist as part of The Exeter Santa Survey.

Boyle received 1,200 responses from around the world, revealing that the average age when children stopped believing in Father Christmas was eight. A third of those surveyed also reported feeling upset when they discovered Santa wasn't real, while 15 per cent had felt betrayed by their parents and 10 per cent felt angry. Around a third (30 per cent) also said that their trust in adults had been affected by their belief in Father Christmas.

WATCH: What to do when your kid starts asking questions about Santa. Story continues below video.

The study also revealed that believing in Santa had actually improved the behaviour of around 34 per cent, although the threat of being on Santa's naughty list failed to affect the behaviour of 47 per cent of respondents.

Meanwhile Santa still appears to hold some magic for adults, with 34 per cent of adults wishing that they still believed, and 72 per cent of parents happy to play along with their kids about Santa, although the rest chose to come clean. A total of 65 per cent of people had even played along with the Santa myth as children, even though they knew it wasn't true.

Many children realized the truth due to parents making errors, although some simply figured it out as they grew older and learned more about the world.

Here's how some kids figured it out

Some of the amusing anecdotes to come out of the survey includes one participant describing how the myth of Santa had ended for them when they caught their parents drinking and eating what had been put out for Father Christmas and the reindeer at age 10. An 11-year-old was also woken up by their slightly drunk father, and not Santa, dropping presents, while another realized that Santa and their father had the same handwriting.

A child from the U.S. said at nine they had "learned enough about math, physics, travel, the number of children on the planet ratio to the size of the sleigh to figure it out on my own," and another nine-year-old even set a trap, writing a secret letter that wasn't given to their parents. They then found out Santa didn't exist when nothing from the secret list arrived on Christmas morning.

One child had simply figured out that "it was impossible for such a fat man to fit down the chimney."

School friends and teachers could also destroy the myth, with one child recognizing the school caretaker playing Santa at a Christmas party when she was seven, while a group of seven-year-old pupils found out when a teacher told them nobody lived in the North Pole.

One seven-year-old even punched a boy at school who said Santa didn't exist, explaining that he attacked the boy because it was wrong to lie; he ended up believing in Santa for another three years.

Some parents were forced to tell their kids the truth because Santa scared them, including a five-year-old who was frightened of a strange man coming into their room.

The study is ongoing and further results will be published in 2019.

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