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As far as imaginary icons go, the Tooth Fairy runs a distant second to Santa Claus, perhaps even trailing the Easter Bunny. Still, don't underestimate the Tooth Fairy's real-life powers, which range from sparking youthful creativity to implanting false memories. Back in 2007, researchers published a study in which young children were asked to recount the last time they lost a tooth. Here's what they found:
"To examine how children's fantasy beliefs can affect memory for their experiences, 5- and 6-year-olds with differing levels of belief in the reality of the Tooth Fairy were prompted to recall their most recent primary tooth loss in either a truthful or fun manner. Many of the children who fully believed in the existence of the Tooth Fairy reported supernatural experiences consistent with the myth under both sets of recall instructions, whereas those who realized the fictionality of the myth recalled mainly realistic experiences."
So then, if you thought the Tooth Fairy was real, then the researchers found that that belief could "engender false memories", as they noted in the title of their paper. They conclude their abstract with this grim pronouncement: "These findings suggest that children's beliefs in the reality of fantastic phenomena can give rise to genuine constructive memory errors in line with their fantasies." In other words, there's nothing wrong with believing in the Tooth Fairy...as long as you're cool with your mind losing the ability to distinguish between fact and fiction, between reality and fantasy. Actually, as a five-year-old, that might not be such a bad thing. Possibly even preferable, now that I think about it. But then, I was never crazy about kindergarten...