Have you ever found yourself superstitiously doing something to chase bad thoughs or bad luck away? Well, my friend, you were engaging in what scientists call “Magical thinking“.
Magical thinking is the belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires can influence the external world. It’s the belief that an object, action or circumstance not logically related to a course of events can influence its outcome. The term is also colloquially used to refer more broadly to mystical, magical thoughts, such as the belief in supernatural entities and miraculous occurrences.
This type of thinking is more common in children, but it never truly leaves the human mind, therefore, traces of the infantile magical thinking are likely to show up even later in life. It’s completely irrational and is often used when one feels like they have no control over what’s happening around them.
In the past, populations used to perform rituals to make rain irrigate the fields, so they related weather conditions to their performance and they convinced themselves that they could control or at least change reality, while it was mainly luck or acute observation of the environment that made one able to tell whether it would rain or not.
But what if the rituals didn’t work? Well this is another interesting aspect about magical thinking, it’s experience-proof! People that mainly follow magical thinking rather than rational thinking don’t find the urge to explain why the ritual didn’t work when experience proves the magic wrong. When something like that happens we try to justify it, by taking into consideration the whole ritual, and we think that we may have made mistakes in the process.
In adults, magical thinking can be a sign of a mental health condition. However, some cultures encourage magical thinking for things like religious rituals, dances, carrying around a fetish for good luck etc… This sort of magical thinking is not symptomatic of mental illness because it is part of a cultural norm.
We can say that magical thinking is not a mental illness in itself, but it is correlated with some mental health conditions. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) engage in this type of thinking quite often. Obsessive thoughts cause them to engage in compulsions in an attempt to stave off those very thoughts.
People with OCD may intellectually know that, say, repeatedly tapping a television will not keep them safe, but still feel an overwhelming urge to do so. Some examples of things we all do that are part of the realm of magical thinking with a sprinkle of obsessive behaviour might be: locking the car more than once while walking away from it, intentionally avoiding cracks on the ground while we walk, or as many Italians do, touching various objects with the horns hand sign in order to chase bad luck or bad thoughts away.
Us humans tend to engage in these obsessive and repetitive actions or rituals when we feel like we’re not in control of our reality. In order not to crumble under the weight of the post-modern existential realization that life is nonsensical, we tend to relieve the anxious thoughts through magical thinking or other types of borderline obsessive behaviours.
Can belief in such charms actually have an influence over one’s ability to, say, perform better on a test or in an athletic competition? In 2010 Lysann Damisch and her collegues decided to make an experiment:
To initially test this possibility experimenters brought participants into the lab and told them that they would be doing a little golfing. They were to see how many of 10 putts they could make from the same location. The manipulation was simply this: when experimenters handed the golf ball to the participant they mentioned that the ball “has turned out to be a lucky ball” in previous trials. Remarkably, the mere suggestion that the ball was lucky significantly influenced performance, causing participants to make almost two more putts on average. In another experiment the participants were asked to bring their lucky charms with them and had to take memory tests, they performed better when they were holding the lucky charms.
The researchers hypothesized that this kind of magical thinking can actually increase participants’ confidence in their own capabilities. The power of the mind strikes again!
Now let’s move on shall we? It’s time for this week’s favorites.
Song of the week: The Kids Are Alright by Chloe x Halle. These two amazing girls started making covers on youtube and they got Beyoncé‘s attention. They starred in the artist’s latest album Lemonade and even opened for her on a few dates of the Formation World Tour. They debuted with an EP in 2016 and they just recently came out with a new album, The Kids Are Alright.
Album of the week: SweetSexySavage by Kehlani. She truly is an amazing artist and she just recently finished touring with Demi Lovato on the Tell me you love me world tour.
Do you engage in any type of magical thinking? I’m very curious so if you do let me know in the comments below. Until next time!