10 Magical Thinking Examples

➡️ Definition

Magical thinking is the belief that one’s thoughts, words, or actions can influence events in ways that defy the laws of physics or logic.

It can provide comfort and a sense of control in uncertain situations, and it can foster creativity and hope.

However, it can also lead to unrealistic expectations and prevent people from making rational decisions based on evidence.

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magical thinking definition and examples
➡️ Magical Thinking in Childhood

Magical thinking in childhood is particularly evident during Piaget’s preoperational stage, which spans from ages 2 to 7.

During this period, children engage in symbolic play and imagination, believing their thoughts and actions can influence the world around them.

For instance, a child might think they can cause it to rain by wishing for it or believe that their stuffed animals have feelings. This stage is marked by egocentrism, where children have difficulty understanding perspectives other than their own, and animism, where they attribute life-like qualities to inanimate objects.

While magical thinking helps with cognitive development and creativity, children gradually outgrow these beliefs as they progress into the concrete operational stage, where logical thinking and understanding of cause and effect become more prominent.

➡️ Pros and Cons of Magical Thinking
Pros of Magical ThinkingCons of Magical Thinking
Provides comfort and a sense of control: Believing that one can influence outcomes reduces anxiety and gives a sense of empowerment in uncertain situations.Can lead to unrealistic expectations: Relying on magical thinking can make people expect outcomes that are impossible or improbable, leading to potential disappointment.
Fosters creativity and imagination: Engaging in magical thinking stimulates the imagination and creativity, helping to generate new ideas and solutions.May prevent rational decision-making based on evidence: When decisions are based on magical thinking rather than evidence, it can result in poor judgment and ineffective solutions.
Encourages hope and optimism: Maintaining a belief in positive outcomes, even without logical basis, can boost morale and encourage persistence.Can result in disappointment and frustration: When magical thinking does not lead to the desired results, it can cause feelings of failure and frustration.
Enhances storytelling and cultural traditions: Magical thinking enriches folklore, myths, and cultural narratives, preserving heritage and fostering a sense of community.Might contribute to superstitions and irrational fears: Over-reliance on magical thinking can give rise to superstitions and unfounded fears, which can influence behavior negatively.
Helps children understand complex concepts through simple analogies: By using magical thinking, children can grasp abstract concepts in a more relatable and understandable way.Can impede critical thinking and problem-solving skills: Persistent magical thinking may hinder the development of logical reasoning and critical analysis, essential for problem-solving.

Magical Thinking Examples

1. Wishing on a Star

a person wishing on a star

Many people believe that making a wish upon a star can make their desires come true.

This stems from the idea that the universe is responsive to individual thoughts and wishes.

The act of wishing can provide comfort and hope, encouraging a person to maintain a positive outlook.

However, this belief does not have a basis in reality, and relying on such practices for achieving goals can lead to disappointment if the wishes are not fulfilled.

2. Good Luck Charms

a four leaf clover

People often carry items like rabbit’s feet, four-leaf clovers, or lucky coins, believing they bring good fortune. These objects are thought to possess inherent powers to influence outcomes positively. This belief can boost confidence and reduce anxiety, especially in high-pressure situations. However, attributing success or failure to these charms can prevent individuals from recognizing the real factors contributing to their achievements or setbacks.

3. Knocking on Wood

a hand knocking on wood

The practice of knocking on wood after making a positive statement is based on the belief that it can prevent bad luck.

This tradition dates back to ancient times when people believed spirits lived in trees and could offer protection.

While it can provide a sense of security and control, it also fosters the idea that unseen forces govern outcomes, which can undermine rational thinking.

4. Rain Dances

a man dancing in the rain

In some cultures, people perform rain dances believing that their movements can bring rain.

These rituals often involve specific steps and chants intended to appeal to weather deities.

While these dances can strengthen community bonds and cultural identity, they are based on the erroneous belief that human actions can directly influence weather patterns, ignoring the natural meteorological processes.

5. Superstitious Rituals in Sports

a tennis player putting on a shoe

Athletes often engage in specific routines or wear certain items to ensure good performance, such as always putting on the left shoe first or wearing a particular pair of socks.

These rituals can enhance focus and confidence.

However, they can also create dependency on irrational practices, diverting attention from the training and skills that truly impact performance.

6. Horoscopes

a horoscope

Many people read horoscopes and believe that their zodiac sign can predict their future or explain their personality traits.

Horoscopes can provide comfort and a sense of direction.

However, they lack scientific validity, and relying on them for major life decisions can lead to misguided choices.

7. Believing in Curses

a witch casting a spell

Some people think that curses or negative spells cast by others can affect their lives.

This belief can cause significant stress and anxiety, influencing behavior and health.

However, it is based on fear rather than evidence, and attributing misfortunes to curses can prevent people from addressing the real causes of their problems.

8. Using Feng Shui

a room with good feng shui

Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese practice of arranging living spaces to promote harmony and prosperity. Believers think that the positioning of furniture and decor can influence their luck and well-being. While creating an aesthetically pleasing and organized environment can have positive psychological effects, attributing success or failure to the arrangement of objects overlooks more practical and tangible factors.

9. Believing in Psychic Predictions

image 35

Many turn to psychics for insights into their future, trusting that psychics can foresee events through supernatural means.

Psychic readings might offer comfort and guidance during uncertain times.

However, they lack empirical support, and making important life decisions based on such predictions can lead to unrealistic expectations and poor outcomes.

10. Wearing Specific Colors for Luck

a woman in a red dress

In various cultures, people wear certain colors on specific days or during events to attract good luck, such as red for prosperity or white for purity.

These practices can boost confidence and cultural identity.

Nonetheless, they are rooted in tradition rather than fact, and relying on color choice for success can detract from the importance of actions and decisions in achieving desired outcomes.

➡️ Further Reading

Further Reading

Boardman, C. R., & Sonnenberg, A. (2014). Magical thinking. Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology5(11), e63.

Ganzin, M., Islam, G., & Suddaby, R. (2020). Spirituality and entrepreneurship: The role of magical thinking in future-oriented sensemaking. Organization studies41(1), 77-102.

Ogden, T. H. (2010). On three forms of thinking: Magical thinking, dream thinking, and transformative thinking. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly79(2), 317-347.

Rosengren, K. S., & French, J. A. (2013). Magical thinking. The Oxford handbook of the development of imagination, 42-60.

Zusne, L., & Jones, W. H. (2014). Anomalistic psychology: A study of magical thinking. Psychology Press.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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