Do You Believe In Magic? Exploring the Cultural Boundaries of Magical Thinking


Magical thinking has been a topic of interest in the social sciences (Muchow, 1928; Piaget, 1969; Berenbaum, Boden, and Baker, 2009). Meehl (1964) asserted that magical thinking relates to a “belief, quasi-belief, or semi serious entertainment of the possibility that events which, according to the casual concepts of this culture, cannot have casual relation with each other, might somehow nevertheless do so” (p. 54). While definitions of magical thinking and beliefs are more or less narrowly defined, the underlying assumption is they reflect errors in thinking. However, other scholars have demonstrated that although the specific forms of magical thinking vary, the process of creating meaning to influence the future is nearly universal. The aims of our study were to examine magical beliefs and rituals, their origins in the lives of individuals, and their affective dimensions. We employed a questionnaire created and used by Muchow in 1928, then redeployed by Watzlawik and Valsiner in 2009 to assess magical beliefs and rituals. Additionally, we used semi-structured interviews to gain richer insight into these beliefs and rituals. We compared the three cohorts (1928, 2009, 2020) responses to questionnaires to examine changes in magical beliefs and rituals over time and we found that similar to the 2009 study, current participants (N = 63) frequently hold inconsistent beliefs and practices (i.e., belief in and skepticism of magic). We will discuss these findings along with a microgenetic analysis (Josephs and Valsiner, 1999) of the interviews to understand how individuals negotiate complex meanings about magical thinking.

Author Information
Zachary Beckstead, Brigham Young University - Hawaii, United States
Banjoe Calma, Brigham Young University - Hawaii, United States
Aurora Augulis Gibby, Brigham Young University - Hawaii, United States
Jonathan Galindo, Brigham Young University - Hawaii, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ACSS2021
Stream: Psychology & Social Psychology

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon