Origin of Magical thinking

Cassidy and several others pointed me to a NY Times article about magical thinking.

[...] magical thinking underlies a vast, often unseen universe of small rituals that accompany people through every waking hour of a day.

The appetite for such beliefs appears to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, and for good reason. The sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress.


The brain seems to have networks that are specialized to produce an explicit, magical explanation in some circumstances, said Pascal Boyer, a professor of psychology and anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. In an e-mail message, he said such thinking was “only one domain where a relevant interpretation that connects all the dots, so to speak, is preferred to a rational one.”

[...] in a series of experiments published last summer, psychologists at Princeton and Harvard showed how easy it was to elicit magical thinking in well-educated young adults.


The brain, moreover, has evolved to make snap judgments about causation, and will leap to conclusions well before logic can be applied.

This of course relates to the user experience design of everyday objects, including technology objects, since the tools that embody this kind of magical thinking are all the standard everyday objects of our lives. This can be seen in the illustrations to the story, which often involve "magical" objects, and in the description of how people's beliefs play out:

  • "she saw a woman stroll by with a Michigan umbrella"
  • "that young men and women instructed on how to use a voodoo doll suspected that they might have put a curse on a study partner who feigned a headache"
  • "To be on the safe side, it is best to step into the sealed room right foot first."
  • "He doesn’t change his socks; he doesn’t empty his pockets"

Cloverleafs, horse shoes, umbrellas, dolls, rooms, socks, pockets. All terribly mundane objects, and (maybe therefore) likely to be seen as particularly susceptible to enchantment. Building on the mundane may be thus be the key to making things magical, or, maybe making magical things look more mundane makes them more approachable.

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Man is the reflections of his thought, some name it positive thinking and others magicfal thinking. But we have our own personal way of innovating , naming and benefitting with that gift ( Thinking) that we have.




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This page contains a single entry by Mike Kuniavsky published on January 25, 2007 1:31 PM.

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