Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cause-and-Effect and Magical Thinking

Our sense of cause-and-effect leads us to put credence into magical thinking, according to psychology writer Matthew Hutson, whose book The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking was released this week.

Even the practice of voodoo ~ especially inserting pins into figurines to inflict pain or bad luck ~ gains strength because of the way we associate our actions with certain results. "When you do some symbolic action or perform some symbolic ritual, you tend to think it will bring about what it symbolizes," Hutson says.

According to Life’s Little 
In a recent experiment, psychologists monitored people’s perspiration levels as they cut up a photograph of a cherished childhood possession. Unsurprisingly, destroying a representation of their childhood made the participants sweat. One possible explanation for the clammy palms is that our brains have difficulty separating appearance with reality, Hutson said. 
A voodoo doll (or picture of your baby blanket) conjures in your head the thought of the actual person or object it represents, and so the mere thought of the person or object being harmed makes you feel like he or she, or it, really is being. 
Another possibility is that we get confused by the fact that, in the real world, causes are often similar to their effects. A big bolt of lightning causes a big crack of thunder. Red crayons draw red lines. Children look like their parents. "So we may then expect that if we perform some action, then some effect similar to the action will be caused," Hutson said.
Though it's important for us to be cognizant of real-world similarities between causes and effects, it inadvertently spurs magical thinking. While most of us consider ourselves to be rational, the research suggests remnants of the magical thinking we evolved with will invariably affect our thoughts.


ludmil said...

oh you know I love this one.... I believe in Magic, and I am not speaking of the rabbit in a hat you.Linda

christopher said...

Tying this to voodoo is not very good because voodoo theoretically works even when the victim doesn't know he has been hexed. Part of the whole voodoo world is the consultation one makes when some weird stuff starts happening and getting the information that someone is hexing the victim. And by the way this is really a small part of voodoo. I am not taking a position, just pointing out that the analysis is really truncated.

Sometimes we call that catching and beating the straw dog while letting the actual animal roam free.

Gregory LeFever said...

Christopher, I'm sure you realize the point here is about the practitioner putting a belief system into effect. He/she believes something will happen, due to past cause-and-effect observations. I think that's the only reason the author chose voodoo as an example. That being said, it doesn't make much difference if the "victim" is aware of the hex or not -- according to the belief system, the hex won't work if the "hexer" isn't convinced of its efficacy in the first place.

I appreciate your provocative comment.

Gregory LeFever said...

Linda, thanks so much for the kind thought. It's the quality of joy such as you have that brings about so much of the good magic we experience in our lives!

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