Thinking

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Submitted By jphillips413
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How many words does it take to know you’re talking to an adult? In “Peter Pan,” J. M. Barrie needed just five: “Do you believe in fairies?”

Such belief requires magical thinking. Children suspend disbelief. They trust that events happen with no physical explanation, and they equate an image of something with its existence. Magical thinking was Peter Pan’s key to eternal youth.

The ghouls and goblins that will haunt All Hallows’ Eve on Friday also require people to take a leap of faith. Zombies wreak terror because children believe that the once-dead can reappear. At haunted houses, children dip their hands in buckets of cold noodles and spaghetti sauce. Even if you tell them what they touched, they know they felt guts. And children surmise that with the right Halloween makeup, costume and demeanor, they can frighten even the most skeptical adult.

We do grow up. We get jobs. We have children of our own. Along the way, we lose our tendencies toward magical thinking.

Or at least we think we do. Several streams of research in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy are converging on an uncomfortable truth: We’re more susceptible to magical thinking than we’d like to admit. Consider the quandary facing college students in a clever demonstration of magical thinking. An experimenter hands you several darts and instructs you to throw them at different pictures. Some depict likable objects (for example, a baby), others are neutral (for example, a face-shaped circle). Would your performance differ if you lobbed darts at a baby?

It would. Performance plummeted when people threw the darts at the baby. Laura A. King, the psychologist at the University of Missouri who led this investigation, notes that research participants have a “baseless concern that a picture of an object shares an essential relationship with the object itself.”

Paul Rozin, a psychology…...

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