Magical Thinking: Are You a Believer?

Everyone wishes for something. And lots of people believe they know how to make their wishes come true with magical thinking.

What is it? "Magical thinking is a belief in forms of causation, with no known physical basis," said Professor Emily Pronin of Princeton. "So, for example, there's no known physical basis for how carrying a fluffy pink rabbit's foot in your pocket is going to increase your odds of winning the lottery."

For magical thinkers, it's more about the power of their wishes, their feelings and their positive thinking to affect their lives directly.

Twenty-seven-year-old aspiring actress Lindsay Lioz relies on magical thinking to further her showbiz career -- starting with visualizing every audition in advance. "It makes me feel like I've had rehearsal," she said. "It makes me feel prepared."

Lioz also uses magical thinking to improve her love life. She's written a list of the qualities she wants in a man -- and she sleeps with that list under her pillow every night. How has it worked so far? "I have great men in my life, I do. I'm very happy with how it's working out."

Positive Thoughts, Positive Effects?

Magical thinkers call that idea "the law of attraction." It's a key element of the bestselling book "The Secret," which has been hailed by Oprah Winfrey and bought by millions worldwide.

"'The Secret' is telling people that if you think positive thoughts, positive things will happen, even at a very specific level," Pronin said. "If you visualize getting a parking space, you will get one. If you want to get thin, just stop having fat thoughts."

Magical thinking is not a religion. It's a different kind of faith -- a faith in the power of positive thoughts and feelings. Yet as unscientific as magical thinking sounds, Pronin said studies have shown there are times when it seems to have a real effect: "There was a study where people in their mid-20s were measured in terms of their optimism," she said, "and then, 50 years later, those who were more optimistic, were actually more likely to still be alive. So it's not always magical to believe that your positive thoughts are having a positive effect."

Magical thinking starts in childhood. At the University of Texas, Professor Jacqui Woolley has examined how children who know the difference between what's real and what's not believe that wishing can cause a penny to appear in what has just been shown to be an empty box. "We find that, by about the age of 4, most of the kids we test seem to really believe that wishing works," said Woolley. "So that would be an example of magical thinking."

'Always Believe That I Can'

Nick Barber spent his childhood wishing for riches, focusing on something his father gave him. "I was about 8 or 9 when my dad came home and gave me a fake million dollar bill," he said. "And that became something that represented my goals. I've hung on to it every since."

Barber would even sleep with the bill under his mattress. Now, at 27, he runs a multimillion dollar real estate company in Dallas called UMoveFree, and he still has that million dollar bill in his wallet. How did that bill help him get to this point? "It allowed me to believe in myself at a very young age," Barber said, "not to pay attention to those that said you can't, and to always believe that I can."

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