Magical Thinking: Are You a Believer?

Many have faith in the power of their own positive thoughts to change lives.

ByABC News
May 10, 2007, 12:58 PM

May 10, 2007 — -- 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."

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."