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Magical Thinking: Development and Applications

How magic and science complement each other in the modern life
3.6 (28 ratings)
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4,831 students enrolled
Last updated 8/2015
  • 2 hours on-demand video
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion

The course introduces you into a new developing area of human psychology – magical thinking, to which I gave over 30 years of my research. I will explain what magical thinking is, how it develops in children and functions in adults. I will then proceed with showing how magical thinking can be used in order to improve cognitive processes (such as creative thinking, perception and memory), and how powerful individuals and institutions can employ magical thinking for mind control with the aim of extracting political or economical gains. I will finish the course with examining how cultural and emotional factors affect magical thinking.

The course consists of four sections, which comprise an introductory lecture and 12 lectures. The lectures include author's text, author's videos, videos showing children experimenting with magical objects, graphs and pictures. Each lecture is accompanied with references to relevant author's publications.

The course targets a wide range of learners: students in social sciences, artists, writers, specialists on psychological factors in communication, politics, economics, education and everyone interested in learning more about hidden domains of the human mind.

Who is the target audience?
  • This course is meant for students in social sciences, artists, magicians, writers, parents and everyone interested in learning about how the mind works
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What Will I Learn?
Understand what magical thinking is, how it develops in children, how it functions in adults, and how it can be used in various domains of learning and communication
View Curriculum
  • No special skills are required, but some knowledge of psychology at an introductory level might be useful
Curriculum For This Course
Expand All 13 Lectures Collapse All 13 Lectures 02:07:20
Main concepts and development
4 Lectures 36:27

In this lecture I will introduce you to the course and briefly describe the content of the subsequent lectures

Introductory lecture

In this lecture I will introduce main concepts and draw a distinction between magical thinking and magical beliefs.

In the end of this lecture you will be given an opportunity to check your understanding of the difference between magical and non-magical realities.

Magical reality

In this lecture we will discuss whether children in Western cultures still believe in magic. We will watch videos showing children in situations in which they display magical beliefs.I will present an experiment that examined the discrepancy between words and deeds that most preschoolers show: In their verbal judgements they deny that magic is real, but in their actions they endorse the belief in magic.

Magical thinking in the child

In this lecture we wll examine data from anthropology and psychology that show presence of magical beliefs in adults. I will present an experiment that examined conditions under which adults' skepticism towards magic changes for the belief in magic. I will finish this lecture by discussing clinical aspects of adults' magical beliefs.

Magical thinking in adults
Applications of magical thinking in education and advertising
3 Lectures 22:46

In this lecture I will discuss the issue of whether children's magical beliefs can affect the course of their cognitive development. I will show that magical thinking and creative thinking have a common feature: divergent thinking. I will present an experiment that examined the possibility of improving creativity in children through engaging the children in magical activity.

Magical thinking and creativity in children

In this lecture I will show why the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is important for children's everyday life. I will present a study, which aimed at examining the link between magical thinking and the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality. I will then discuss practical implications of children's magical thinking for education.

Magical thinking and perception

In this lecture you will learn why people remember strange things better than ordinary things. I will then present the study, which examined the effect of magical thinking on human memory, and assess implications that this effect has for advertising industry.

Magical thinking and memory
Magical thinking in social communication and human interaction
3 Lectures 34:01

In this lecture I will show how magical suggestion works through the mechanism of participation. I will then contrast two different mechanisms of persuasion: rational explanation and suggestion. Next, I will present an experiment, which aimed to examine whether ordinary suggestion is based on the same psychological mechanism as magical suggestion - the mechanism of participation. I will conclude the lecture analysing how suggestive messages used in politics, economics and religion today use people's hidden magical believes in order to manipulate with the people's minds.

Magical thinking and communication

In this lecture I will show that there are two types of imaginary objects: imaginary objects that simulate real physical objects (i.e., an imaginary pencil) and fantastic objects that don't have referents in reality (i.e., a flying dog with wings). I will tell you about an experiment, which aimed to examine to which extent a magic spell can affect real physical, imaginary physical and fantastic objects in children's and adults' minds. We will see that children don't distinguish between imaginary physical and fantastic realities, but adults do.

Magical thinking and imagination

In this lecture I will review experiments, which showed that both children and adults are significantly more interested in exploring magical events than exploring novel and interesting physical events - the effect that I call "The impossible over the possible effect," (the I/P effect). I will then analyse psychological causes of the I/P effect, and discuss what practical implications the I/P effect has for the everyday life.

Magical thinking and exploratory behavior
Cultural and emotional factors in magical thinking
3 Lectures 34:06

In this lecture I will report an experiment, which aimed to compare magical beliefs of people coming from two different cultures: Britain and Mexico. I will show that under normal circumstances British people believe in magic to a significantly lesser extent than Mexican people. However, when it gets to the guts, British people show almost the same degree of magical beliefs as do Mexican people.

Lecture 10. Magical thinking and culture

In this lecture I will present experiments that show how people's memory distorts reality in order to "out explain" observed magical events as ordinary tricks and thus maintain the people's belief in psysical causality. This distortion, which I call "Cognitive defense against magical intervention", builds up in older children and adults as a result of pressure that science and scientific education exert on children's magical beliefs. Interestingly, in preschool children, who believe in magic openly, the cognitive defense against magical intervention in absent.

Lecture 11. Cognitive defense against magical intervention

In this lecture I will present experiments, which show that people have the tendency to subconsciously protect themselves against magical intervention not only at a cognitive level, but also at an emotional level. I will show that people's attitude towards magic is complex and ambivalent: people are interested in experimenting with magic and benefiting from it, and yet they harbor a subconscious fear that tampering with magic might involve a cost. To avoid paying such cost, people subconsciously distort the results of magical intervention, thus devaluating magical help.

Lecture 12. Emotional defence against magical intervention
About the Instructor
4.8 Average rating
134 Reviews
7,497 Students
10 Courses
PhD in Developmental Psychology

Eugene Subbotsky obtained a PhD in Developmental Psychology at Moscow State University. He taught at Moscow State University, Russia (1975-1990), Lancaster University, UK (1991-2013) and was an Alexander-von-Humboldt Fellow at Konstanz University, West Germany (1990-1991). He is known internationally for research on children's moral development, the development of children's metaphysical reasoning, and the development of magical thinking and behaviour over life span. He conducted research in Russia, Germany, United Kingdom, USA and Mexico. He published over 100 papers in scientific journals and is the author of 12 books, including those published by Harvard University Press, Oxford University Press, and Psychology Press. Eugene is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, a BPS charted psychologist, a Member of the BPS Division of Teachers and Researchers in Psychology.

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