Magical thinking is where meaning is attached to actions or objects so that they gain special magical properties. Special powers and forces can be attached to objects, such as the law of contagion where things that have been in contact with each other maintain a connection even when separated. For example, an ordinary white glove has special properties simply because Michael Jackson wore it.
One explanation for why people engage in magical thinking is the evolutionary approach. This says that magical thinking is related to our evolved fear of germs and contagion. It is adaptive not to touch something that has been in contact with a diseased person. This leads to an intuition that physical and psychological properties can pass between people.
One explanation is that magical thinking is the result of childlike thought. The dual processing model looks at processing information in 2 ways: intuitively or logically. Intuitive thinking is childlike thinking which underlies magical thinking. There are 2 types: animism or nominal realism. Animism is where children ascribe feelings to inanimate objects while nominal realism is where children have difficulty separating the name of the object from the thing itself. This reasoning is common in adult thinking as well. Rozin asked participants to watch sugar being poured from a commercial container into 2 jars: 1 labelled sugar, the other labelled cyanide. Participants were reluctant to use to jar named cyanide even though they knew it was sugar, because they were unable to separate the name (cyanide) from the thing itself (container).
The cognitive approach claims that belief in magical thinking can help reduce anxiety and may give people confidence in dealing with their environment either through their own self-belief or through the placebo effect. The placebo effect is where the expectation of something good happening leads us to behave in a way that increases the chances of something positive happening. For example, children's IQ scores have increased in just a year just because the teacher believed that they could.
A balance is important
A balance of magical thinking is important. Too much can be dangerous because it leads to a risk of disorders such as schizophrenia or OCD. But too little can be just as damaging as it is linked to depressing realism which is thought to be due to low levels of dopamine (as unually high levels are found in believers of the paranormal.