Magical thinking: normal or abnormal?

Magical thinking is believing in a force that something causes or prevent things to happen to us in the external world. It something kids usually belief in, like in Santa and by acting kind he will reward them with gifts, as well as it also is a symptom people with Obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia experiences.

Does that mean our kids have schizophrenia because they believe in Santa? Of course not. Yet, the normality and context of magical thinking is important to be able to differentiate, in order to avoid quick assumption like this example.

First of all, the difference between magical thinking for kids who believe in Santa or adult who believe in superstitions, compare to OCD patient with similar belief, is the matter of dysfunction.

Let’s say our neighbor have religious belief and has a strong belief that every act he does will say if heaven or hell, or that every time thing does not go his way is a sign of God punishing him.
If he still is able to function properly with this belief, like going to work, take care of himself, and able to face difficulties, his magical thinking has no reason to be indicated to a psychological disorder. However, if it influences him having a dysfunctional lifestyle, then there is a reason to be worry. This can be for example, he does not go to work for some days because he needs to pray for his sins many hours a day, or avoid going out of the house to eliminate all the possibilities of doing something wrong his god`s eye. In that case, his magical thinking becomes link abnormal behavior. Similar dysfunctional behavior can we see with people with OCD. For instance, a person actively washing their hands 15 times a day to prevent any harm that could happening to them, but as a result not able to work or go to social events. In the case of schizophrenia patient however, magical thinking can be secondary symptoms to other primary symptoms they experiencing, such as auditory hallucination. This could be for instance, that a hallucinated voice telling a patient that he have superpowers like flying, and worst case try to act on it.

Hence, Magical thinking can be a pathological link to some disorder, but likewise it can also be completely non-pathological. Magical thinking can start during our childhood and can continue being with us as we grown up. There are many people that still believe in that knocking on woods will prevent misfortune or open up an umbrella inside cause bad luck, who do act upon them, yet not to the degree that it makes their daily life dysfunctional.
In addition, having a child or being/was a child with magical thinking, like having an imaginary friend or believe in Santa, is also alone not a bad sign either. Researchers have shown that kids experiencing magical thinking and fantastical play can actually promote creative divergent thinking, which is not a bad at all.

Overall, magical thinking can be a sign of dysfunction or related to serious pathological disorder, but as we have seen, it also something most people would assume be “abnormal”, when it in reality quite “common” to do.

- Psychology Today. (n.d) “Magical thinking”
- A.(2019, April 17). Magical Thinking OCD - Symptoms and Treatment. The Gateway Institute.
- Raypole, C. (2020, February 25). Ta-Da! Magical Thinking Explained. Healthline.

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