Magical Thinking Is Adult’s Brain’s Default Mode

Our brains our dominated by magical thinking. – Adults, more than kids, rely on the supernatural

“The findings show supernatural explanations for topics of core concern to humans are pervasive across cultures. If anything, in both industrialized and developing countries, supernatural explanations are frequently endorsed more often among adults than younger children.”

U. TEXAS-AUSTIN (US) — As we age, we often rely more—not less—on supernatural explanations for major life events, such as death and illness, research shows.

“As children assimilate cultural concepts into their intuitive belief systems—from God to atoms to evolution—they engage in coexistence thinking. When they merge supernatural and scientific explanations, they integrate them in a variety of predictable and universal ways.”

According to the findings, participants of all age groups agreed with biological explanations for at least one event. Yet supernatural explanations such as witchcraft were also frequently supported among children (ages 5 and up) and universally among adults. Among the adult participants, only 26 percent believed the illness could be caused by either biology or witchcraft. And 38 percent split biological and scientific explanations into one theory.

For example:

  • Witchcraft, which is mixed with evil spirits, and unprotected sex caused AIDS.”
  • However, 57 percent combined both witchcraft and biological explanations.  For example: “A witch can put an HIV-infected person in your path.”

Legare says the findings, published in the journal Child Development[2], contradict the common assumption that supernatural beliefs dissipate with age and knowledge. The results provide evidence that reasoning about supernatural phenomena is a fundamental and enduring aspect of human thinking, Legare says.

“The standard assumption that scientific and religious explanations compete should be re-evaluated in light of substantial psychological evidence. The data, which spans diverse cultural contexts across the lifespan, shows supernatural reasoning is not necessarily replaced with scientific explanations following gains in knowledge, education, or technology.”

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