Yesterday was Halloween – not my favorite holiday – too much candy, too many costumed enthusiasts knocking on my door. On the other hand, it is an interesting holiday. Interesting, not only because it is rooted in history, but also because it is riddled with magical thinking. Magical ideas about ghosts, about the role of costumes as protection against evil, about the power of the jack-‘o-lantern to ward off evil spirits, and on and on.
Sure, most of us aren’t aware of these roots, we just go along with the tradition, but the magical foundations of the holiday exist in the human psyche just as well.
Reliance on magic, you see, is built into the human make-up. Just about everyone – and, yes, that includes you and me – has just a bit of magical or superstition in their thinking.
Before you jump to the conclusion that you are the exception to this rule, take a minute to think about it. Have you ever hesitated to walk under a ladder even though it would be easier than walking around it? How do you really feel when a black cat crosses your path or you misplace your “lucky” pair of golf socks right before an important round? Or, do you have just the tiniest hesitation when taking a seat in the 13th row of an airplane?
No need to confess at this moment, but think about it. Magical thinking is part of the human condition and is, I believe, one of the reasons that even the best of us are subject to acquiring and clinging to unconscious biases.
Both magical thinking and bias, you see, grow from the same human condition: The desire to know the unknowable and predict the unpredictable.
Defined as “an inflexible belief about a particular category of people,” a bias is our attempt to know about a person’s attributes before we even spend time with them based solely on the group to which they belong (“know the unknowable”). Similarly, biases lead us to believe we can predict how someone will behave in the future – again based on their group (“predict the unpredictable”).
Sure sounds like magical thinking to me.
copyright 2018 Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
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