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Children's and adults' reactions to magical and ordinary suggestion.

In Experiment 1, 6- and 9-year-old children and adults were asked to imagine various types of objects. The experimenter then attempted to change the image of those objects in participants' minds by either suggesting that the objects may change against the participants' will, or by asking participants to change the objects as a favor to the experimenter. Two types of suggestive causation were employed: Magical-suggestion (a magic spell was cast with the aim of changing the imagined objects) and ordinary-suggestion (participants were told that the objects in their minds could alter against their will). Ordinary-suggestion was as effective as magical-suggestion in changing the participants' imagined objects. For adults, a direct request for compliance produced a stronger effect than did magical suggestion. This effect was not found in children. In Experiment 2, the two types of suggestion were tested on an alternative type of imagined objects. Adult participants were asked to imagine their futures. It was then proposed that (a) a magic spell could be cast on their futures with the aim of changing them either for the worse or for the better (magical-suggestion), or (b) changing a numerical pattern on a computer screen could change their futures (ordinary-suggestion). All participants denied that changing a numerical pattern on a computer screen could affect their lives, yet in their actions they demonstrated an element of belief in this possibility. As in Experiment 1, in Experiment 2 ordinary suggestion was as effective as magical suggestion. The hypothesis of an historic contiguity between magical causality and ordinary suggestion is discussed.

Br J Psychol. 2007 Nov;98(Pt 4):547-74. Subbotsky E. Psychology Department, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK.

Posted: 04/28/2008

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