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Do cultural factors affect causal beliefs? : rational and magical thinking in Britain and Mexico.

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>11/2002
<mark>Journal</mark>British Journal of Psychology
Issue number4
Number of pages25
Pages (from-to)519-543
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In two experiments , unusual phenomena (spontaneous destruction of objects in an empty wooden box) were demonstrated to adult participants living in rural communities in Mexico. These were accompanied by actions which had no physical link to the destroyed object but could suggest either scientifically based (the effect of an unknown physical device) or non-scientifically based (the effect of a ‘magic spell’) causal explanations of the event. The results were compared to the results of the matching two experiments from the earlier study made in Britain. The expectation that scientifically based explanations would prevail in British participants’ judgments and behaviours, whereas Mexican participant s would be more tolerant toward magical explanations, received only partial support. The prevalence of scientific explanations over magical explanations was evident in British participants’ verbal judgments but not in Mexican participants’ judgments. In their behavioural responses under the low-risk condition, British participants rejected magical explanations more frequently than did Mexican participants. However, when the risk of disregarding the possible causal effect of magic was increased, participants in both samples showed an equal degree of credulity in the possible effect of magic. The data are interpreted in terms of the relationships between scientific and ‘folk’ representations of causality and object permanence.