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The permanence of mental objects : testing magical thinking on perceived and imaginary realities.

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>03/2005
<mark>Journal</mark>Developmental Psychology
Issue number2
Number of pages18
Pages (from-to)301-318
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Four experiments compared the permanence of imagined and perceived objects. A new method for assessing object permanence in older children and adults was used that tested participants’ preparedness to acknowledge that an object could change as a result of magical intervention. In Experiment 1, 6- and 9-year-old children and adults treated perceived and imagined objects (pieces of paper) as being equally permanent. In Experiment 2, adults treated a fantastic object (a flying dog) as significantly less permanent than either perceived or imagined objects, but children failed to distinguish between fantastic and imagined objects. Experiment 3 employed a different type of mental-physical causality (an attempt to change objects with the help of a participant’s own wish). Results were similar to those of Experiment 2. In Experiment 4, adults were tested on permanence of personally significant imagined objects (participants’ images of their future lives). Although almost all participants claimed that they did not believe in magic, in test trials they were not prepared to rule out the possibility that their future lives could be affected by a magical curse. The results are used to explain psychological roots of magical thinking and practices. Implications of these findings for cognitive development and more specifically children’s theory of mind reasoning are discussed.