Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Preschool Years (3–5)

What is magical thinking?

The capacity for imagination develops ahead of logical abilities. Thus, preschool children are prone to a kind of reasoning known as magical thinking. This involves faulty reasoning about causation. The child develops hypotheses about causation that are unchecked by mature logic. For example, the superstitious saying “if you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back” reflects magical thinking. Likewise, a child might attribute the rain to God’s tears or thunder to giants moving furniture.

Another aspect of magical thinking involves animistic thinking, in which children attribute lifelike qualities, such as wishes, fears, thoughts, and intention, to inanimate objects. For example after the wind blows the door shut, a child might say, “Mr. Nobody shut the door.” In keeping with their tendency toward magical thinking, children of this age are particularly drawn to fantasy stories. The clear enjoyment with which children this age engage in fantasy is particularly appealing to adults, thus encouraging the persistence of stories of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and other related fantasy figures.


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