Health crises can trigger magical thinking

A friend gave my daughter Emily a wand High-risk neuroblastoma At the age of 5. The attached note said it belonged to a girl with cancer and that it cured her. It promised to cure Emily as well.

I rubbed the wand all over her back, arms and legs and put it in my nightstand drawer, where it has been for over a decade. Although I knew better than to believe that a plastic stick with pink feathers would save her life, that didn’t stop me from believing during years of follow-up scans, survival appointments and managing the collateral damage of her treatment. This kind of magical thinking eased my anxiety and uncertainty and gave me what her doctors couldn’t – a promise that she would live.

I am debating whether to send her to college in a few months.

Although it may seem unbelievable, Research Magical thinking is hardwired into our brains and has been a part of our existence for thousands of years, crossing cultures, races and religions.

“A talisman can give people confidence and allow them to be more relaxed, more present and supportive,” says Face Hoffman, is an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York. “It’s like this placebo effectIt is because of the belief that people will be good there.”

In Medieval period, good luck charms provide extra assurance during surgery. While technology and medicine have developed, our tendency to believe in magic has not.

But still studies Many have suggested that this practice plays an important role in our daily lives, especially during times of crisis.

Stuart Wise, a psychologist and author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition,” says he sees people reverting to magical beliefs when the stakes are high. Cancer diagnoses, in particular, attract magical thinking because people are so afraid of them and in most cases there is no sure way to cure cancer.

“When we take a pill for an illness, or someone breaks their leg and throws it, we don’t really see magical thinking come back because we know there is an effective treatment and an outcome,” Weiss says.

But when medicine and science can’t give us a guarantee, a “psychological gap” exists, and there’s a need for something better that might improve the odds.

“The strongest effect of magical thinking is the emotional benefit of the moment,” Weiss said.

In my mind, the wand is somehow going to improve Emily’s 50-50 odds. Knowing that another woman’s family believed in the same magic wand and that she survived helped calm my fears that cancer treatments would not work. I put it in my suitcase and for 18 months it traveled with us from home to hospital. It was a coping strategy that gave me the illusion of control at a time when I felt helpless and consumed by anxiety and fear. studies found to be useful.

“Tolerating uncertainty is difficult, especially for people with anxiety,” Hoffman said. “Having something that reduces that improves our health and behavior.”

In his study, Jane RisenA professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago describes how people can believe what we don’t. A dual-processing model of cognition Known as system one and system two. A system that makes quick and efficient decisions, often influenced by emotion and intuition. System two is slower and more formal. Observing things that don’t make sense is more appropriate.

“But in magical thinking, we find that system two often agrees with system one, even when we know that system two’s belief is not true,” Risen says. “The system runs the show because the intuition feels so real, and it’s so powerful it can’t be shaken.”

Reason says that our decision will ultimately come at the cost of ignoring one of these two processes. In my case, the cost of removing the wand is undesirable, and the cost of keeping it is not. I had to keep it.

Watching Emily struggle through a brutal protocol — six rounds of chemotherapy to shrink a tumor on her adrenal gland, eight hours of surgery, a back-to-back stem cell transplant, 21 rounds of radiation and six months of experimental treatment — was emotional. crippling Her dicey visits to the intensive care unit had the power to bring me down. I was game for anything that helped.

Hoffman says the benefits of an amulet for mental health come from finding something that calms us down: “Knowing that we have the ability to deal with a difficult situation makes us active participants. We have to decide what we need and when we need it.”

Of course, being too attached to a talisman can have drawbacks, Hoffman says. For example, if someone feels that they have to abandon the treatment because they forgot the amulet at home, or tap five times to continue it, it causes suffering instead of comfort.

“Is it useful or not?” It’s important to ask yourself that. Hoffman says. Giving the object good meaning, using it carefully, and taking it out at the right time are signs of healthy behavior.

Scientists have Recently read The meaning-making processes and behaviors behind this pervasive belief system and how it moves through space and time. One thing is certain: magical thinking was a powerful resident at the pediatric oncology site where my daughter was treated.

A friend’s mother sent me a “special and white-striped special” cloth that had been soaked in healing spring; My aunt gave us a statue blessed by the Pope; And “lucky” teddy bears came from friends and relatives all the time.

At one point, Emily’s oncologist, a woman steeped in hard science, suggested that friends and family make paper cranes, as in Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultures. 1,000 cranes Bring good health and luck. Soon, thousands of small, bright, giant and personalized cranes arrived in boxes. We built them in Emily’s bedroom.

Emily believes her stuffed animal “Horsie” needs her life, but she doesn’t believe cranes provide any benefit. “More dumb birds,” she said at one point after opening dozens of boxes.

“Magical thinking is widespread because science doesn’t provide definitive answers,” says author Ian Jarvey. A recent study It saw how science is incomplete and uncertain. “It’s always going to be an ongoing project.”

Of course, birds, teddy bears, and a wand didn’t save Emily’s life—doctors and medicine did. But that pink feathered wand saved mine. It helped me cope.

Emily makes it clear that she didn’t take her wand to college with her. Instead, it will be on my nightstand as a reminder of hope, health and my daughter.

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