Rituals associated with magical thinking are practiced by young children and adults alike in the face of uncertainty and during periods of stress or transition that pose a potential threat to either the self or selfhood; the fact that a belief and reliance on magical rituals can exist simultaneously with a rational cause-effect perception of reality in both adults and children reveals that while individuals may attain a more rational worldview with age, a system of non-rational thinking may be foundational to human cognitive functions.
Given all this, then where does magical thinking stem from and how is it acquired? Eugene Subbotsky (1997) argues that both magical and rational cause-effect reasoning are derived from a common source, that of phenomenalism. Magical thinking and scientific reasoning are often placed in diametric opposition, but by investigating causal reasoning through the lens of phenomenalism it is possible to conceive of magical and scientific thinking as two sides of the same coin—both linking the presence of a specific cause to a preceding effect and, hence, limited by the same basic principles of causality (Woolley, J. D., Browne C.A., & Boerger E.A. 2006). But phenomenalism itself anticipates these two forms of causal reasoning, and is defined by Subbotsky as “a purely empirical judgment about a causal connection between . . . events and lacks a theoretical foundation of any kind.” (14) Phenomenalism can also be thought of as an intermediary stage of uncertainty, in which an individual notices a cause-effect linkage but has not yet defined it within either the magical or rational context.
As research by Subbotsky (1997) reveals, children's interpretations of inexplicable events are given over to magical explanations much more often than adults (21); however, adults can be induced to perform less-than-rational behavior under the proper circumstances. Anxiety can trigger magical thinking and associated rituals in people of all age groups. In a study of New England fishermen, John Poggie, Jr. (1980), found that fishermen's rituals and the practice of taboos (e.g. “don't leave for a trip on Friday”) (124) increased depending on the risk factors involved in fishing excursions: New England fishermen who spent extensive amounts of time offshore on fishing vessels had a higher number of ritual behaviors in their repertoires than fishermen whose jobs consisted of shorter day-trips out to sea (124).
Consider the dangers present in occupational fishing: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers commercial fishing to be “one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States”, finding that between the years 2000 and 2010 commercial fishing in the U.S. resulted in the deaths of 545 fishers (Commercial fishing); even the sky itself poses a formidable hazard for fishers, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that even the recreational activity of fishing results in the highest number...