The contagion heuristic

Posted on January 13, 2008

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Something that I often get asked about is possible examples of superstitions linked to specific heuristics. In this context, the best example I can give is work that Carol Nemeroff and Paul Rozin have done on examining the sympathetic magic law of contagion in terms of it being a heuristic. Two of their papers are particularly relevant in this context. The first is “The makings of the magical mind: The nature and function of sympathetic magical thinking” and the second is “Sympathetic magical thinking: The contagion and similarity ‘heuristics'”. The first of these articles is more of a review which includes the heuristic explanation as one of a number of alternatives. The second looks specifically at the idea that the laws of sympathetic magic may have at their core a pair of cognitive heuristics. Both are very much worth pursuing and I will have to comment on them at length at some point.

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