A new study has found that magical thinking, which is usually dismissed as naive and irrational, can actually help consumers cope with stressful situations like trying to lose weight.
Study authors Yannik St. James (HEC Montreal), Jay M. Handelman, and Shirley F. Taylor (both Queen's University, Kingston, Canada), said a person uses magical thinking when dealing with stress.
"Magical thinking occurs when an individual invokes mystical, supernatural forces to understand, predict, or even influence events to overcome these stressful situations," they wrote.
"Weight loss activities are stressful for a number of reasons: being overweight is associated with several negative health consequences as well as considerable social stigma.
"Consumers are expected to conform to unrealistic cultural ideals of slenderness and they are simultaneously enticed to indulge in abundant, highly caloric, processed food," the authors wrote.
To cope with these conflicting pressures and expectations, consumers engage in various forms of magical thinking. They describe weight loss as being influenced by mysterious forces, such as a body that "conspires" against them or food that "seduces" them.
"By invoking and negotiating with mystical forces, consumers actively work to create uncertainty and ambiguity as a way to generate hope and possibility in a cultural domain where they otherwise experience very little," the authors wrote.
The authors believe their findings should be of interest to consumer advocates and policy makers.
The study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.