Thank you for completing this survey. If you are interested in hearing more about the results, please email lbower @ Below is information on the results of the first study in this series. This poster was presented at the 25th Annual APS Convention in Washington DC in May 2013.

Please invite your friends to help further this research by sending them the link to the study:

Video Script (not transcript)

Hi, I’m Lennea Bower from American Unversity and I’m presenting my research at


Annual APS Convention. In this study, my colleagues Zehra Peynircioglu and Jordan

Wyatt, and I investigated whether the concept of magical thinking affects decisions about

animate objects.

The concept of magical thinking – as laid out by Rozin & Nemeroff – is that when

an object is associated with something or someone negative, the object is affected by that

negative valence, even when the negative information does not logically affect the object

in question. We wanted to see if that phenomenon extends to animate objects – such as

people and animals – because they have more intrinsic properties, like personality or

temperament that might outweigh the irrelevant negative association. And, participants

might also be affected by feelings of pity towards the animal due to its perceived

vulnerability that would not occur in decisions about objects.

In this experiment, we asked participants to look at profiles of dogs and make

judgments about how likable and adoptable they were. The variable we manipulated was

the information about the dog’s previous owner and surrender reason by giving either

negative information – the previous owner went to jail – or positive information – the

previous owner was deployed with the military. We expected that any magical thinking

would be confined to the adoptability judgment and that, because of what we’re terming

“pity effect”, participants might see dogs with “bad” previous owners as them as equally

or more likeable. However, what we actually found was that the negative previous owner

information made the dogs both less likeable and less adoptable.

One interesting subfinding is that individuals with greater familiarity with animal

shelters showed significantly less magical thinking than other participants. Overall their

ratings were not very different for dogs with negative and positive previous owner

information and, at an individual level, they were about equally likely to show pity effect as

magical thinking.

In future research, we are looking to explore these differences more in depth by

including decisions about inanimate objects and people.

One Comment

  • Barb Sahl

    The first half of the survey with pictures and requests to share feelings was curious. I’m not sure why the occupation of child’s parent or the child’s preferred activities would affect one’s feelings about children who are strangers. And really I have the same curiosity as to why an owner’s history would affect one’s feelings toward a dog or toy. I’d be interested to know the purpose of the study when you’re ready to share the results. Barb

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