Do You Know What Magical Thinking Is? LMSW Exam Prep

By Emily Pellegrino on September 27, 2012

money flying out of a magic hat October is just around the corner and I've already started to notice many pumpkins and Halloween decorations being put up around the neighborhood.  I think that makes this weeks LMSW exam prep term, magical thinking, very appropriate. Let's take a look at how this term may show up on the LMSW exam.

Sample Question:

Which of the following BEST defines magical thinking?

A. The process of transforming unacceptable impulses or idealizations into socially acceptable actions or behaviors

B. The understanding by a child that an object continues to exist even when it can no longer be seen

C. The process by which unacceptable impulses are expressed as their opposites.

D. A pattern of reasoning during which individuals attribute experiences and perceptions to unnatural phenomena

According to Piaget's stages of development, magical thinking occurs during the preoperational stage which ranges from ages 2-7.  A main component of this stage is symbolic function, which is when a child learns through the use of mental images, language, and other symbols that represent objects that aren't really present.  Therefore, kids during this stage are very egocentric and don't understand cause and effect.  As a result it is difficult for kids to differentiate between what is fantasy and what is reality.  To help you remember this term for the LMSW exam one example is when a child believes that she fell because the sidewalk was mad at her.  A second example is a child believing that a parent became sick because they said something mean to them the other day.  It takes time for kids to develop the necessary reasoning skills to understand where fantasy ends, and reality begins.  Magical thinking can also be seen in adults with schizophrenia and those with paranoid delusions.  Examples of this is an individual saying that someone is controlling their thoughts or expressing a belief in paranormal activity. The Social Work Dictionary defines magical thinking as, "The pattern of reasoning and mental imaging in which an individual attributes experiences and perceptions to unnatural phenomena.  Magical thinking is often seen in children younger than age 5 and those with schizophrenia.  It is the idea that one's thoughts or desires influence the environment or cause events to occur" (Barker, 2003).


The best answer here is D. A and C are both defense mechanisms, with A defining sublimation and C defining reaction formation.  B is another aspect of early childhood development and defines object permanence.  D is the best answer because it illustrates the idea that an individual with magical thinking is attributing their experience or thoughts to causing certain events.

Next week on the LMSW exam prep blog: Negative Reinforcement

Think our straightforward, sensible approach could help you PASS your LMSW exam? If you're preparing for the social work exam, check out our LMSW Study Materials. Learn more about our exam prep at the The Therapist Development Center home page.

Looking for more practice questions and some study tips? Check out our new Social Work Exam Study Guide:

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