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Cortex. 2007 May;43(4):551-7.

Relative suppression of magical thinking: a transcranial magnetic stimulation study.

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School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK.


The tendency to perceive meaning in noise (apophenia) has been linked to "magical thinking" (MT), a distinctive form of thinking associated with a range of normal cognitive styles, anomalous perceptual experiences and frank psychosis. Important aspects of MT include the propensity to imbue meaning or causality to events that might otherwise be considered coincidental. Structures in the lateral temporal lobes have been hypothesised to be involved in both the clinical and nonclinical aspects of MT. Accordingly, in this study we used single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to stimulate either the left or right lateral temporal areas, or the vertex, of 12 healthy participants (balanced for similar levels of MT, delusional ideation and temporal lobe disturbance) while they were required to indicate if they had "detected" pictures, claimed to be present by the experimenters, in visual noise. Relative to the vertex, TMS inhibition of the left lateral temporal area produced significant reduced tendency to report meaningful information, suggesting that left lateral temporal activation may be more important in MT and therefore producing and supporting anomalous beliefs and experiences. The effect cannot simply be explained by TMS induced cognitive slowing as reaction times were not affected.

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