The Age of Magical Overthinking by Amanda Montell

In her latest work, Amanda Montell, the author of Cultish and Wordslut, turns her focus to our cognitive biases. She dives into the reasons we see ourselves and others the way we do, how we fall prey to misinformation, and why we turn to magical thinking.

For me, magical thinking brings to mind global hits like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle; books on manifestation that have influenced more than 35 million readers.

Cover design by Laywan Kwan

Montell describes this phenomena as “the belief that one’s internal thoughts can affect external events.” The reason we think like this is because “in moments of fierce uncertainty, from the sudden death of a spouse to a high-stakes election season, otherwise “reasonable” brains start to buckle.” In situations like instilling positive vibes to stave off cancer or thinking that hope alone can transform terrible situations into glorious ones, this kind of “magical thinking works in service of restoring agency,” Montell writes.

Other interesting topics covered here include the halo effect and overconfidence bias. Montell describes “the halo effect [as] the unconscious tendency to make positive assumptions about a person’s overall character based on our impressions of one single trait.” Haven’t we all, to some degree, attached a label to our friends, encounters, and celebrities due to this? I certainly have.

When digging into overconfidence bias, Montell provides examples of individuals like Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos and Simon Leviev, The Tinder Swindler. While common in Silicon Valley, this bias also shows up in everyday scenarios when “people overvalue their actual skills, express excessive certainty in their evaluations, and overcredit themselves with positive outcomes.”

Beyond this, Montell investigates the IKEA effect, sunk cost fallacy, and the illusory truth effect. Just like Cultish, this book is packed with expert insights, superbly narrated, and is digestible for all readers. The Age of Magical Overthinking is a fascinating journey into human consciousness.

Amanda Montell by Kaitlyn Mikayla

Amanda Montell is a writer and linguist from Baltimore. She is the author of the acclaimed books Wordslut, Cultish, and The Age of Magical Overthinking. Along with hosting the podcast Sounds Like a Cult, her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and more. She holds a degree in linguistics from NYU and lives in Los Angeles with her partner, plants, and pets. Find her on Instagram @Amanda_Montell.

The Age of Magical Overthinking: Notes on Modern Irrationality by Amanda Montell is available for order in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook format. Check or for a distributor near you.
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