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'The Secret' to Success? The Psychology of Belief in Manifestation



We explored the psychology of those who believe in manifestation: the ability to cosmically attract success in life through positive self-talk, visualization, and symbolic actions (e.g., acting as if something is true). In three studies (collective N=1023) we developed a reliable and valid measure – the Manifestation Scale – and found over one third of participants endorsed manifestation beliefs. Those who scored higher on the scale perceived themselves as more successful, had stronger aspirations for success, and believed they were more likely to achieve future success. They were also more likely to be drawn to risky investments, have experienced bankruptcy, and to believe they could achieve an unlikely level of success more quickly. We discuss the potential positives and negatives of this belief system in the context of growing public desire for success and an industry that capitalizes on these desires.
‘The Secret’ to Success?
The Psychology of Belief in Manifestation
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We explored the psychology of those who believe in manifestation: the ability to cosmically attract
success in life through positive self-talk, visualization, and symbolic actions (e.g., acting as if
something is true). In three studies (collective N=1023) we developed a reliable and valid measure
the Manifestation Scale – and found over one third of participants endorsed manifestation beliefs.
Those who scored higher on the scale perceived themselves as more successful, had stronger
aspirations for success, and believed they were more likely to achieve future success. They were
also more likely to be drawn to risky investments, have experienced bankruptcy, and to believe they
could achieve an unlikely level of success more quickly. We discuss the potential positives and
negatives of this belief system in the context of growing public desire for success and an industry
that capitalizes on these desires.
Keywords: magical thinking, manifestation, mental causation, self-help, life success
“When you expect the best, you release a magnetic force in your mind which by a law of
attraction tends to bring the best to you.”
Norman Vincent Peale: The Power of Positive Thinking, 1952.
“Remember that your thoughts are the primary cause of everything.”
Rhonda Byrne: The Secret, 2006.
“Write a list down and describe your dream life… and visualize living that life and feel
grateful for that life as if you’re already living it”
Joe Hehn: TikTok Manifestation Coach, 2022.
The degree of success people desire is rising. For example, a survey of 9.2 million
Americans from 1966 to 2009 found recent generations placed higher value on achieving goals such
as being rich, famous, and good looking compared to past generations surveyed at the same age
(Twenge et al., 2012a). Paradoxically, this level of success remains elusive for many people as
demonstrated by rising income inequality and other structural barriers to wealth and upward
mobility (e.g., United States Census Bureau, 2015). Growing alongside this desire for success is an
industry of “experts”, “gurus”, and “influencers” marketing inspiration, education, and systems of
The goals of the success industry often center around increasing self-determination and an
entrepreneurial mindset, reflecting the cultural ideals of the “American Dream”. However, many of
these claims and strategies remain untested or are pseudoscientific (Spicer, 2020). A notable
example was Rhonda Byrne’s (2006) book The Secret, in which she claimed to have found an
ancient secret to success: anyone could “manifest” anything they wanted into their life through
partnering with a cosmic “law of attraction”, which delivers people’s goals and wishes provided
they engage in positive thinking, visualization, and self-talk. The book and subsequent film went on
to sell 30 million copies and became a popular culture phenomenon which is still relevant today:
videos featuring the tag “manifestation” on TikTok have been viewed 34.6 billion times as of May
Despite its cultural relevance, manifestation beliefs and practices have received little
academic attention. While an optimistic attitude and positive expectancy can have a range of
motivational and behavioral benefits (Oettingen & Reininger, 2016; Rosenthal & Rubin, 1978;
Snyder et al., 2001), it has been argued that extreme positive thinking such as manifestation may be
maladaptive, leading to unrealistic expectations, false hope, and poorer goal attainment (Aspinwall
& Tedeschi, 2010; Gunn & Cloud, 2010; Jefferson et al., 2017; Oettingen & Mayer, 2002). This
paper subjects some of these ideas to empirical scrutiny, as part of a broader agenda to understand
the psychology of those who believe in manifesting success and how such beliefs may be related to
judgement, decision making, and life outcomes.
Defining Manifestation
While the content of manifestation beliefs may vary, they share a similar underlying form:
much like a radio transmitter, a person’s thoughts and emotions transmit invisible yet powerful
messages. These messages are received by a higher power (the universe, God, a higher self,
depending on one’s spiritual outlook) and these powers send back to the person material
experiences that match the original thoughts and emotions. Thus, a person can harness this
reciprocal process to deliberately manifest whatever they desire. For example, if a person wishes to
become wealthy, they should think, feel, and act in a way that affirms the belief that they are
already wealthy (e.g., repeating “I am so grateful I am wealthy” or writing pretend cheques to
themselves). These symbolic actions transmit the “energy” or “vibration” of wealth, which is
returned to them, materially, by the higher power (Atkinson, 1906; Byrne, 2006).
Sociocultural Roots of Manifestation
Manifestation belief has its roots in cultural movements of the late 19th century. Medicine
and psychiatry tended towards psychosomatic explanations for illness, such as hostile impulses
causing hypertension or attachment to one's mother causing asthma (Sloan, 2011). At the same
time, the New Thought spiritual movement began to popularize the idea that people could cure
illness through positive mental visualization and self-talk (Atkinson, 1906; Travis, 2007). In the
mid-20th century, prominent authors such as Napoleon Hill and Norman Vincent Peale applied this
to achieving success in entrepreneurship and business. The idea that spiritual faith and positive
thinking could manifest financial success also emerged in Pentecostal Christianity through the
Prosperity Gospel: the doctrine that God financially rewards those who show faith through making
financial donations to the church (Hutchinson, 2014). Today, people can read about how to increase
their power to manifest success through many self-help books, create “vision boards” of one’s ideal
life from magazine cut-outs along with Oprah Winfrey, or receive manifestation coaching from
social media influencers (Travis, 2007).
Manifestation, Magical Thinking, and Success
Manifestation beliefs are likely reinforced by influential role models, many of which exhibit
the common psychological tendency to explain success as being due to the strength of one’s
personal belief, dedication, and resolve (Miller & Ross, 1975). Of course, to some degree this is
true. A vast literature has studied the effect of interpersonal expectancies, where an observer’s prior
beliefs about other people (e.g., a learner’s intelligence) can subtly cause those people to conform to
the expectations of the observer, creating a self-fulfilling prophesy or “Pygmalion effect” (e.g.,
academic achievement). This phenomenon has been shown to influence therapeutic, research,
relationship, learning, and employee outcomes (Constantino et al., 2012; Eden, 1984; Rosenthal &
Rubin, 1978). Also, intrapersonal expectancies or personal self-fulfilling prophecies have been
studied in the context of self-efficacy and goal setting (Judge & Hurst, 2007; Oettingen & Mayer,
2002; Oettingen et al., 2001; Oettingen & Reininger, 2016) and dispositional traits such as hope and
optimism have been shown to affect future expectations and behavior (Crane & Crane, 2007;
Snyder et al., 2001). Thus, one could argue that manifestation simply represents belief in personal
self-fulfilling prophesies: that one can set aspirational future goals, behave in ways congruent with
their aspirations, and see and make use of opportunities that arise because they are primed to pay
attention to aspects of their world related to their goal. As we have defined it, however,
manifestation involves the belief that pseudoscientific or spiritual forces aid this process. Also, in its
extreme form, it represents a worldview where all experiences in life occur through this partnership
between mind, mystical forces, and matter. Rather than being a normative form of positive
expectancy, it is more likely to be a form of magical thinking.
Magical thinking is commonly defined as “belief in the ability to influence events at a
distance with no known physical explanation” (Pronin et al., 2006, p. 218). Past research has
highlighted the tendency to believe in laws of similarity or “like causes like”, which can be seen in
beliefs and practices across cultures ranging from voodoo to homeopathy (Rozin & Nemeroff,
1990). Research has suggested that such magical thinking may stem from conflations between
physical and non-physical phenomena and illusions of causality and control that can intuitively
form as a natural developmental process in childhood. This can also happen in adults when two
causally unrelated events are coincidently experienced in close succession (Matute et al., 2015). For
example, an athlete who wins a race may associate winning with the fact they were wearing a
particular pair of socks that day, and thus continue to wear those socks in the future to enhance their
performance or control luck (Dömötör et al., 2016).
A form of magical causality closely related to manifestation belief is the tendency to believe
in mental causes of physical events (Wegner & Wheatley, 1999). For example, Pronin and
colleagues (2006) found that spectators who were induced to think about and visualize an athlete’s
success were more likely to believe that they had influenced the athlete’s subsequent performance.
This shows that in particular circumstances, people tend towards believing they have an illusory
degree of mental control over physical events.
However, there are also individual differences in the degree to which people believe they
have mental control over physical events. For example, thought-action fusion is a symptom of
obsessive compulsive disorder in which people believe that the mere existence of a negative thought
(e.g., a car accident) makes that thought more likely to happen in reality (Shafran et al., 1996). The
construct has also been widened to apply to the extent to which people believe that positive
thoughts (e.g., winning the lottery) cause positive events to happen (Craig & Lafreniere, 2016).
While positive thought-action fusion has been associated with stronger hopefulness, it was also
related to increased risk propensity and impaired control of obsessive thoughts (Craig & Lafreniere,
2016). This suggests that while positive thought action fusion may have some psychological
benefits, obsessively focusing on the importance of positive thoughts may have negative
consequences. This mirrors concerns raised in conceptual research which has suggested that
approaches to self-help which insist on positive thinking, may cause overconfidence, false hope,
“saccharin terrorism”, and victim blaming (Aspinwall & Tedeschi, 2010; Jefferson et al., 2017).
Thus, it is important to understand the personal and social consequences of such beliefs.
Measuring manifestation beliefs may extend work on personal expectancies and magical
thinking in several ways. First, while magical thinking such as thought-action fusion is thought of
as an involuntary cognitive bias, manifestation could be considered a belief system: a set of
interrelated, socially constructed beliefs used to perceive and make sense of reality. Second, in
contrast to thought-action fusion, manifestation beliefs are voluntarily adopted for the explicit
purpose of achieving success in life (Gunn & Cloud, 2010), and are potentially consequential to
areas of life success such as career, finances, relationships, and health. Third, manifestation beliefs
differ from conventional beliefs about the causes of success, which may affect how “manifesters”
set goals, plan for the future, take action towards achieving their goals, and make causal attributions
about their own and others’ successes and failures (Oettingen & Mayer, 2002; Oettingen et al.,
2001; Oettingen & Reininger, 2016). Thus, manifestation belief could cause life trajectories to be
altered by decisions made on the basis of such beliefs.
Manifestation beliefs could also be exploited by those in the success industry to promote
unproven or pseudoscientific pathways to success. For example, a budding entrepreneur could
invest time and money in a get rich quick scheme which promotes manifestation belief, or act on
advice to focus solely on positive outcomes in their business, leading them to neglect their rising
debt. These potential consequences suggest that a better understanding of manifestation belief is
The Current Research
The aims of the current paper were to explore the psychology of manifestation beliefs,
including what may influence the development and maintenance of manifestation beliefs, and how
they are related to motivation, judgment, and decision-making. Because no direct measure of
manifestation belief existed, we first developed a reliable measure of manifestation belief in Study 1
and then validated the scale using psychological and behavioral correlates in subsequent studies. In
Study 2, we additionally investigated whether manifestation belief was related to current subjective
(versus objective) success and perceived likelihood of future success. In Study 3, we explored
whether manifestation belief was associated with (a) risky financial behavior and outcomes, and (b)
judgements of the likelihood of, and timeframe for, achieving unrealistically high levels of future
Study 1
The aim of Study 1 was to develop a measure of manifestation belief, then to ascertain its
dimensionality, reliability, descriptive statistics, and stability across time and demographic groups.
We report additional details of analyses, measures, and exclusions in the supplemental materials
available at:
Scale Construction
We conducted several pilot studies to develop items that accurately captured the construct of
manifestation (see supplemental material). To generate the scale items, we first extracted a pool of
quotes from nine popular self-help books that promote manifestation. From this process we
identified two broad dimensions related to external magical powers and personal magical powers.
Thus 14 items were chosen to represent the spectrum of beliefs related to these two dimensions.
Next, we tested the face validity of the items by surveying participants using open response
questions to ascertain how participants made meaning of the items. To determine content validity
we also consulted five experts in magical beliefs, decision making, and/or scale development.
Guided by their feedback, we adjusted the wording of the items related to external powers to better
represent manifestation specifically.
The final items needed to conform to the following criteria: 1) when rated in the extreme,
the item should imply a category mistake which imbues one thing with the properties of another
(e.g., an internal thought having a physical effect on the external environment; Lindeman &
Svedholm, 2012); 2) there is an implied cause-and-effect relationship which is empirically unlikely
(e.g., a thought causing a future event; Risen, 2016); 3) it must contain reference to manifestation
(e.g., successful outcomes being brought forth or attracted). Thus, the final revised scale used for
Study 1 contained six items related to the belief that one can draw upon magical powers to manifest
success and six items related to manifesting success through positive thoughts, emotions, and
symbolic acts (e.g., acting as if one is successful).
Participants and Design
The sample comprised community members from the U.S. recruited through Prolific
Academic1. Of 310 participants, four were removed from analysis for incorrectly answering an
attention check “Please select ‘strongly disagree’” in either wave 1 or 2. Sample demographics for
this and other studies in this manuscript are detailed in the supplementary material. A portion of the
sample (N=103) re-completed the Manifestation Scale three weeks later so we could measure test-
retest reliability.
Procedure and Measures
Because we wanted participants to focus on aspects of success in life that were meaningful
to them while they were completing the Manifestation Scale, in all studies we first included a
success orientation task which asked participants to write down three of their goals for success in
life. Participants then completed the 12-item Manifestation Scale. As an introduction to the scale,
participants were told “We're interested in beliefs you may hold about how you achieve success in
your life. Please rate how much you agree/disagree that each statement reflects a belief that you
hold.” They then indicated their agreement on a 7-point Likert scale that ranged from 1 (strongly
disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Presentation of items was randomized.
To ascertain whether beliefs in manifestation differed between demographic groups we
asked for participants’ age, gender, personal income from the last 12 months before tax, education
attainment, and ethnic identity. Two items measured political beliefs by asking participants to
indicate where they lay on a spectrum from 1=liberal to 7=conservative on (a) economic issues
(e.g., social welfare, government spending, tax cuts) and (b) social issues (e.g., immigration,
homosexual marriage, abortion).
Results and Discussion
Exploratory Factor Analysis
Principal axis factor analysis with oblimin rotation revealed two factors with eigenvalues
above 1.00. As expected, one related to personal power (i.e., the power to manifest success through
positive thoughts, emotions, and symbolic acts) and one related to cosmic collaboration (i.e.,
partnering with supernatural, cosmic, or universal forces to manifest success). We aimed to retain
scale items with factor loadings above 0.40, however one item which we expected to load onto the
Cosmic Collaboration factor loaded onto both factors above this level (“To attract success, I send
out to the universe the same energy I want to get back”), so we removed this item from the scale.
After removing this item, we re-ran the analysis, and the clean, two-factor structure is summarized
in Table 3.1. Overall, both factors explained 73% of variance in manifestation belief and were
1 For all three studies participants were compensated above Prolific’s minimum required fee of
£6/hr. Average time to complete each survey wave was between 5 and 12 minutes.
highly correlated (0.71), suggesting both factors represented one higher order construct (for more
detail see supplemental analyses).
Reliability coefficients were excellent for both the Personal Power (ɑ=.93) and Cosmic
Collaboration (ɑ=.94) subscales. The 11 items of the higher-order scale also had excellent reliability
when entered together (ɑ=.95). To determine the stability of the construct over time we
administered the scale to 103 participants from the same sample three weeks after the first
administration. Spearman-Brown reliability coefficients for the two time points were rsb=.91 for the
higher-order Manifestation Scale, rsb=.88 for the Personal Power subscale, and rsb=.92 for the
Cosmic Collaboration subscale. This indicated participants answered consistently on scale items
and answers remained stable over time.
Belief in manifestation was quite prevalent: the Personal Power subscale had a mean that
was well above the midpoint (M=4.64, SD=1.50) while the Cosmic Collaboration subscale mean
was slightly below the midpoint (M=3.81, SD=1.85). Overall, the Manifestation Scale had a total
mean of 4.23 (SD=1.56)2. The three scales showed skew (-0.10 to -0.63) and kurtosis (-0.21 to -
1.15) within an acceptable range. Looking at the frequency of participants with mean scores on the
Manifestation Scale between 5 (slightly agree) and 7 (strongly agree), we found 35% of the sample
had some belief in manifestation (33.3% for Cosmic Collaboration, 49.7% for Personal Power).
As described in 3.2, scores on the higher-order Manifestation Scale did not differ
significantly by age, gender, or income. There were several small but significant relationships
between the Manifestation Scale and other demographic variables. People with lower education
were more likely to score higher on the Personal Power subscale but there was no effect of
education on the higher-order scale. A more conservative political orientation was associated with
higher belief in manifestation (primarily on the cosmic collaboration subscale) as was identifying as
Black/African American or Hispanic. White/Caucasian ethnicity was associated with lower
manifestation belief. Ethnicity effects were only significant for the Cosmic Collaboration subscale,
which suggests that differences in responding may be related to African American or Hispanic
groups having a higher religious or spiritual connection to manifestation.
In sum, Study 1 indicated that our Manifestation Scale had a sound psychometric structure:
internally consistent, stable over time, and normally distributed. There was also evidence that
endorsement of manifestation beliefs was relatively high. Given its prevalence in the community, it
2 Because our conceptual definition of manifestation involved belief in the partnership between
cosmic and personal forces, we wished to evenly weight the contribution of both subscales to the higher-
order scale. Thus, in all three studies we calculated a total mean from the means of the two subscales to
form the higher-order Manifestation Scale and use this higher-order scale in subsequent analyses.
is important to understand the psychological and behavioral correlates of these beliefs, which was
the focus of Study 2.
EFA Factors
Item wording M SD 1 2
Personal power subscale:
1 Visualizing a successful outcome causes it to be
drawn closer to me
4.80 1.76 0.85
2 I can speak success into existence through positive
4.26 1.87 0.86
3 I am more likely to attract success if I believe success
is already on its way
4.75 1.75 0.87
4 I am more likely to attract a successful outcome if I
act like it has already come true
4.42 1.77 0.73
5 If I think about achieving success, those thoughts
alone make success more likely
4.51 1.72 0.80
6 Success is more likely to come to me the more I
focus on positive emotions
5.12 1.59 0.84
Cosmic collaboration subscale:
7 I attract success into my life with the help of the
universe or a higher power
3.90 2.11 0.91
8 The universe or a higher power sends me people and
events to aid my success
3.94 2.10 0.96
9 I ask the universe or a higher power to bring me
3.86 2.19 0.94
10 To attract success, I align myself with cosmic forces
or energies
3.25 2.00 0.63
My soul, spirit, or higher self helps me attract success
4.08 1.95 0.56
Eigenvalues 4.47 3.55
Variance explained 41% 32%
Cronbach’s Alpha 0.93 0.94
Note. N = 306
Table 1.
Manifestation Scale Demographics and Factor Loadings: Study 1
Ethnic Identity
Scale/subscale Age Gender Income Education
ideology White Black Hispanic Asian
Manifestation scale -.07 .11 -.02 -.10 .18** -.13* .16** .14* -.07 .10
Personal power -.08 .11 -.03 -.12* .11 -.08 .10 .08 -.03 .09
Cosmic collaboration -.06 .09 -.01 -.07 .21*** -.15** .19*** .18** -.10 .10
Note. Political ideology: high scores = more conservative. Ethnic Identity: dichotomous dummy variables were created to measure each ethnic
identity. Gender: Males = 0, Females = 1.
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.
Table 2.
Bivariate Correlations Between the Manifestation Scale and Demographics: Study 1
Study 2
Study 2 had two overlapping aims. First, we examined the validity of the scale by
determining a) criterion validity (i.e., associations with consumption of success industry material
which promotes manifestation), and b) construct validity (i.e., associations with psychological
constructs which we expected to be related to the belief system). Second, we examined whether
manifestation beliefs are associated with perceptions of current and future success.
Participants and Design
U.S. community members were recruited from Prolific. We administered the survey in two
waves to reduce common methods bias, fatigue, and hypothesis guessing. Participants completed
the Manifestation Scale and demographics in wave 1 and all other measures in wave 2, one week
later. The sample comprised 382 participants, 351 of which completed both waves of the survey.
Three participants incorrectly answered attention checks and were excluded from analyses.
The Manifestation Scale. We included the 11-item Manifestation Scale as described in
Study 1.
Success Industry Consumption. As a criterion validity check for the scale, we measured
consumption of success industry material related to manifestation. We first identified four well-
known success industry figures who have promoted various forms of manifestation: 1) Rhonda
Byrne, 2) Napoleon Hill, 3) Tony Robbins, and 4) Oprah Winfrey. For each industry figure, we
presented participants with a written description and images of the person and their work (see
supplemental material) and asked participants if they had consumed any products by each author
(0=No, 1= Yes, Excluded=I’m unsure, maybe). This formed the success industry consumption
variable. We next asked how familiar participants were with each figure’s work (1=Not familiar to
4=Very familiar). Those who answered ‘Not familiar’ were excluded from answering the following
two items which measured 1) belief congruence (i.e., “How much do you agree/disagree that the
ideas expressed in the author’s work reflect your own beliefs?”; 1=strongly disagree to 7=strongly
agree) and 2) emotional valence (i.e., “How would you rate your overall emotions about the author
and their work?”; 1=extremely negative to 7=extremely positive). Scores on the belief congruence
and emotional valence items were highly correlated (rsb=0.89 – 0.94), so we calculated the mean of
both items to create the success industry attitudes variable for each separate industry figure.
To measure construct validity, we included the following psychological measures.
Thought-Action Fusion. We expected thought-action fusion to be a related construct
because it represents a cognitive bias towards believing inner thoughts cause external events to
occur. As such, we included the three-item “Self” dimension of the Thought-Action Fusion Scale-
Revised (Shafran et al., 1996), which measures the belief that having negative thoughts about
oneself increases the likelihood they will happen (e.g., “If I think of myself being in a car accident,
this increases the risk that I will have a car accident”, α=.90). We also included the six-item “Self”
dimension from the Positive Thought-Action Fusion Scale (Craig & Lafreniere, 2016), which
measures the extent to which people believe positive thinking causes positive events to happen
(e.g., “If I think of myself winning a competition, it increases the chance that I will win”;
1=disagree strongly to 5=agree strongly, α=.89). Research suggests positive and negative thought-
action fusion are separate constructs, with the negative form associated with psychopathology and
the positive form observed more widely in the population (Craig & Lafreniere, 2016). Given our
scale was designed to measure variance in manifestation belief in non-clinical samples and scale
items only concerned positive thinking, we predicted that positive thought-action fusion would be
more strongly associated with manifestation belief than negative thought-action fusion.
Religiosity and Non-Religious Spirituality. Historically, manifestation beliefs have
emerged in both traditional (e.g., prosperity gospel) and non-traditional (e.g., new thought) spiritual
contexts. Thus, we ascertained people’s religiosity by asking “How religious are you?” and whether
they were spiritual by asking “To what extent would you consider yourself 'spiritual, but not
religious'?” (1=Not at all to 7=Very). Given that the cosmic collaboration subscale explicitly deals
with spiritual or religious forces, we expected this subscale to be more strongly associated with
spiritual and religious belief. Also, manifestation belief may only apply to a small subset of
religious believers (e.g., some pentecostal and charasmatic denominations; Neubert et al., 2014))
and so we expected smaller associations between manifestation belief and religiosity than with
manifestation belief and spirituality.
Karmic Justice. Because manifestation belief suggests that present thoughts and actions
that carry favor with cosmic forces can bring about future success, we also predicted that
manifesters would have a stronger belief in a universal or ‘Karmic’ style of justice (White et al.,
2019). As such, we included the Karmic Justice dimension of the Belief in Karma Scale (White et
al., 2019) which is the moral view that good or bad deeds are ultimately rewarded or punished later
in one’s life (e.g., “In the long-run, good things happen to good people and bad things happen to
bad people”; 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree, α = .85).
Dispositional Hope. We included the eight-item Adult Hope Scale (Snyder et al., 1996)
containing two dimensions: a) “pathways thinking” or the ability to generate multiple routes to
achieve their goals (e.g., “I can think of many ways to get out of a jam”; 1=definitely false to
8=definitely true, α=.93); and b) “agency thinking” or the motivation to pursue those pathways
(e.g., “I energetically pursue my goals”). Because hope represents positive expectations about the
future it could be used to test whether the Manifestation Scale was measuring a uniquely magical
construct or simply the belief that through goal setting and pursuit one can achieve their dreams.
Thus, hope could be used as a test of discriminant validity.
Beyond strengthening the validity of the scale, the main focus of Study 2 was to examine
whether stronger manifestation belief predicted higher confidence in achieving future success.
Therefore, we included the following measures:
Perceived Current Success. To examine subjective perceptions of participants’ current
level of success, we used the Short-Form Aspirations Index (Martos & Kopp, 2012) which
measured the degree to which participants believed they had attained six common life goals (two
items per goal). The index included extrinsic goals for becoming rich, famous, and having an
appealing image, as well as intrinsic goals for personal growth, deep relationships, and social
contribution (e.g., Life-goal: To be rich. “How much have you already attained this goal?”; 1=not at
all to 7=very much). We first used individual life goals in descriptive analyses, so created mean
scores of the two items representing each life goal (rsb=.54 – .91). We also used the higher-order
intrinsic and extrinsic factors in analysis. Factor analysis showed a clean two factor solution
(λ=3.22, 2.80, 50% variance explained) and so we calculated the mean of the six items for each
factor to form the intrinsic life goal (α=.87) and extrinsic life goal (α=.83) variables.
Perceived Future Success. Because manifestation is promoted as a powerful means of
enhancing success (e.g., Byrne, 2006), it seemed reasonable to expect that manifesters would be
more confident about the odds of achieving future success. Thus, we measured participants’
perceived likelihood of future success, again using the Short-Form Aspirations Index. Participants
rated the likelihood they will achieve each of the six life goals outlined above (e.g., Life-goal: To be
rich. “How likely is it that this will happen in your future?”; 1=not at all to 7=very). Individual life
goals were reliable (rsb=.67 – .90), the factor analysis for higher-order factors showed two clean
factors (λ=3.11, 3.07, 52% variance explained), and good reliability (αintrinsic=.86, αextrinsic=.85).
Thus, we calculated the means in the same fashion as above.
Demographics. We included the same demographic measures from Study 1 as control
variables in analyses.
Results and Discussion
Confirmatory Factor Analysis
To verify the factor structure from Study 1, we conducted confirmatory factor analysis
(CFA). As seen in the top half of Table 3, the two-factor solution performed better than the one-
factor solution. The two-factor solution showed a generally acceptable goodness of fit, with the
Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) falling just outside of acceptable model fit
(.09) based on Browne and Cudeck’s (1992) criteria. When including error co-variances between
one set of items within each factor (modification indices=24.40, 9.05) the RMSEA reduced to .08.
Latent variable factor loadings for individual items ranged from .72 to .94. As with Study 1, the
factors were highly correlated (0.61), suggesting one higher-order construct (see supplementary
Model χ2 (df) χ2/df CFI TLI SRMR RMSEA [90%
Study 2 (N = 348)
1-factor model 870.60 (44) 19.79 .74 .67 .12 .23 [.22, .25]
2-factor model 167.20 (43) 3.89 .96 .95 .06 .09 [.08, .11]
2-factor modela 135.14 (41) 3.30 .97 .96 .06 .08 [.07, .10]
Study 3 (N = 369)
1-factor model 1012.88 (44) 23.02 .75 .68 .12 .24 [.23, .26]
2-factor model 149.28 (43) 3.47 .97 .96 .05 .08 [.07, .10]
2-factor modela 115.88 (41) 2.83 .98 .97 .05 .07 [.06, .09]
Note. Explanations of abbreviations (with cutoff thresholds): χ2/df = Chi-square divided by degrees
of freedom (≤ 5), CFI = Comparative Fit Index (≥ .95), TLI = Tucker-Lewis Index (≥ .95), SRMR =
Standardized Root Mean Squared Residual (≤ .08), RMSEA = Root Mean Square Error of
Approximation (≤ .08),
a Including error covariances for one pair of items per factor.
We calculated bivariate correlations between the Manifestation Scale and psychological
variables. As can be seen in Table 4, the Manifestation Scale and subscales were correlated with the
psychological variables in the strength and direction hypothesized. Non-religious spirituality
showed the strongest association with the Manifestation Scale (r=.55) and religiosity was slightly
weaker (r=.41). As predicted, spirituality and religiosity were more strongly associated with the
cosmic collaboration subscale than personal power. The Manifestation Scale shared a large
relationship with positive thought-action fusion (r=.54) and a smaller relationship with negative
thought-action fusion (r=.33). There was also a large association between karmic justice and the
Manifestation Scale (r=.54). Dispositional hope was also associated with manifestation (r=.37).
When all the psychological predictors were included in a least-squares regression, the strongest
predictors of scores on the higher-order Manifestation Scale were (in order): non-religious
spirituality (β=.32), positive thought-action fusion (β=.28), karmic justice (β=.23), and religiosity
Table 3.
Goodness of Fit Indices for Confirmatory Factor Analyses: Studies 2 and 3
(β=.17). Dispositional hope was a relatively weak predictor (although statistically significant,
β=.11). Negative thought-action fusion was not a significant predictor in the regression.
As can be seen in Table 5, we found large to very large associations between the
Manifestation Scale and favorable attitudes towards all four success industry leaders and their work
(rs=.33–.73), as well as moderate associations with having consumed their products or services
(rs=.19–.21). In regressions, the Manifestation Scale was also the strongest unique predictor of
positive attitudes towards (βs=.35–.61) and having consumed (ORs=1.35–1.75) the success industry
In summary, the scale was behaving as it should, overlapping strongly with attitudes
towards various success industry figures known for advocating manifestation, and doing so over
and above related constructs. This speaks to the retrospective criterion validity of the scale. In terms
of construct validity, the Manifestation Scale shared overlap with constructs that would be
theoretically related to belief in manifestation, but the correlations were not so great as to imply
redundancy. We also found evidence of discriminant validity, in that manifestation belief was
mostly explained by non-religious spirituality, positive thought-action fusion, and karmic justice,
and least explained by religiosity, hope, and negative-thought action fusion, as expected.
Subscales Total scale
r β
.39*** .58*** .55*** .32***
Positive TAF .56*** .44*** .54*** .28***
Karmic justice .47*** .51*** .54*** .23***
Religiosity .17** .53*** .41*** .17***
Hope .39*** .29*** .37*** .11**
Negative TAF .31*** .30*** .33*** .00
R2 .57***
Note. N = 348. TAF = Thought-action fusion. β = standardized beta coefficients from least-squares
** p < .01, *** p < .001
Table 4.
Convergent and Discriminant Validity: Study 2
Associations with Perceived Success
To explore associations with perceived success we calculated correlations between the
Manifestation Scale, current attainment of the six life goals, and likelihood of achieving the six life
goals. As seen in the supplemental material, manifestation beliefs showed moderate to large
associations with perceived attainment (rs .18–.31) and likelihood of achieving all six life goals
(rs .24–.40).
Next, we conducted hierarchical least-squares regressions to ascertain the unique
contribution of the Manifestation Scale in predicting estimates of future success. Because we
expected that likelihood of future success may vary naturally with age, income, gender, and
education level we included these as covariates in all regressions. Table 6 shows the results of these
analyses. When added to the regression model, higher scores on the Manifestation Scale
significantly predicted higher perceived likelihood of achieving extrinsic (but not intrinsic) life
goals. When perceived current attainment was added to the model at step 3, hope and positive
thought-action fusion became non-significant, whereas the Manifestation Scale continued to predict
perceived likelihood of achieving extrinsic life goals.
In summary, individuals who believe in manifestation tend to perceive themselves as more
successful, both in the present and the future. The Manifestation Scale demonstrates predictive
validity by improving the prediction of perceived likelihood of success over and above related
constructs. This unique effect was comparatively strong and similar to that of dispositional hope.
Interestingly, the scale remains a significant predictor regardless of demographic differences and
current perceived success, which would typically affect likelihood judgements. For comparison,
being hopeful only seems to increase perceived likelihood of future success when aligned with one's
current success level and not when this variation in current success is controlled for in regressions.
Given this, and the fact that manifesters did not show more objective success in terms of income
and education attainment in Study 1, manifesters’ perceptions of future success may be overly
Rhonda Byrne
(The Secret)
Napoleon Hill
(Think & Grow
Tony Robbins
(life coach &
Oprah Winfrey
Attitudes r β r β r β r β
Manifestation .73*** .61*** .64*** .58** .48*** .41*** .33*** .35***
Negative TAF .40*** -.02 .34** .05 .26*** .08 .17** .11
Positive TAF .57*** .12 .54*** .09 .34*** .07 .22*** -.01
Religiosity .13 -.19** .32* .09 .18** -.02 .03 -.12
.40*** -.01 .28* -.06 .30*** .06 .17** -.04
Karmic justice .55*** .20* .48*** -.02 .30*** -.02 .15* -.03
Hope .26** .06 .20* .01 .15* .04 .13* .06
R2 .62*** .52*** .25*** .17***
N 117 117 71 71 200 200 296 296
Consumption rpb OR rpb OR rpb OR rpb OR
Manifestation .21*** 1.75** .18** 1.57* .19*** 1.35 .19** 1.45*
Negative TAF .17** 1.56* .09 1.17 .13* 1.34 .07 1.01
Positive TAF .13* 0.94 .13* 1.21 .21*** 1.39 .14* 1.20
Religiosity .03 0.93 .13* 1.14 .03 0.92 -.01 0.91
.19** 1.10 .09 1.02 .12* 1.00 .10 0.97
Karmic justice .03 0.63 .06 0.61 .11* 0.95 .02 0.73
Hope .02 0.92 .10 1.13 .15** 1.18 .09 1.15
McFadden's R2 .13** .11** .13*** .09**
N 330 330 327 327 326 326 307 307
Note. Attitudes = least-squares regression, Consumption = logistic regression. TAF = Thought-action
fusion. Demographics were entered as covariates in each regression model (see supplemental analyses).
Cases with missing values, that reported no knowledge of the target, or who were unsure if they had
consumed material were excluded from each regression analysis.
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.
Table 5.
Manifestation Scale Predicting Success Industry Attitudes and Consumption: Study 2
Extrinsic life goals Intrinsic life goals
Variable r β1 β2 β3 r β1 β2 β3
Manifestation scale .35*** __ .23** .16*** .39*** __ .11 .04
Current attainment .79*** __ __ .77*** .83*** __ __ .76***
Negative TAF .16*** -.07 -.07 -.07 -.01 -.09 -.09 -.05
Positive TAF .35*** .22*** .16* .08 .27***
.14** .11 .09*
Religiosity .06 -.03 -.07 .01 .20*** .03 .01 .02
Non-religious spirituality .16*** .07 .00 -.03 .28*** .13** .10* .06
Karmic justice .30*** .08 .04 .02 .22*** -.10 -.13* -.01
Hope .32*** .27*** .24*** -.07 .63*** .63*** .62*** .11**
R2 .28*** .30*** .73*** .49*** .49*** .76***
R2 change .19*** .02** .43*** .44*** .00 .27***
Note. N = 348. β1 = Standardized betas for least-squares regression when psychological variables entered into a model with demographics, β2 =
Manifestation scale entered, β3 = Perceived current attainment of life goals entered. Demographics entered as covariates in all regression models (see
supplemental analyses).
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
Table 6.
Manifestation Scale Predicting Perceived Likelihood of Future Success: Study 2
Study 3
In Study 3 we aimed to 1) confirm psychometric properties and enhance construct
validity, 2) determine whether manifestation belief may increase the likelihood of becoming
involved in risky business and financial ventures, and 3) further explore how manifestation
belief may be related to unrealistic judgements about future success.
Participants and Design
The sample was again recruited through Prolific. We administered the survey in two
waves, with participants completing the Manifestation Scale and demographics in wave 1 and
all other measures in wave 2, one week later. The sample comprised 400 participants, 375 of
which completed both waves of the survey. Six participants were excluded for incorrectly
answering an attention check.
The Manifestation Scale. We administered the 11-item Manifestation Scale in the
same way as previous studies. As can be seen in the bottom half of Table 3, the CFA results
were similar to those in Study 2.
We predicted that the overoptimism about future success experienced by manifesters
may make them vulnerable to financial or investment opportunities which promise sizable but
unlikely rewards. To test this, we included the following measures:
Risk Propensity. We used the eight-item General Risk-Taking Propensity Scale
(Zhang et al., 2019) to measure the tendency to take risks in life (e.g., “I commonly make
risky decisions”, 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree, α=.94).
Cryptocurrency Investment. To measure participation in what is considered a
volatile financial investment (Lammer et al., 2019) we asked participants, “Do you hold or
own any cryptocurrency?”. Those that answered Yes, currently were coded as ‘1’ and those
who said No or In the past, but not now were coded as ‘0’ (those that answered Not
sure/Prefer not to say were excluded).
Stock Trading. As a comparison to cryptocurrency we asked, “Other than 401k
retirement funds, have you ever personally made investments or trades in the stock market?”
Answers were coded in the same way as the cryptocurrency question.
Fraud Victimization. To ascertain whether participants had been victims of fraud we
adapted a survey question from Jorna (2015). Participants answered whether in the last five
years they had given personal details or money to anyone who had committed nine specific
types of fraud (e.g., “Dishonestly notified you of having won a lottery or some other prize”)
plus one response for ‘other’ types of fraud not specifically listed. Each time participants
answered Yes, I gave personal details or money to a type of fraud they were given a score of
‘1’. If they answered I’m unsure, I may have to any of frauds they were also given ‘1’. No
responses for each fraud were coded as ‘0’. The total number of potential or definite frauds
were summed to ascertain the total amount of times each person was, or may have been, a
victim of fraud in the last five years. The number of potential fraud victimizations selected by
participants ranged from ‘0’ to ‘5’.
Bankruptcy. If manifestation belief is indeed related to risky and intuitive decisions
in business and finance, we expected that this could lead to a greater likelihood of having
been bankrupt. To ascertain whether participants had ever declared bankruptcy we asked,
“Have you, or a business you have owned, ever declared bankruptcy?” (0=No, 1=Yes,
Excluded=Not sure/Prefer not to say).
Building on findings from Study 2, we wished to further understand whether
manifestation belief was related to overconfident or unrealistic evaluations of future success.
Therefore, we included the following measures:
Get Rich Quick Belief. We created three items to measure whether people believed
in the ability to get rich quick and the efficacy of get rich quick schemes (e.g., “Despite what
critics say, you can get rich quick with the right advice and know-how”; 1=strongly disagree
to 7=strongly agree, α=.89).
Unlikely Success Scenario. Study 2 found relationships between the manifestation
scale and increased likelihood of achieving success, regardless of one’s perceived current
level. However the degree of success was not a focal point of the aspirations measure in
Study 2. Although we controlled for perceptions of current success, participants may have
anchored to different levels of success when answering likelihood questions. Therefore in
Study 3, we designed an unlikely success scenario where we first asked participants: “Briefly
complete this sentence: ‘The personal or professional skill, quality, or talent I most value is
my…’”. Participants wrote their response in a text box (“creativity”, “work ethic”, “honesty”
etc.). Their responses were then transferred to subsequent survey items using the “piping”
function in the survey software (below we use “creativity” as a placeholder for where
participants’ own text appeared). Next, we asked “Please imagine yourself in the following
scenario: In the future you achieve great success due to your “creativity”. This success
includes you earning $300,000 each year from building loyal fans/customers numbering over
100,000, who love your “creativity”. Plus you have made a positive difference in the lives of
thousands of people from your “creativity”, earning you true respect and recognition.” This
served as the unlikely success scenario for answering the following questions and allowed us
to keep the unlikely quantitative aspects of success constant yet vary the qualitative elements
to be meaningful to participants.
Success Likelihood. To measure perceived likelihood of success in this scenario we
asked: “In your lifetime, how likely is it you will achieve this level of success?”, (1=not at all
likely to 7=extremely likely).
Success Timeframe. To measure judgements of how long this level of success would
take to achieve we asked: “If you started pursuing this level of success today, how long do
you estimate it would take to personally achieve it?”, (1=<1 year to 7=>15 years) 3.
We also included the following three psychological variables to enhance construct
validity and to examine the effect of manifestation belief on financial risk and unlikely
success variables, relative to other psychological variables related to judgement.
Decision Styles. Dual process theories of cognition have suggested that individuals
process information and make decisions using two separate systems: the rational-analytic
system and the experiential-intuitive system (Lindeman, 2018). A preference for intuitive
thinking has been found to be related to magical thinking and epistemically suspect beliefs
(Hamilton et al., 2016; Risen, 2016) and for this reason we also expected manifestation belief
would be related to intuitive thinking. We had no a priori hypothesis for whether a preference
for rational thinking would be related, given that evidence for a rational cognitive style and
magical thinking has been somewhat mixed (Lindeman, 2018). While belief in manifestation
could represent a failure to reflect and deliberate on the causes of success (Pennycook, 2022),
manifesters are encouraged to place high importance on the power of their thoughts. As such,
manifesters may instead have a stronger preference for cognitive deliberation. To ascertain
this, we included the Rational and Intuitive Decision Styles Scale (Hamilton et al., 2016)
containing five items measuring a preference for rational decision making through evaluating
information thoroughly (e.g., “I prefer to gather all the necessary information before
committing to a decision”; α=.87), and five items measuring intuitive decision making
through relying on feelings and quick decisions (e.g., “When making decisions, I rely mainly
on my gut feelings”, 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree, α=.88).
Core Self-Evaluations. We also wished to test whether manifestation belief was
related to higher self-confidence and self-image. While we thought belief in manifestation
could enhance self-confidence, as it is based on magical thinking, any relation to
3 See supplementary material for validity checks.
overoptimistic judgement should not primarily stem from increased belief in one’s own
ability to attain goals. Thus, we included the 12-item Core Self-Evaluations Scale (Judge et
al., 2003) which measures positive self-concept consisting of self-esteem, self-efficacy,
emotional stability, and internal locus of control (e.g., “I am confident I get the success I
deserve in life.”, 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree, α=.92).
Deferred Gratification. Because manifestation implies that success can “appear” or
be “brought forth”, it may be seen as a pathway to success for those with less ability to delay
gratification. However, it was equally possible that manifestation could enhance a person’s
ability to delay gratification through reframing delayed outcomes (“My thoughts and
behavior are not yet in full vibrational alignment with my goals”) and maintaining hope for
distant goals (Mischel et al., 2010). Therefore, we did not expect a consistent association
between the Manifestation Scale and deferred gratification and included it as a test of
discriminant validity. However, inability to delay gratification has been associated with a
range of outcomes including compulsive gambling and poorer personal finances (Mischel et
al., 2010; Moffitt et al., 2011; Parke et al., 2004). Considering this, it served as an appropriate
construct for comparing the utility of the Manifestation Scale in predicting financial risk
variables and unrealistic judgements about success. We included the adapted version of the
12-item Deferment of Gratification Scale (Haushofer et al., 2016; Ray & Najman, 1986)
(e.g., “I enjoy something more when I have to wait for it and plan for it”, 1=strongly disagree
to 7=strongly agree, α=.80).
Demographic Variables. We used the same demographic variables from the
previous studies as controls.
Construct Validity
We tested construct validity using the same methods as Study 2. As can be seen in
Table 7, there was a large bivariate association between the Manifestation Scale and intuitive
decision-making style (r=.36), a moderate association with core self-evaluations (r=.25) and
no significant association with rational decision-making style (r=.02) or deferred gratification
(r=-.04). Together the psychological variables explained 20% of the variance in the
Manifestation Scale. By far the most important contributor was intuitive decision style
(β=.40). Core self-evaluations (β=.21) and rational decision style (β=.18) were the next most
important and deferred gratification was not a significant predictor (β=-.01). These findings
suggest good convergent and discriminant validity, with the scale being related to the most
theoretically supported construct (preference for intuitive thinking) and less related to
constructs with less theoretical reasons to be associated (e.g., deferred gratification).
Risky Financial Decisions
The correlational and least-squared regression analyses in Table 8 show that the
Manifestation Scale was positively associated with risk propensity (β= .26, r=.24).
Additionally, for each unit increase on the Manifestation Scale, participants were 1.33 times
more likely to own cryptocurrency (rpb=.14) but not significantly more likely to own
traditional stocks, as predicted. They were also 1.28 times more likely to have been a victim
of fraud (rpb=.09), and 1.42 times more likely to have been bankrupt (rpb=.13). When entered
into a regression, the Manifestation Scale significantly improved prediction of financially
risky decisions over and above intuitive decision-making style, rational decision-making
style, ability to defer gratification, and core self-evaluation.
Judgements About Unlikely Success
The correlational and least-squares regression analyses in Table 9 show that there
were large associations between the Manifestation Scale and judgements of unlikely future
success. The Manifestation Scale was associated with belief that one can get rich quick
(r=.43, β=.40), higher perceived likelihood of achieving the unlikely success scenario (r=.35,
β=.30), and judging they could achieve the unlikely scenario in less time (r=-.31, β=-27). The
Manifestation Scale was the strongest unique predictor in regressions compared to the other
psychological variables.
In summary, manifesters are more likely to be overconfident about achieving unlikely
levels of success and exhibit behaviors that may lead to financial harm. These associations
seem specific to the manifestation belief system, and not self-efficacy, control, esteem,
emotional stability, cognitive decision-making style, or ability to defer gratification. This may
have consequences for career and business decision making. In particular, manifesters may be
more likely to believe claims made by those in the success industry about the level,
likelihood, and timeframe of future success.
Table 7.
Convergent and Discriminant Validity: Study 3
Subscales Total scale
r β
Intuitive decision style .36*** .28*** .36*** .40***
Core self-evaluations .19*** .25*** .11* .21***
Rational decision style .07 .13* .02 .18***
Deferred gratification .00 .05 -.04 -.01
R2 .20
Note. N = 369. Personal = Personal Power. Cosmic = Cosmic Collaboration. β = standardized beta
coefficients from least-squares regression.
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
Variable Model
Risk propensity (N = 369) r β1 β2
Manifestation scale .24*** __ .26***
Core self-evaluations .01 .07 .02
Intuitive decision style .25*** .20*** .10
Rational decision style -.16*** -.04 -.09
Deferred gratification -.20*** -.17** -.17**
R2 (R2 change) .20*** (.09***) .25*** (.05***)
Cryptocurrency (N = 354) rpb OR1 OR2
Manifestation scale .14* __ 1.33**
Core self-evaluations .03 0.80 0.72
Intuitive decision style .07 1.56** 1.29
Rational decision style -.05 0.64 0.53*
Deferred gratification .11 1.60* 1.64*
R2 (R2 change) .10*** (.03*) .12*** (.02**)
Stock trading (N = 355) rpb OR1 OR2
Manifestation scale .05 __ 1.16
Core self-evaluations .08 0.93 0.88
Intuitive decision style -.10 0.94 0.84
Rational decision style .04 0.93 0.85
Deferred gratification .18*** 1.46* 1.47*
R2 (R2 change) .12*** (.02) .12*** (.00)
Fraud victimization (N = 356) rpb OR1 OR2
Manifestation scale .09 __ 1.28*
Core self-evaluations -.16*** 0.58** 0.52**
Intuitive decision style .02 1.02 0.84
Rational decision style .01 1.14* 0.98
Deferred gratification -.10 0.81 0.81
R2 (R2 change) .06*** (.03*) .08*** (.02*)
Table 8.
Manifestation Scale Predicting Financial Risk Factors: Study 3
Table 8. continued
Bankruptcy (N = 353) rpb OR1 OR2
Manifestation scale .13* __ 1.42*
Core self-evaluations -.06 0.55 0.49*
Intuitive decision style .00 0.97 0.70
Rational decision style .02 1.62 1.32
Deferred gratification -.06 0.58 0.58
R2 (R2 change) .20*** (.05) .22*** (.02*)
Note. β1 = standardized beta coefficients for ordinary least squares regression, psychological variables
added to the model with demographics. β2 = manifestation scale added. OR1 = odds-ratios for logistic
regression step 1, psychological variables added to the model with demographics. OR2 =
manifestation scale added. McFadden’s likelihood ratio R2 used for logistic regressions.
Demographics entered as covariates in all regression models (see supplemental analyses).
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
Table 9.
Manifestation Scale Predicting Financial Risk Factors: Study 3
Get rich quick r β1 β2
Manifestation scale .43*** __ .40***
Core self-evaluation .20*** .25*** .18***
Intuitive decision .20*** .22*** .06
Rational decision .06 .15** .07
Deferred gratification .00 -.11 -.11
R2 (R2 change) .12*** (.10***) .24*** (.13***)
Unlikely success scenario:
likelihood r β1 β2
Manifestation scale .35*** __ .30***
Core self-evaluation .32*** .33*** .28***
Intuitive decision .14** .17** .06
Rational decision .01 .06 .00
Deferred gratification .08 -.01 -.01
R2 (R2 change) .17*** (.12***) .24*** (.07***)
Table 9. continued
Unlikely success scenario:
timeframe r β1 β2
Manifestation scale -.31*** __ -.27***
Core self-evaluation -.20*** -.17** -.12*
Intuitive decision -.14* -.19*** -.09
Rational decision -.03 -.06 -.01
Deferred gratification -.08 -.04 -.04
R2 (R2 change) .08*** (.06***) .13*** (.06***)
Note. N = 357. β1 = standardized beta coefficients for least-squares regression, psychological
variables added, β2 = manifestation scale added. Demographics were entered as covariates in each
regression model (see supplemental analyses).
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.
General Discussion
In three studies we focused on understanding a form of magical thinking reinforced
by the success industry: manifestation belief. To do this, we first developed the 11-item
Manifestation Scale, which included two subscales: Personal Power (e.g., manifesting
through positive self-talk, visualization, acting ‘as if’) and Cosmic Collaboration (e.g.,
partnering with supernatural or cosmic higher forces) which together formed the higher-order
Manifestation Scale. It demonstrated sound psychometric qualities and showed evidence of
construct and criterion validity. The findings suggest that the scale measures a unique form of
magical thinking, as it is strongly related to positive thought-action fusion biases, karmic
justice, and spirituality, while being distinct enough to be considered its own construct. Also,
the positive expectancy associated with manifestation is not primarily due to increased
perceived control associated with hopefulness or positive self-concept. The scores on the
scale showed over one third of participants were “manifesters” to some degree, highlighting
the prevalence of this belief system.
We found evidence of an interesting paradox: while manifestation belief seems to be
self-enhancing, it shows little evidence of making an impact on objective levels of success.
Manifesters were more likely to have a positive view of themselves and their chances of
success. However, we found no relationship between manifestation belief and income or
education attainment. Insofar as these variables are proxies for objective success, manifesters
are not objectively more successful than non-manifesters.
Manifesters were also more likely to believe they would achieve their life goals and
remained confident even if the gap between these goals and their current level of attainment
was wide. Manifestation belief was the only unique predictor of this phenomenon, compared
to other constructs shown to be related to belief in successful goal attainment, like
dispositional hope (Snyder et al., 2001). This suggests manifestation belief is uniquely related
to overconfidence or overoptimism in goal attainment. Our results also suggest that
manifestation belief is especially related to increased belief in achieving externally derived
goals related to image, fame, and fortune.
While magical thinking may help people maintain optimism during goal-pursuit (as
suggested in ethnographic research; St. James et al., 2011), setting unrealistic goals or
persisting in the face of disconfirming evidence has the potential to be harmful. According to
our findings, manifesters were more likely to have a stronger preference for risk taking, have
riskier investments (i.e., cryptocurrency versus traditional stocks), and have been bankrupt.
Therefore, there is a risk of negative financial outcomes for those who believe in
manifestation. Note that these relationships were subtle and would be difficult for manifesters
to detect by simply reflecting on their life experiences. Making accurate attributions for
success and failure may be particularly challenging for manifesters, as the belief system
encourages positively reframing failure. For example, a manifester who fails at something
may say they are “not yet in complete vibrational alignment” with their goal, or that “God’s
delays are not God’s denials”. While reframing can be an effective emotion-focused coping
strategy (Wood et al., 2009), it has the potential to become harmful if it leads to denial or
false hope (Aspinwall & Tedeschi, 2010; Gunn & Cloud, 2010).
In a similar vein, while manifesters may report having a more positive self-concept
and higher chances of success, insistence on believing positive things about oneself can
psychologically backfire. For example, Wood and colleagues (2009) found that when
participants who were instructed to only focus on how a positive statement about themselves
was true (i.e., “I am lovable”), those with a poorer self-concept felt worse afterwards. In a
similar way, a manifester who may sustain this behavior over time, may see different degrees
of benefit depending on the distance between their affirmed future ideal self and their actual
We also found evidence that manifesters were more likely to believe that they could
achieve an unlikely level of success (earn $300,000 a year, have 100,000 fans etc.) in shorter
time than non-manifesters. This overconfidence could leave manifesters vulnerable to
believing unrealistic and/or inauthentic claims from the success industry and others who
promise unlikely success, such as get rich quick schemes. Manifestation belief could also
decrease the effectiveness of attempts by consumer educators and regulators to inform
consumers of the odds of succeeding in such ventures. For example, legal disclosures
featuring typical levels of success are often given alongside advertising to help consumers
evaluate risk (Bosley et al., 2019a). However, mere exposure to rational explanations of
probability and risk may not curb the expectations of those who believe they possess magical
aids to success that defy probability.
As hypothesized, we found strong relationships between manifestation and religious
and non-religious spirituality, confirming our hypothesis that manifestation beliefs are likely
to be culturally transmitted through spiritual groups. Some explicitly religious (e.g.,
Prosperity Gospel) and less-religious spiritual ideologies (e.g., New Thought) have been
known to promote manifestation as a pathway to the American Dream. For example, one
study found relationships between belief in the Prosperity Gospel, low socio-economic status,
and ethnic minority group membership (Schieman & Jung, 2012), and an ethnographic study
suggested the Prosperity Gospel is seen by Hispanic Americans as a way to achieve the
American dream (Lin, 2020). Given we also found the ethnic minorities were more likely to
hold cosmic manifestation beliefs, it suggests manifestation is particularly appealing to
spiritually oriented people in minorities who have experienced barriers to the American
Faith and fervent belief in manifestation may be particularly consequential. As with
many religious or spiritual ideologies, maintaining faith and belief in the face of little
material evidence is often considered virtuous (Sloan, 2011). Yet faith alone is unlikely to
lead to success, and persistence due to faith could have opportunity costs, especially if failure
is attributed to a lack of faith or belief, rather than other consequential factors. For example,
if a person believes that manifestation can cure physical illnesses such as cancer (e.g., Hay,
1985) they may fail to seek expert medical treatment in a timely manner because they are
convinced that once they have cleansed themselves of negative emotions or found the correct
mental visualization they will cure their illness (Aspinwall & Tedeschi, 2010; Jefferson et al.,
2017). Thus, future research should focus on the effects of manifestation belief in other high-
stakes decision making scenarios, such as health contexts (e.g., Davies & Ferris, 2022).
This paper has several limitations. First, it is possible that manifesters are biased to
respond more positively to survey measures of current levels of goal attainment and success
because they are manifesting in real-time: that is, they are symbolically acting as if they are
more successful in order to cosmically manifest success in the future. Therefore, future
studies may wish to employ alternative (e.g., behavioral, objective) measures to explore this.
If biased responding does exist due to manifestation belief, then there is scope for the scale to
be used as a control variable (much like social desirability) in studies of self-reported goal
attainment and success, where responses may be inflated by manifestation belief. Second, it
will be important to explore manifestation belief cross-culturally, both within the U.S. and
between countries, to understand the generalizability of the construct. Third, although we
found some interesting demographic differences in responses to the subscales, most of our
analyses focused on the higher-order scale. As such, the predictive utility of the two subscales
versus the higher-order scale deserves further exploration. Forth, due to the correlational
nature of this paper, any implication of causation is speculative. For example, manifestation
belief was related to thought-action fusion and engaging with the success industry. However,
the nature of causality is probably complex: those more inclined towards involuntary forms
of magical thinking like thought-action fusion may be more likely to be attracted to success
industry material that promotes manifestation. Conversely, people may develop a belief in
manifestation from engaging with such material, which instead leads them to develop
stronger thought-action fusion. It also remains to be seen whether a desire for success
motivates people to believe in manifestation or whether people develop stronger desire as a
consequence of their belief in manifestation. Further experimental or longitudinal studies may
help confirm this.
In conclusion, as the desire for more aspirational forms of success rise, so do the
promises of a success industry of “experts”, “gurus”, and “influencers” who offer inspiration,
education, and systems of success. However, many of these beliefs and practices remain
untested. Therefore, this paper developed the Manifestation Scale to measure an under-
researched, yet popular form of magical thinking related to success: the belief the one can
collaborate with the universe or a higher power to attract success through positive thinking,
visualization, and symbolic actions such as acting as if one’s goals have already come true.
While manifesters may be more confident about themselves and their prospects for success,
manifestation shows little objective evidence of aiding one’s success. Manifestation belief
was related to risky financial investments and negative financial outcomes as well as
overconfident estimates of the likelihood and timeframe for achieving unlikely levels of
success. In developing the scale, we invite further exploration of manifestation belief and
pseudoscience in the success industry and in high-stakes domains such as career, finance, and
health decisions.
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