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The Magical Self

By | Abracademy Labs, Belief, What's new?

Can we enhance our inner belief without crossing the rivers of self-doubt? Can we change how we feel about ourselves… by waving a magic wand?

It may sound surprising, but researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, recently published a review of experiments on how magic might enhance wellbeing (Bagienski & Kuhn, 2019). And they observed that increased pride and self-esteem were common in studies where participants either discovered secrets to magic tricks or learned to perform magic.

To be fair, most of these studies involved populations with low self-esteem and some had methodological flaws, so more research is needed. But the available results do look promising.  And by looking at theoretical models of self-esteem, we find some fascinating reasons for why magic may improve self-esteem.

One common argument in these studies is that learning magic develops an impressive skill that most others cannot perform (Frith & Walker, 1983). And this speaks to two common psychological theories of what causes of self-esteem:  

The first was put forth by William James (1892) on how self-esteem arises when perceived success in “valued domains” aligns with our aspirations. And who doesn’t value a bit of magic and fantasy, like the magic we see in movies, novels, or games? In fact, this was supported by an experiment that concluded: “a novel and unusual event elicits stronger curiosity and exploratory behaviour if its suggested explanation involves an element of the supernatural” (Subbotsky, 2010). Additionally, people value secret knowledge and society marvels when people achieve the impossible. Both are in magic. Lastly, people are driven to figure out how magic tricks work. For all these reasons, it makes sense that magic is valued. So we could feel better about ourselves by learning magic successfully.

The strange part is how magic focuses the impossible… Because people tend to set their aspirations in the realm of possibility, but magic achieves the “impossible”. Thus, at a certain imaginary level, learning to learning magic must exceed one’s aspirations. And this experience is at least somewhat grounded in reality because social reactions to magic imply that the impossible became possible!This latter social aspect also aligns with Cooley’s (1902) model of self-esteem. In his model, self-esteem is caused by opinions of significant others who act like a “social mirror.” This idea of a social mirror also helps explain why improved social skills were observed in magic studies, but only when participants learned to perform magic (Bagienski & Kuhn, 2019). One reason might be that reactions to magic resemble an interested, enthusiastic response. And these responses would act as social validation. They are also very similar to the responses that scientists found to form positive relationships (Bagienski & Kuhn, 2019; Gable, Gonzaga, & Strachman, 2006; Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004). 

Another reason why magic could improve social skills is because magic is one of the only art forms that deliberately uses speech and social cues for its misdirection (Scott, Batten, & Kuhn, 2018). Thus, learning magic can be a natural fit for improving social skills. And when your social skills are sharp, you feel good about yourself because you can better cultivate the supportive, meaningful relationships that make life beautiful.

References:

Bagienski, S. E., & Kuhn, G. (2019). The crossroads of magic and wellbeing: A review of wellbeing-focused magic programs, empirical studies, and conceivable theories. International Journal of Wellbeing, 9(2).

Cooley, C. (1902). Looking-glass self. The Production of Reality: Essays and Readings on Social Interaction, 6. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=8FKzamiVX4sC&oi=fnd&pg=PA126&ots=13LOPWoq3y&sig=KiOgsxExuoBtH_5XD-CHBlcriJc

Gable, S. L., Gonzaga, G. C., & Strachman, A. (2006). Will you be there for me when things go right? Supportive responses to positive event disclosures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(5), 904–917. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.91.5.904

Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What Do You Do When Things Go Right? The Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Benefits of Sharing Positive Events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 228–245. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.87.2.228

James, W. (1892). Psychology: The briefer course. New York: Holt.

Scott, H., Batten, J. P., & Kuhn, G. (2018). Why are you looking at me? It’s because I’m talking, but mostly because I’m staring or not doing much. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 81(1), 109–118. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13414-018-1588-6

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Harriet Swede

By | Team
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Harriet Swede

Master Fortune Teller

Partnerships Manager

Harriet is a solution-focused people-person with a desire to help others live intentional, fulfilled lives, personally and professionally. She is interested in psychology and yoga, particularly the intersection between mental and physical therapies, and practices. She believes in the power of conjuring meaningful relationships to create magic within organisations. ?

Harriet's superpowers are:

  • a sharp eye for detail
  • determination
  • problem solving

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Words on Wonder

By | Abracademy Labs, Belief, Curiosity, Food for thought, What's new?, Wonder

Scientist, mathematician and magician, Matt Pritchard, is interested in what makes people go WOW! ?

You probably know by now that at Abracademy, we want to bring more magic to the world. It’s our raison d’etre! And you probably also know that all our workshops are all founded on two mindsets inspired by magic – Belief and Wonder. So, when we came across Matt Pritchard’s Words on Wonder blog, we were hooked…

In his blog, Matt chats with other magicians, creatives and scientists about their work, particularly how they cultivate, and share wonder. One fundamental question he asks, that helps the reader understand what motivates each of his guests, is: Why are you interested in researching the science of magic? Here’s some of the answers to that question, starting with our own Wizard of Happiness and wellbeing researcher, Steve Bagienski: 

I can’t think of a more personally befitting and meaningful thing to do than explore magic and wellbeing. There are so many directions my research could go, but I am focused on the social and emotional experiences of watching, and learning, magic. I really do believe that our relationships with others are what matters most in life, it’s how we become part of something bigger than ourselves. I would love more scientists to explore the many nuances, but for me, my PhD project is a good place to start. (Follow Steve on Twitter)

On a different note, Ph.D student and associate lecturer in the Psychology of Magic at London’s Goldsmiths University, Alice Pailhes, studies how unconscious influences shape our choices and the illusion of free will with the help of a magician’s technique known as ‘forcing’:

Since I started studying psychology I became really interested in social psychology – how our environment affects our choices and behaviours. As we are constantly making decisions (as trivial and small as what to eat for lunch, but also important ones such as what career or partner to choose), I started to be really fascinated by understanding why we do the things we do, and how we’re influenced by a number of factors. I find the illusion of free will, as well as how we think we chose something when we didn’t, really captivating. As I’ve always loved magic and do a little myself, I quickly made a link with some tricks I knew: forcing techniques. Forcing is a way to make spectators pick or think about a specific card or object without them being aware that they were influenced. Magicians have been using forcing techniques and processes for hundred of years that psychology only understood a few decades ago! I think we have a lot to learn from magicians’ knowledge. (Follow Alice on Twitter)

Last, but certainly not least, Lise Lesaffre Lise is exploring magic, not so much in practice, but rather from a cognitive experimental perspective:

I use magic to investigate belief formation. More particularly, I use a sort of mentalism routine that makes the audience think they are in front of a genuine psychic. I take measurements before and after about their beliefs, and associated cognitive bias. We found that when the performance is convincing, the audience get really emotional and most people believe what they saw was a genuine psychic demonstration – more than 60% reported the performer was a genuine psychic! (Visit Lise’s webpage to find out more about her research).

We’ve often said that magicians are masters of human behaviour. You can see from these responses that science and magic make very natural companions, helping us understand the human brain and how it works.

Read the full interviews here. And big thanks to Matt, Steve, Alice and Lise for sharing their thoughts with us.

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The Five Dimensions of Curiosity

By | Abracademy Labs, Food for thought, What's new?

How is that possible?

This question is central to the idea of curiosity. And humans are inherently curious creatures. It begins from the time we learn to crawl and extends to grown ups wondering how the universe works.

Curiosity brings a range of benefits in life – it encourages us to explore and learn new things. Studies have also linked it to better relationships, reduced aggression, and enhanced well being. Curiosity stimulates progress towards one’s goals.

But what ​exactly is​ curiosity? We can be curious to learn new things and meet new people. We’re also curious how our signed card appears in the magician’s pocket. Is curiosity always pleasurable? Not always. We might be curious as to why a date rejected us or how to solve that frustrating Rubik’s cube…

Some answers to these questions come from the cutting edge science of researcher Todd Kashdan and his team. They synthesized years of research on curiosity, from studies​ of nearly 4,000 adults and found Five Dimensions of Curiosity:

Joyous Exploration​

This is about the sense of wonder. When we acquire fascinating new information that grows our knowledge, we feel joyous exploration. You get this, for example, when you discover the secret to a magic trick and learn how to perform it yourself.

Deprivation Sensitivity

Aka “Need to Know” curiosity​. This is the drive to solve problems along with its frustrations. Think of that pesky Rubik’s Cube and difficult Sudoku puzzles…

Stress Tolerance​

This dimension of curiosity entails the willingness to embrace the doubt or confusion associated with uncertain and mysterious things in life.

Social Curiosity​

Speaks for itself: this is curiosity about other people. What do they like, what do they dislike, what’s their favorite music or food, and so on. Social Curiosity is the desire to know more about people and what makes them tick.

Thrill Seeking​

This is the willingness to take different types of risks. Thrill Seeking includes the emotional “high” we get from these exciting, new experiences.  This emotional energy can be channelled into reckless future behaviours, meaningful life pursuits, or both.

Of all the dimensions, Joyous Exploration and Stress Tolerance had the strongest associations with measures of well being. This makes sense because well being is not merely about enjoying our endeavours all the time. But rather about having the psychological resilience to deal with uncertainty in life during the tough times.

As Abracademy is a company wishing to spread more magic in the world, we celebrate how uncertainty can create some wonderful, amazing, extraordinary and, of course, magical moments.

References

Kashdan, T. B., DeWall, C. N., Pond, R. S., Silvia, P. J., Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., … & Keller, P. S. (2013). Curiosity protects against interpersonal aggression: Cross‐sectional, daily process, and behavioral evidence. Journal of Personality, 81(1), 87-102.

Kashdan, T. B., McKnight, P. E., Fincham, F. D., & Rose, P. (2011). When curiosity breeds intimacy: Taking advantage of intimacy opportunities and transforming boring conversations. Journal of Personality, 79(6), 1369-1402.

Kashdan, T. B., Stiksma, M. C., Disabato, D. D., McKnight, P. E., Bekier, J., Kaji, J., & Lazarus, R. (2018). The five-dimensional curiosity scale: Capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people. Journal of Research in Personality, 73, 130-149.

Sheldon, K. M., Jose, P. E., Kashdan, T. B., & Jarden, A. (2015). Personality, effective goal-striving, and enhanced well-being: Comparing 10 candidate personality strengths. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(4), 575-585.

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The Magic of Misfortunate Events

By | Abracademy Labs, Food for thought, What's new?

Resilience. Emotional agility. Psychological vitality. Regardless of the name we give it, this skill has a important impact on how we deal with life. 

Business losses, health problems, family issues. How we react to these adversities determines our future fulfillment. And it also determines whether we can restore magic and meaning to our lives.

It’s completely normal to experience negative emotions like sadness or anxiety when encountering the inevitable adversities of life. And it can be tempting to believe that one adversity will cause more problems. Or even worse: to believe it will become a downward negative spiral leading to debilitating negative conditions like PTSD. However, science shows that typical responses to adversity only involve a short period of negative emotions. This is followed by a return to our baseline happiness. There is also a seductive allure to focus on the disabling conditions of life, rather than the enabling ones. Subsequently, we are likely underestimating the prevalence of resilience we all have (Bonanna, 2004).

The good news is that regardless of where we are in life, our brains can be rewired to become more resilient. One way is by shifting focus to the meaning we find in our way, so we can use negative emotions productively.

Take stress, for example. After hearing a laundry list of reasons to “not stress”, many people then stress about being stressed. This creates a negative feedback loop. But researchers have shown that many disadvantages of stress disappear for people who view stress as a useful, energising tool (Achor, Crum, & Salovey, 2013; Keller et al., 2012).

Taking this a few steps further is the notion of Post Traumatic Growth. This is where a traumatic experience causes an individual to grow stronger than before the trauma (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2014). Think of Stephen Hawking. Paralyzed, no muscle function, no speech. Yet, he became one of the most respected thinkers: mathematician, physicist and cosmologist. And now his computerized speech is recognized as the voice of the cosmos!

Next time life throws you off course, ask yourself something… What would the value be if you could develop a habit of psychological resilience? Would you still view adversity and obstacles as problems? Or as gifts in disguise? What are the hidden opportunities of adversity? And how can you unlock this hidden, magical treasure of resilience for yourself…?

References

  • Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events?. American psychologist, 59(1), 20.
  • Bonanno, G. A. (2005). Resilience in the face of potential trauma. Current directions in psychological science, 14(3), 135-138.
  • Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (2014). The foundations of posttraumatic growth: An expanded framework. In Handbook of posttraumatic growth. Routledge.
  • Crum, A. J., Salovey, P., & Achor, S. (2013). Rethinking stress: The role of mindsets in determining the stress response. Journal of personality and social psychology, 104(4), 716.
  • Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677.

Anne Brassier

By | Team

Anne Brassier

Cauldron Director

Business Development Lead

Before joining Abracademy, Anne worked in Business Development and Communications roles at a variety of companies, from small creative and digital agencies, to global giants Microsoft and Facebook.

Background

Born in France and raised to appreciate crisp sandwiches in Scotland, she dabbled briefly in the California sunshine before making London home. Anne runs and knits, but never at the same time. She's also mum to a budding magician daughter who firmly believes in magic, sparkles and mermaids.

Anne's Superpowers

  • listening
  • going the distance
  • an eagle-eye for detail

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A Brassier + Abracademy. It was meant to be.

By | What's new?

Magician’s Assistant, however, isn’t one of the job titles I thought I’d be adding to my eclectic repertoire. Not now that I’m a grown up. Not now that I think about what I want from my career. Not ever actually. And yet, here I am – the delighted and newly appointed Business Development Lead at Abracademy. An actual magic school.

I graduated from university with a degree in Computer Science. Pretty forward-thinking of me aged 16 to choose this option you say? Yes, it was. However, like all good university graduates in the late 80s, my career path was initially somewhat, umm, varied… Tea Buyerand T-Shirt Queen are two early job titles that spring to mind. I worked at a bakery called Flour Power and I was a human sandwich board. I created wonky knitted creatures (The Stitches), that people ‘adopted’ for a small fee (those people then sent me photos and updates so I knew the knitted ones were being taken care of). I’ve also been Mr Wimpy, but let’s not dwell on that. Magician’s Assistant, however, isn’t one of the job titles I thought I’d be adding to my eclectic repertoire. Not now that I’m a grown up. Not now that I think about what I want from my career. Not ever actually. And yet, here I am – the delighted and newly appointed Product Manager at Abracademy. An actual magic school.

My daughter thinks I work at Hogwarts.

But of course, there is a serious side to this magic business, it’s not all bunnies out of hats and haunted hankies (though most days do involve someone performing a trick for me) – behind Abracademy is a fantastic idea and a solid business that I intend to help grow. Abracademy’s mission is to help people learn through play. The playing bit is the wow inducing magic. And the learning bit is equally impactful – my daughter received a starter magic kit from my colleague, Rubens. She’s a shy kid, not one that enjoys being in the limelight or center stage so I was incredibly surprised when, in a restaurant later that evening, she asked the waitress if she could show her a trick. If that’s not an instant confidence boost, I don’t know what is.

So far at Abracademy, I’ve seen teenagers who, instead of being locked in a room gaming or texting, are out in the streets practicing and performing tricks for anyone who’ll watch, and I’ve seen corporate workshop participants laughing incredulously as their chosen card appears when they thought for sure it couldn’t possibly. Those who have learned magic or done workshops with Abracademy have new-found confidence because they can do a thing that not many other people can do. Communication skills are enhanced, presentation skills are stronger, teams have collaborated and learned about each other. Those who have come into contact with Abracademy’s magic touch will take that experience forward, hopefully spreading the magic word. I guarantee they’ve all added Hermes gold-edged deck of cards to their Christmas list! (I definitely have).

I have big plans for Abracademy up my sleeve. Never mind Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross, we’ll have a magic portal to a parallel universe by 2020, mark my words. That, or a shop-workshop-studio-office space where the phone rings constantly, where people gather to learn and where magicians of the world come to demonstrate how magic brings all manner of good things to people who care to enter the world of Abracademy. There might also be the odd teenager wowing you with some gravity-defying cardistry too.

To find out more – drop me an email to say hello.

Anne Brassier
Cauldron Director

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