Category

Belief

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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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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