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Science

Magic, wellbeing and happiness at Bridging the Impossible conference

By | Abracademy Labs, Curiosity, Education, Science

Can you imagine a conference on the subjects of magic, wellbeing and happiness? Well, no need to imagine it because in August 2021 we held Bridging the Impossible, a conference bringing together experts in those topics. Hosted with Goldsmiths University’s MAGIC Lab, we explored the science behind using magic for therapy, personal growth and generally good things!

Don’t worry if you missed out because we have a series of blog posts to share here over the coming weeks, summarising insights from each speaker.

To kick things off, we’re looking at the work of Steve Bagienski. Steve recently finished his PhD on the social and emotional experiences of magic (at Goldsmiths, University of London) plus he’s conducted comprehensive literature reviews on how magic might enhance wellbeing.

Steve kicked the conference off by sharing a review of scientific studies and looking at organisations that use magic as a force for good. He discussed how watching magic tricks could be used as a distraction therapy, while learning to perform magic seems to enhance self-esteem and social skills. These insights are what led to his research collaboration with Abracademy during 2020-1. Together, we created a series of workshops (Magical Moments) for the first year undergraduates at Goldsmiths. During the programme, Steve measured the students’ self-esteem and social concepts like a sense of community and belonging. All increased after students had taken part in the workshops.

But as the workshops contain content other than magic, were the benefits felt by the students actually related to learning magic tricks? To find out, Steve took the initiative to do another experiment, focusing on the impact of the magic-off activity. This is a pivotal moment in the workshops where participants each learn a different magic trick then perform for one another. 

Not only did Steve see similar results to the original study, but this also revealed that students tended to greatly underestimate their ability to perform magic. As a result, they grew more confident once they had performed. Why? Well, one insight – from qualitative data – was that many participants attributed the confidence boost to their partner’s reaction to the magic. This reaction implied that they had successfully performed the magic, thus challenging their initial self-judgement of being someone that’s not good at magic.

To finish his presentation at the conference, Steve shared his experience of co-designing the pilot version of Abracademy’s Raising Resilience workshop. This workshop uses activities from the wellbeing sciences to help people strengthen their emotional resilience – something much needed in recent times… 

Interested in finding out more about any of this? 💬 Contact Alice – our resident science wizard

Here’s some resources that you might find interesting:

 

References

Bagienski, S., & 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), 41-65.

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Alice Pailhès

By | Abracademy Labs, Curiosity, Education, Food for thought, Science, Team
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Alice Pailhès

Wizard of Science

Psychologist, researcher

Alice is a PhD Candidate and Associate Lecturer in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her thesis focuses on using magic tricks to study the illusory sense of agency over choice. This is to better understand the subtle factors that influence our decisions without our awareness.

Alice is driven by her desire to give people a sense of wonder about how their minds work and how to best use the mind. By studying the subtle mechanisms magicians use to direct our attention, Pailhès probes the unconscious factors that subtly influence our choices. Magic tricks offer her an amazing way to collect and transmit scientific data in an entertaining and powerful way.

Alice's superpowers are:

🗲 Making science fun

🗲 Information seeking

🗲 Problem solving

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