Magicians Defy Creative Mental Health Trends

Summary: A new study reveals that magicians are less likely to face mental health challenges compared to other creative individuals like musicians and comedians. While creativity has often been linked to mental health issues, this research challenges that notion.

The study measured the psychological traits of 195 magicians and found that they scored lower on key measures of psychosis, making them unique among creative groups. Magicians’ mental health profiles are most similar to mathematicians and scientists, shedding light on the complex relationship between creativity and mental disorders.

Key Facts:

  1. Magicians, unlike many other creative groups, show lower scores on psychotic traits, indicating a lower likelihood of mental disorders.
  2. The precision and high-stakes nature of magic performances contribute to the unique characteristics of magicians in relation to their mental health.
  3. Magicians are distinct in that they both create and perform their own magic tricks, setting them apart from other creative professions.

Source: Aberystwyth University

Magicians are less likely to suffer from the mental health challenges faced by other creative people, like musicians and comedians, according to a new study.

From comedians like Robin Williams, to poets and painters like Sylvia Plath and Van Gogh, many famous names have had well-publicised mental health disorders. While not fully understood, there is growing evidence of a link between these health challenges and creativity.

This shows a magician.
Magicians were less likely than all other creatives to have unusual experiences, such as hallucinations or cognitive disorganisation, which can make it hard to concentrate. Credit: Neuroscience News

New research led by Aberystwyth University, and published in the journal BJPsych Open, shows that on some key measures, magicians are apparently an exception to this trend.

The study measured the psychological traits of 195 magicians and 233 people from the general population and compared with data from other creative groups.

The academics’ work shows that on three key measures of psychosis or degrees of losing contact with reality, magicians are significantly less likely to suffer than artists, musicians and comedians.

Magicians were less likely than all other creatives to have unusual experiences, such as hallucinations or cognitive disorganisation, which can make it hard to concentrate.

Indeed, on many measures magicians appear to be less prone to these conditions than the general population. Their mental health profiles are most similar to those of mathematicians and scientists.

Dr Gil Greengross from the Department of Psychology at Aberystwyth University commented:

“There is a common perception that many creative people have mental illnesses, and such illnesses make them more creative. This is the first study to show a creative group with lower scores on psychotic traits than the general population.

“Our research shows that members of at least one creative group, magicians, do not exhibit higher levels of mental disorders.

“The results demonstrate that the association between creativity and psychopathology is more complex than previously thought, and different kinds of creative work could be associated with either high or low psychoticism or autistic traits.

“The study highlights the unique characteristics of magicians, and the possible myriad associations between creativity and mental disorders among creative groups. One thing that distinguishes magicians from most other performing artists is the precision required in their performances.

“So, compared to other performers, it is more difficult to overcome errors. Magic tricks are largely ‘all or nothing’ acts that culminate in an ‘aha’ moment of surprise and awe. Failed magic tricks leave a greater impact than unfunny jokes, and are harder to compensate for, as they are few and far between.

“So, in addition to requiring highly technical skills, regardless of the type of magic performed, the high stakes of magic performances make magicians a unique creative group to study amongst all artistic professions.”

Dr Greengross from Aberystwyth University added:

“What distinguishes magicians from most other creative people is that they not only create their own magic tricks but also perform them, while most creative groups are either creators or performers.

“For example, poets, writers, composers and choreographers create something that will be consumed or performed by others. In contrast, actors, musicians and dancers perform and interpret the creation of others. Magicians, like comedians and singer-songwriters, are one of the rare groups that do both.

“Magicians scored low on impulsive nonconformity, a trait that is associated with anti-social behaviour and lower self-control. These traits are valuable for many creative groups such as writers, poets and comedians whose creative acts are often edgy and challenge conventional wisdom.

“Magicians can also be equally innovative and push the limits of what is thought to be possible in magic, such as David Copperfield’s famous flying illusion.

“However, many magicians perform familiar tricks or some variations of them without feeling the need to innovate.”

About this creativity and mental health research news

Author: Colin Nosworthy
Source: Aberystwyth University
Contact: Colin Nosworthy – Aberystwyth University
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Psychotic and autistic traits among magicians and their relationship with creative beliefs” by Gil Greengross et al. BJ Psych Open


Abstract

Psychotic and autistic traits among magicians and their relationship with creative beliefs

Background

There is a common perception that creativity is associated with psychopathology. Previous studies have shown that members of creative groups such as comedians, artists and scientists scores higher than the norm on psychotic traits, and scientists in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields score highly on autistic traits.

Aims

To test whether magicians, a creative group that has not been studied before, also score highly on psychopathological traits and autism, and to test the associations of creative self-efficacy and creative identity with schizotypal and autistic traits among magicians.

Method

A sample of 195 magicians and 233 people from the general population completed measures of schizotypal traits (Oxford–Liverpool Inventory of Feelings and Experiences) and autism (Abridged Version of the Autism-Spectrum Quotient), as well as the Short Scale of Creative Self. Magicians were also compared with other creative groups with respect to schizotypal traits, based on previously published data.

Results

Magicians scored lower than the general population sample on three of the four schizophrenia measures (cognitive disorganisation, introvertive anhedonia and impulsive nonconformity) but did not differ with respect to unusual experiences or autism scores. Magicians scored higher on creative self-efficacy and creative personal identity than the general sample. Magicians’ scores on schizotypal traits were largely lower than those of other creative groups. Originality of magic was positively correlated with unusual experiences (r = 0.208), creative self-efficacy (r = 0.251) and creative identity (r = 0.362).

Conclusions

This is the first study to show a creative group with lower scores than norms on psychotic traits. The results highlight the unique characteristics of magicians and the possible myriad associations between creativity and mental disorders among creative groups.

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