Take away the cards, sleight of hand and misdirection from a magic trick and you’re left with an interesting concept – the magician as psychologist. It sounds improbable, but magic can teach us a lot about how our minds work, and magicians use their knowledge of this every day, using psychological techniques to amaze and surprise.
Magic Can Teach Us a Lot About How We Think
Making a scarf disappear is insignificant when compared to hiding the Statue of Liberty in ‘plain sight’ in front of hundreds of spectators. But at their core these tricks aren’t dissimilar, and are the stuff that close-up magicians make their careers out of. And studying magic can tell us so much more about us!
Here are just a few things magic teaches about how our minds work:
We Don't Know What is Going to Happen – But We Think We Do!
A magician relies on every trick in their magic book to make the show exciting for viewers. They play with illusion, deception, make objects disappear (and then reappear) and countless other little tricks. Little by little, this begins to paint a picture, and spectators often think they know what will happen. And even though they may have guessed that, say, an object is going to disappear, they cannot known the reaction they’re going to have.
In the same vein, while the magician can control to the trick, they too do not know how the audience will react. We all automatically try to connect the dots and predict the future. Magic shows us that despite our best efforts, we really cannot predict what will happen.
We Need Stories to Make Sense of the World
Good magic will leave you wondering what happened after the trick runs its conclusion. The best kind of magic will tell a story that keeps you thinking about it for days! Great magicians don’t do just tricks—they build a story around each one. They create an immersive and engaging experience until the audience is left reeling.
How did the great David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear? In the end, as with any disappearing object, it was a technically brilliant magic trick. But the wonder we all felt to watch it was down to the story that he told, the story we told ourselves, and the stories we came away with.
Going Forwards Might Not Give You an Answer – Working Backwards From Your Ideal Solution Just Might
Magicians often work backwards when creating magic tricks. They think of the effect of the trick and then work out how to get there. This is called reverse engineering, i.e. solving a mystery by going backwards towards the solution.
This approach is often something we can find difficult in our everyday lives. We often use our deductive reasoning skills, to solve a problem. We stack up facts, as many as we can find to arrive at the solution. We compare similar scenarios and think forwards, along the lines of ‘What comes next?”. If we used the magician’s methods, looking at our problems from the perspective of the destination we wish to arrive at, we may find a more intuitive way of solving problems.
Intrigued yet by all this talk about magic and how it scintillates our mind? See the psychology of magic in action by booking me for your next party, wedding or corporate event!