Creative types – musicians, painters, writers – are often regarded as a tormented and difficult bunch but a study has revealed that at least one subsection of the artistic community may have grasped the trick of staying well balanced.
A study of magicians around the world, led by Aberystwyth University’s psychology department, suggests that illusionists may be less prone to mental health difficulties than other creatives and the general population.
The research, published on Wednesday in the journal BJPsych Open, measured psychopathological traits of almost 200 magicians and compared the results with data from other artistic groups and the general population.
It concluded that magicians scored significantly lower than other types of creatives and “normal” folk. Despite their job involving the illusion of delving into mystery, magicians were less likely to have unusual experiences such as hallucinations or cognitive disorganisation, the study found.
Gil Greengross, who led the research, said it was the first study to show a creative group with lower scores on psychotic traits than the general population.
He said: “Our research shows that 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.”
Greengross said magicians scored low on “impulsive nonconformity”, a trait that is associated with antisocial behaviour and lower self-control. “This trait is valuable for many creative groups such as writers, poets and comedians whose acts are often edgy and challenge conventional wisdom. Magicians can be equally innovative and push the limits. However, many magicians perform familiar tricks or variations of them without feeling the need to innovate.”
The magicians were recruited with help from groups including the Magic Circle in the UK, the Society of American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians. The participants were aged from late teenagers to 90.
Sara Crasson, a New York magician who worked on the study, said there were reasons why magicians might be more balanced. “One of the things we often do when we meet is share our origin story – how did we come into this art? It’s very, very common for especially male magicians to come to magic between the ages of eight and 14 to overcome a social deficit in some way. Maybe the bully won’t beat them up if they can show the bully a cool trick.”
Magic was a way of getting “positive social status and attention”, she said. “It often helps overcome a lack of social skills. It gives you confidence and can really build you up and help you overcome issues. I think that magic helps.”
The study suggests that mental health profiles for magicians are akin to those of mathematicians and scientists. Crasson said precision was an important part of magic. “There’s a lot of precision in how a piece is executed. When you see a top magician performing, in every move, every word, there is meaning and thought.”
Crasson works with a cuddly bear called Bamberg in her act but said there was a great deal of human collaboration in magic. “It’s something we’re passionate about. While we are competitors, we are also good friends. There are people I would compete with for a gig but I will also say: ‘Hey, I’m working on this, what do you think?’ And they will give me ideas and I will give them ideas. It’s an amazing community.
“My grandfather was a dentist and my father, who was also a magician, was fond of saying the other dentists wouldn’t share their process for bonding teeth. But I have gone to performers and said: ‘I’ve loved what you did. Could you teach me some part of that?’ and they say: ‘Absolutely, here’s how you do it, you have my blessing.’ That kind of embrace is really powerful.”