The findings of a survey involving 195 magicians suggest that they may be less prone to mental health issues compared to other artists and the general population. Magicians exhibit unique characteristics that contribute to a mental health profile comparable to that of scientists. While a common belief associates creative professions with psychopathology, this discovery highlights a more intricate relationship.
Despite the not fully understood connection, there is a prevalent perception that many individuals in the artistic field suffer from mental illnesses that enhance their creativity. Increasing evidence and testimonials seem to support this idea, with renowned artists like Van Gogh, known for impressive creative feats, reportedly experiencing mental health disorders.
Conversely, scientific studies have primarily focused on the link between schizophrenia and creativity. It has been suggested that higher levels of schizotypal traits are present in comedians and artists. Excessive experiences and thought patterns may contribute to generating innovative and original ideas.
However, magicians, despite also being part of the artistic profession, appear to possess unique characteristics that protect them from mental disorders. This discovery stems from a recent study conducted by researchers at Aberystwyth University (Wales), focusing on a distinct creative group with previously unstudied features: magicians, as stated by the authors in their report published in the BJ Psych Open.
A Mental Health Profile Comparable to That of Scientists
Magicians, being both creators and performers, distinguish themselves from most artists. While other artists may be interpreters or creators of new magic tricks, magicians, along with singer-songwriters, are one of the few artistic groups that engage in both.
Magicians work across various creative domains. Close-up magic, for example, involves using simple objects like coins or cards, while large illusion shows require sophisticated equipment and ample space. They also differ from other artists in their performances, which demand precision and direct physical technicality. This also implies that overcoming mistakes is more challenging. For instance, a comedian who misses a joke has many more opportunities to tell others, and a musician who misses a note has the chance to recover throughout the concert. However, even though magical performances may include some errors at the beginning, the tricks must ultimately produce a genuine element of surprise that is difficult, if not impossible, to compensate for in the event of a mistake.
Regardless of the type of magic practiced, the high stakes involved in magic tricks indicate that those who practice it constitute a unique creative group worth studying to further illuminate the connection between creativity and psychotic traits. In this regard, the experts in the recent study recruited 195 magicians (with an average of 35 years of practice) and 233 individuals from the general population. Each participant underwent tests to measure schizotypal traits (psychosis, loss of contact with reality, hallucinations, etc.) and the autistic spectrum. Magicians were also compared to other creative groups (comedians, actors, musicians, poets, and visual artists) for schizotypal traits.
The results revealed that, on three key measures of psychosis or the degree of loss of contact with reality, magicians had significantly lower scores compared to other artists and the general population. They were notably less likely to experience unusual phenomena such as hallucinations and cognitive disorganization, which can impair concentration.
The experts suggest that, in many ways, the mental health profile of magicians is more akin to that of mathematicians and other scientists. According to the study’s lead author, Gil Greengross, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Aberystwyth, “The study highlights the unique characteristics of magicians, and the possible myriad associations between creativity and mental disorders among creative groups.”
Furthermore, magic professionals also exhibited lower scores in impulsive non-conformity, a trait associated with antisocial behaviors and a lack of self-control. This trait can be useful to other artists, such as writers, poets, and comedians, whose works or performances often rely on boldness and challenge conventional ideas. Magicians can also demonstrate innovation and push the boundaries of what is believed to be possible. The inquiries in the new study have indeed shown that the originality of magic is associated with unusual experiences and creative identity. However, the majority of them repeat familiar tricks or variations without feeling the need to innovate.
Moreover, it has been suggested that for some magicians, especially males, the use of magic stems from adaptive behavior to compensate for social deficits. It is common for magicians to start practicing in adolescence, between 8 and 14 years old, possibly with the aim of gaining acceptance and social integration. During the investigations, researchers found that, unlike some artistic groups, magic professionals did not differ from the general population in terms of autistic traits associated with social maladjustment. This suggests a reduced predisposition to mental and neurodevelopmental disorders.