I am a Member of the Inner Magic Circle, and much of my research examines the psychology of conjuring and the impact of magic on wellbeing.
Magic In Theory: This involved interviewing leading international magicians about the psychology they used to create and perform magic.
This work revealed the many ways in which psychology plays in magic, including how magicians manipulate attention, reduce suspicion at key moments during a performance and alter spectators’ memories.
The project was carried out in collaboration with Dr Peter Lamont (University of Edinburgh) and is reported in our book, Magic In Theory.
Lamont, P. & Wiseman, R. (1999). Magic in Theory: an introduction to the theoretical and psychological elements of conjuring. Hatfield, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press (US edition: Hermetic Press).
Blink and you’ll miss it: This work explored the role of blinking in the perception of magic, and was carried out in collaboration with Tamami Nakano (Osaka University). We asked participants to watch a video of a magic trick performed by Teller (half of Penn and Teller) whilst infrared tracking equipment recorded when they blinked.
Two experienced magicians identified when Teller was performing secret actions which were vital to the trick. The timings of participants’ blinking tended to coincide with the secret actions, explaining one of the reasons why people are fooled by magicians.
This work adds to other research suggesting that the timing of blinking is far from random, and instead plays a key role in attention and perception.
The work is reported in:
Wiseman, R.J., & Nakano, T. (2016) Blink and you’ll miss it: the role of blinking in the perception of magic tricks. PeerJ 4:e1873
Magic and wellbeing: Research has shown that being involved with the performing arts boosts wellbeing. This project extended this idea by identifying the physical and psychological benefits associated with learning magic tricks. The work examines a series of benefits, including raised self-esteem, increased motor control and better social skills. A second piece of work extended this idea to education, reviewing work into how magic can be used to boost critical thinking, creativity, skepticism, and scientific and mathematical understanding.
This work has been carried out in collaboration with Prof Caroline Watt (Edinburgh University) and is reported in:
Wiseman, R. & Watt, C. (2018) Achieving the impossible: A review of magic-based interventions and their effects on wellbeing, PeerJ. 6, 12, p. e6081 e6081. Download here.
2020). Conjuring cognition: a review of educational magic-based interventions. PeerJ 8:e8747. Download here.(