Magic is one of the oldest and most successful performing arts, and it started as a form of entertainment at fairs in the 19th century. These days, magic is seen everywhere, from TV shows and theaters to corporate parties and children’s birthdays – it’s impossible not to love it. It would be very hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy a good magic act. But why are people so drawn to magic? If they weren’t, famous magicians like David Copperfield would not have sold tickets worth billions of dollars. Psychologists are a category of scientists who have researched magic and the fascination it provokes to audiences – here are some of the conclusions researchers have drawn:
1. People are attracted to things that cannot be explained logically
This starts from the first months of life, when infants can be entertained for hours by playing Peek-a-Boo. The idea of something appearing and disappearing in front of them makes babies feel delighted, and when we grow up things don’t change very much. It’s just the trick that becomes more complicated – a signed card disappears out of your sight to be later found in your pocket. If we go deeper to our roots, we’ll see that the human brain has evolved to make sense of the world, and we need this in order to survive and thrive. We like to generate explanations for everything that happens, and when we cannot do that, we get a thrill – how was it possible to cut the magician’s assistant in two and see her safe and sound minutes later?
2. We love the feel of wonder
Magic tricks exist for the same reason children have imaginary friends or people think Area 51 is filled with aliens and UFOs. We like to think it may be possible for some unbelievable things to happen, such as people levitating or teleporting themselves to Hawaii. A part of us wants to believe magic is real and even educated people end up believing some magicians have special skills for reading the audience’s mind.
3. Amazement ends when the trick is revealed
The main reason why magicians don’t reveal their tricks is that people are not amazed anymore when they find out how a trick is performed. The interesting thing is magicians are not necessarily very intelligent people, but they think of a fact that would not be possible, like having a person levitating in the middle of the audience, and they think about a way to do it for days in a row, oftentimes also consulting other magicians. The explanation behind a trick or a stunt can be very simple, and magicians keep it secret in order to maintaining that sense of amazement that keeps audiences captivated by their performance.
4. Magic is a part of life
Magic is not just about special actions and tricks that seem impossible – the sense of magic can also be found in a book that captivates us, in falling in love, or in enjoying a delicious desert. The special effects we see in the movies are also a form or magic or trickery. People actually look for magic in everything they do, and some manage to make a career out of it. Magic also brings about dear memories, since magic tricks are often performed during important events, like weddings or birthday parties.
5. Magic reminds us of our own innocence
Magic makes us feel like children again, when a tricks as simple as the disappearance of a coin from our hand and having it appearing behind our ear left us stunned. When we were young, many of the things we observed around us were unexplained, just like magic. As adults, we know a lot more about the way the world is functioning, but sometimes we need again that feeling of not being able to explain facts. Magic can be a way to keep hope, as the sense of wonder it produces lights up people’s lives and makes them feel happy. Magic is a way to escape from the painful reality of life, by ceasing to believe in reality and entering the reality of magic.
6. Believing in magic makes us feel comfortable
Because we need to make sense of the world around us, when some facts are impossible to explain, we “blame” it on magic and the dilemma is solved! Moreover, we like to think humans have destinies, symbols have power, objects have a life of their own, and there is something special about each one of us. We even think objects carry people’s essences, otherwise we wouldn’t prefer wearing our best friend’s T-shirt instead of a serial criminal’s garments, even if both items were thoroughly cleaned. An experiment performed by psychologists on people’s perspiration levels as they cut a photograph of a beloved childhood possession showed that participants sweated more than usual as they performed the dreaded action – it’s as if our brains could not separate reality (their teddy bear) from appearance (the photo representing the object).
7. Magical thinking is ingrained in the human nature
Magical thinking will probably never disappear, because it is a safety mechanism. When something happens, we tend to assume the event was caused by an agent, whether we’re speaking about a rabbit coming out of a hat or falling in love at first sight with a complete stranger we met by chance. Magical thinking is the innate sense that everything happens for a reason, and we can observe that both in religion and in the idea that everyone has a destiny to fulfill.
No matter how much some people claim they are rational, they cannot separate themselves completely from magic. From the fascination we feel by watching just a simple card trick to throwing darts arrows at the photo of an enemy, we let magic be a part of our lives every day. We think there is a cause and effect for everything, and we let ourselves believe we are the cause even when hazard decides it all – just because we feel safer once we manage to find an explanation for every strange thing.