One Group of Creatives Has Stellar Mental Health

Researchers found magicians are less prone to mental illness than other artists
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 2, 2023 9:30 AM CST
Magicians Rank High in Good Mental Health
Magician Spencer Horsman shows one of his cards handling techniques at Illusions Bar & Theater in Baltimore.   (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Magicians may not belong in the "tortured artist" group. While mental illnesses have long been linked to creative types, a new study examining professional magicians says they're less prone to have them, the BBC reports. Researchers from Aberystwyth University in Wales conducted the study, in which 195 experienced magicians and 233 regular folks answered a series of questions; their data was compared to that of other creative groups. The survey assessed tendencies toward mental illnesses as well as neurodivergent differences, such as autism, which are also often linked to enhanced creative thinking. They found that while magicians had similar rates of autism as the general population, they were less likely to show signs of mental illness than both the general population and other creative groups of artists and performers.

"The results demonstrate that the association between creativity and psychopathology is more complex than previously thought," writes lead author Gil Greengross in the Conversation. Magicians participating in the study spanned different mediums, including close-up magicians, mentalists, card experts, and large-stage magicians. The findings show magicians are particularly good at concentrating, less prone to having social anxiety, and suffer "fewer instances of unusual experiences," such as "distorted thoughts and hallucinations." Greengross writes that magicians' scores actually align more closely with those of scientists, and he sees a connection, writing that organization and perseverance are important traits for both.

Indeed, while comedians may bomb a joke, then move on to win the audience over later in their set, magicians don't have that luxury. "Compared to other performers, it is more difficult to overcome errors—magic tricks largely being 'all or nothing' acts that culminate in an 'aha!' moment of surprise and awe," Greengross says. The study, published Nov. 15 in the journal BJPsych Open, says it's the first one "to show a creative group with lower scores than norms on psychotic traits." But magicians most certainly place themselves within the creative sphere. "Magicians had stronger views of themselves as creative people and saw creativity as a more important part of their identity," the study notes. (The first magician to perform on the Las Vegas Strip died this year.)

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