Who hates magic? According to a new study published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, people who hate magic tend to be higher in interpersonal dominance and psychopathy, and lower in agreeableness – among other traits.
“Magicians imagine something impossible and then figure out how to do it, or to appear to do it,” write Paul J. Silvia and colleagues. Magicians elicit a wide range of feelings from audiences, such as awe, joy, or even fear. In this work, the researchers sought to better understand negative feelings and attitudes toward magic.
They looked at three possible areas, including constructs associated with curiosity, wonder and awe; tolerance of uncertainty and dogmatism; and interpersonal dominance. People who are high in openness to experience tend to be more curious, more likely to experience emotions relating to awe and wonder, and find themselves emotionally moved more easily. Thus, individual differences associated with curiosity and wonder could influence how someone feels about magic.
People who are lower in tolerance to uncertainty are more prone to experiencing distress in situations that create uncertainty. As well, highly dogmatic (i.e., mentally rigid) people tend to have a black-and-white worldview. Thus, magic could be irritating to people who are higher in these traits.
Further, magicians deceive their audiences, sometimes seeming to defy “the laws of nature.” Thus, individuals who score higher in interpersonal dominance may be more likely to “get boorish, hostile, and pushy when they feel they are being manipulated or made to look foolish, or when their desire to be let in on the secret method goes unsatisfied.”
The researchers recruited four samples of adults, for a total of 1,599 participants. Samples 1, 3, and 4 included English-speaking adults while Sample 2 recruited Polish-speaking adults.
Participants completed the Loathing of Legerdemain scale which assessed their emotional attitude toward magic (e.g., “I find magic tricks annoying”). To assess Big Five personality traits (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness), Sample 1 participants completed a 30-item questionnaire, while Sample 2 participants completed a 50-item inventory (in Polish). Participants also indicated their age and sex.
Awe-proneness and curiosity was measured in Sample 3 participants using items capturing chills (e.g., getting goosebumps), absorption (e.g., experiencing awe and wonder), and feeling touched, as well as items that assessed people’s tendency to seek or embrace novelty, variety and growth. Sample 4 participants responded to scales that assessed need for certainty and structure (e.g., order, routine), dogmatism, and interpersonal dominance (e.g., intimidating others) and perceived social status (e.g., being admired/respected by others). Sample 2 participants completed a measure on the dark triad (i.e., Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy).
Relatedly, Sample 3 participants responded to measures on the dark tetrad, “which includes a fourth factor of sadism” as well as the light triad, which assesses for faith in humanity, humanism, and Kantianism.
So, who hates magic?
Those who held more negative attitudes toward magic scored lower in openness to experience; they were also less prone to get “absorbed” or feel immersed, experience awe, or lose track of time. Further, individuals who were more dogmatic or intolerant of uncertainty were more likely to dislike magic.
Lastly, numerous disagreeable traits were associated with disliking magic. People lower in agreeableness (e.g., uncooperative, socially cold), higher in psychopathy (e.g., impulsive, unempathetic) and interpersonal dominance were more likely to hate magic.
Interestingly, people higher in sadism had more favorable attitudes toward magic. The authors speculate, “It’s possible that the interpersonal manipulation component of magic—deceiving others and then withholding from them something they are dying to know—has a certain sadistic appeal. It is also possible that sadists enjoy the moments in a magic show where an audience volunteer is surprised or confused. Or perhaps, when they say they like magic, they are referring to a subset of magic, the genre of ‘torture illusions’ that include Sawing a Woman in Half, the Head Chopper, Zig Zag Lady, the Assistant’s Revenge, and various escapes from dangerous situations.”
And while the authors had no predictions regarding sex differences, they found that women had more negative attitudes toward magic compared to men.
One limitation to these findings is that the samples were recruited from Western cultures, where magic is a popular form of entertainment. Societies in which stage magic is uncommon, or in highly religious communities where magic is taboo, people may report widely different attitudes toward magic. Thus, these results may not generalize to other cultures, and are most relevant to populations where stage magic is an accepted artform.
The study, “Who Hates Magic? Exploring the Loathing of Legerdemain”, was authored by Paul J. Silvia, Gil Greengross, Maciej Karwowski, Rebekah M. Rodriguez, and Sara J. Crasson.