• Nicholas J. Johnson

Does learning magic make you creative?

Does learning magic make you more creative?

As a professional magician of thirty years (I started young), I say: Yes!

As a promoter of critical thinking and scientific enquiry, I say: what does the evidence tell us?

Luckily, thanks to new research from psychologist and magician Richard Wiseman, we are closer to an answer.

Wiseman, who just co-created an extraordinary experience at Melbourne Magic Festival with magician and comedian Lawrence Leung, has recently published research showing a link between learning magic and being creative.

In the study, co-authored by Amy Willis and Caroline Watts, sixty children were each shown a simple mind reading magic trick and then taught how they could perform the trick themselves.


As a control, the same group of children were taught a similarly simple art technique.

The children’s creativity was tested before and after each lesson using Guilford's Test of Divergent Thinking: They were given an object, like a paperclip, and asked to come up with as many alternate uses as possible. They were then scored on:

  • Fluency: How many ideas they can come up with.

  • Flexibility: How many different types of ideas they came up with

  • Originality: How unusual the ideas were.

  • Elaboration: How detailed the ideas were.

After taking the short magic class, the children scored higher for both originality and fluency.

But why?

As a possible explanation, Wiseman draws on research that suggests that experiencing an event that challenges our worldview can lead to increased divergent thinking. In other words, exploring novel ideas forces us to come with novel ideas of our own.

The same effect wasn’t present in the art class where, while the experience may have been new, it didn’t challenge the children in the same way.

It’s also worth noting that this effect was short-lived: when the children were tested again several weeks later, their creativity levels had reverted to their pre-magic class levels.

So while replacing English with magic classes might not be justified just yet, there is plenty of evidence to suggest the exposing students to the secrets of deception has a positive effect on creativity.

But I would say that, wouldn’t I?