Becoming Impossible: The Social and Emotional Experiences of Watching and Learning to Perform Magic

Bagienski, Steven E. 2022. Becoming Impossible: The Social and Emotional Experiences of Watching and Learning to Perform Magic. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis set out to examine the social and emotional experiences of 1) learning to perform magic and 2) watching magic tricks, with a view toward wellbeing applications. To do so, the thesis begins with a comprehensive literature review on magic and wellbeing where I develop a novel hierarchy that acts as a foundation for understanding the wellbeing value of magic (Part I, Chapter 1). Further, I use theories from psychology literature to rationalize how magic could be relevant to wellbeing. Insights from this review informed the approach of the thesis, which begins by studying how learning to perform magic tricks affects 1) social aspects like community and 2) emotional aspects, such asself-esteem (i.e. feelings about one’s self). Thus, in Part II of the thesis I conducted experiments utilizing real-world magic workshops from trained professionals in both child and adult samples (Chapters 2 and 3). I then extracted the portion of the workshop unique to magic to minimize confounding factors and investigated the unique impact of solely learning to perform the magic trick (Chapter 4). As predicted from the magic and wellbeing hierarchy, we observed that watching magic tricks was an important element of the magic learning process. In Part III, we subsequently break down this top-level process of learning magic tricks by examining how enjoyment of watching magic is related to perceived impossibility (Chapter 5), individual differences (Chapters 6 & 7), and the experience of wonder (Chapter 8). In Chapter 6 & 7 I explore how this enjoyment is associated with individual differences in personality, locus of control, and the emotion of curiosity. Then to conclude, I then break down enjoyment more specifically into the experience of wonder in Chapter 8 where I postulate a theory of wonder in magic that may involve the emotion of awe and conduct an experiment to determine which aspects of awe (if any) are most relevant to the experience of magic.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


magic tricks, self-esteem, self-efficacy, impossibility, awe, arts, wellbeing

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 September 2022

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Oct 2022 11:52

Last Modified:

18 Oct 2022 12:33


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