Ethics concerning audience beliefs...

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by JoshL8, Jan 3, 2019.

  1. A recent study concluded that audience members who have seen magic that uses a pseudo scientific explanations were more likely to believe or give weight to pseudo sciences claims (specifically in psychology) after the show. The study used Darren Brown as an example because in his show he says that he will be performing tricks but states he uses psychological principles as his methods. While that is true to some degree it is to a much lesser degree than the audience realizes.

    Here is a link to the original study as well as a writers take on it.

    As a skeptic I am of the mind that magicians bear the onus to address negative outcomes like those in the study to a reasonable extent. I imagine that is where the people may disagree in what are reasonable actions one would take. Like does Darren make a reasonable effort to combat this bad outcome? According to the study his actions fall short, whether by intent to leave them wondering or not is irrelevant because the outcome is still the same.

    How much of a show similar to his can be sacrificed to address this negative outcome?

    Does this idea effect your performances?

    This doesn't affect me so much though because I make no claims of specialized skills but armed with the knowledge of how children of younger ages perceive magic I will be more careful how I perform for those younger age groups.

    This idea for me isn't totally fleshed out yet as evidence from the slap dash writing but I am hoping to delve into this a bit more.

    All thoughts on this subject are welcome.
    Vzayy likes this.
  2. So, I'm not a big fan of structured sociological studies being able to draw greater conclusions beyond the result of the study. That is, 90 people in China gave a slightly greater weight to possibility of pseudo-psychology after seeing someone perform a "guess what hand the coin is" trick.

    I don't have a problem with mentalists claiming actual physic powers. However, when I perform mentalism or magic, I don't provide any explanations one way or the other (i.e. I don't say "this is all a bunch of tricks" and I don't claim any powers). I just let the audience draw their own conclusions.

    As for kids, I don't see any harm in believing in magic. I still do.
    Antonio Diavolo, Vzayy and NinoIng like this.
  3. I will say this area certainly could be more study on how magic explicitly effects people on this subject before any concrete conclusions concerning broader groups of disparate people are to be made. But the idea itself isn't anything new, there are studies that discuss belief in pseudo sciences and how they are formed. Seeing a demonstration that has the veneer of science is certainly convincing for groups of people. Even more so if the people can't discern how the demonstration is different than the sciences.

    For the sake of the conversation can we assume the study can be extrapolated further concerning viewing a magic act? If that is a no go I am asking because I am wondering if this conclusion would affect your statement below about those claiming physic powers.

    I am interested in why you don't find mentalists claiming actual physic powers to be not a problem? I think there is probably a caveat or two to that statement? It seems predatory to me or at least passes the buck for those who would be preyed upon. The word "enabling" also comes to mind.

    As for kids believing in magic or not, I will leave that up to the kids parents to decide. If they want their kid to see magic they can add what they want in addition to what I say. I see how your method of making no claims works well here...I will think on that a bit...
  4. Surely it isn’t an issue in the context of a show? These shows usually come with disclaimers, and the magician only ethically crosses a line if he starts manipulating people. I’ve never seen this.

    I remember David Blaine once stepping into this territory by guessing a loved ones name who it turned out had recently passed. The spectator teared up a bit and he took the opportunity to tell her that everything was ok and he said he was at peace. Did he cross a line? Maybe, but the woman seemed comforted and for the many religious people of the world is this really any different to having faith?

    There’s a flip side too. Just because what I’m doing isn’t ‘magic’ in the supernatural sense, does that mean I don’t believe in magic, or that magic doesn’t exist?

    For me, magic inspires wonder. That wonder could make someone question their reality and their perceptions of the world and even their existence if you do it right. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
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  5. Yes I agree it shouldn't be an issue because it is in the context of the show and there is usually a disclaimer but the outcome of this study suggests people are still swayed by such performances regardless of what should be. Not really surprising since people often take information from questionable sources countless times, for instance many people get their science interpretations from their religious outlets rather than science outlets. Realistically people should be wary of information concerning claims made from non professionals or people with competing interests, like a magician wanting to enhance his show some way.

    Similarly to above where people will take information from bad places if it is dressed a way they like, Brown's is giving himself a veneer of the credibility of science with his claims. While his intent is likely to achieve a grander effect in his act there is a bit of accidental misinformation happening even though this is not his intent at large. The intent of the sender doesn't change the some of the outcome of how the pieces are viewed by the public/receiver/audience.

    Once I put a piece of information out there for others it is up to the viewer to ascribe their own take on that information. The viewer does not do this in a vacuum and the viewership has many levels of competency and information on the subject. I feel I have a certain responsibility to curate that information I am responsible for in a way that does minimal harm when I put that information out there. To do this I must see how my actions effect those around me and take how they view that information into consideration when I craft my performance. If a waiver or disclaimer doesn't do the job and I know that and continue detrimental actions I would think I am complicit in that negative outcome.

    While you say its fine unless he starts manipulating people I think he bears some of the onus to address this because his actions prime people for such manipulation outside of the context of the show.

    I would have to see how Blaine handled this because its not totally clear from what you wrote;

    1) If he left the person with the feeling that he contacted the dead person in some I feel even if she were happier after he said what he did then he did something unethical. It primes or keeps enabling people to be delusional in a way that leaves them to be taken advantage of. It plays with their emotions in a way that he profits in some way from while the receiver possibly gets a detrimental idea reinforced.

    2) If he said they were at peace meaning that simply that the person is no longer in pain then that is more ethical in my mind. That action lets the receiver make the choices and fill in the blanks where they want, iceberg writing theory style (kind of like RealityOnes presentation above). This way you do not attack their worldview concerning their loved ones death and give them some comfort at the same time.

    I would hope that religions faith and faith in psychics were different but they hang their hats on similar hooks. This is a touchy area here because there are many arguments that equivocate using the word faith. While the intent and or methods of many psychics are questionable the intent of those using religion usually more wholesome. However they both suffer from similar problems from my point of view where intent doesn't matter because of the possible problematic outcomes from using such reasoning.

    I take a Gettier Problem approach to this idea where how the ideas are warranted are important. We sometimes meet on common ground where our conclusions are the same with other peoples but how we got there is different. A conclusion can still be right but not actually supported by the premises used by some arguments. Problems can stem from these types of compromises, for instance non factual premises can get get legitimized in the eyes of the user this way and then used to come to wrong conclusions elsewhere.

    I think that is a disservice to the audience or receiver when such compromises are used this way because it kicks the can down the road instead of dealing with how we warrant our ideas in a healthier manner. While number 2 above similarly kicks the can down the road for another go at another time and place it does so for the sake of the persons feelings in that situation. Someone pining the loss of a loved one is not the time or place to get all philosophical about how we warrant our ideas.

    To inspire wonder is the intent, but intent doesn't change the outcome of how an audience perceives the information they receive nor is it the sole outcome of the performance. My goal would be to inspire wonder while not crossing any ethical lines. That being said I think you can in most cases script a way to keep that intent and reduce the chances of having the audiences critical faculties diminished. However I am unsure if this can be done with say Brown's act because I think the ambiguity is central to his performance. He wants to leave you thinking maybe he is doing what he says he is.

    To me that is certainly in a grey area ethically. After all we both agree that it is in the context of a show and perhaps the audience takes the information with too much credibility. I just lean towards the performer needing to take on the onus to address issues that arise from their performance a way that doesn't enable the exploitation the audiences tendencies in a detrimental way outside of the show.

    My writing is still a bit scattered. Apologies for this.
    NinoIng likes this.
  6. Just a thought....I am going to have to re-watch his special if its still on Netflix. I want to hear his opening statement again. I remember a part in there where he says something to the effect of "magic is a lie we all agree on" or something like that.

    I am thinking about what would constitute 'reasonable actions' that would be taken by the performer.
  7. A lot of good points. Regarding Blaine I think it was more like option 2, although it’s a long time since I saw it. He wasn’t intending to specifically reveal a dead person, and when the spectator confirmed it he seemed to adopt this approach to comfort them rather than capitalise. After all, no one does ‘giving no explanation’ like Blaine. He just does things and stares at them.

    What kind of situations have you seen that you’re uncomfortable with or what kinds of patter? Obviously we all agree that using the methods to con people is wrong but is there any particular instance where you think performers we know have crossed a line?
  8. So what you're telling me is that a study found that in a region prone to superstitious thinking, people were inclined to think superstitiously? Shocker.

    I am strongly disinclined to put credit to the idea that a magician's or mentalist's show has any significant impact on the gullibility of the audience. People believe what they believe, and they will cherry pick their experiences to support that either way - this is human nature. I'm not remotely convinced anything we say on a stage will actually change that. Meaning if someone gets up on stage and says, "This is all psychic ability" - the people who believe in psychics will credit it with psychic abilities, the people who think all psychics are frauds will think they're full of it, and most of the audience will basically dismiss the statement because they don't care either way. Likewise, if someone gets on stage and says, "I use psychology to achieve these results", the same percentages will occur. Look at Derren Brown - some people believe he's psychic, despite claims to the exact opposite, some people think he uses nothing but psychology and NLP (which he's never claimed to use NLP that I recall), and most just think he's a magician.

    I'm not worried about the ethics of my performance, because everything I talk about in my presentations is stuff I genuinely believe in, illustrated with effects.
    NinoIng likes this.

  9. Sure the study is far from conclusive and all studies are a cross section of time and place, there isn't really a large body of work that specifically targets magic here. My original wording using "concluded" was too strong, suggests is better fitting. There is a larger body of work concerning pseudo science beliefs and how they are formed that this fits in though and that overall is on stronger grounds.

    I think looking at the limits and possible pitfalls of the study do help us put into perspective their claims.

    Firstly the group was self selecting so there can be some bias there in the sample, the study tried to account for by measuring peoples prior stances but the group is still a slice of pie that has certain people in it rather than a more random sample. Other magician styles were not used to see how the differences in style may affect belief but a control of a "psychologist" was used instead. I am interested to see how a larger group of people or how specific groups of people would see this pairing, the people in the study viewed them similarly concerning their presentation which I find realy bothersome.

    I agree somewhat with your stance concerning people having prior ideas and holding them throughout the presentation. Surely this describes a method in which many people use to warrant their ideas, collecting what they think warrants them and nay saying those that don't follow their already preset beliefs. It would be the fence sitters though that may lack background information as to be in either camp yet that performances like Brown's could sway one way or the other. How big that swath of people is in the general population could easily be different than the studies self selected group going to a magic show.

    I have some concern though where a performer enables superstitious or pseudo science beliefs to continue by playing to that audiences biases. You still don't find that practice a bit unethical due to things like enabling etc? Even those straight up claiming psychic powers?

    To be clear I think the above is different from what Brown is doing. I am starting to lean that Brown isn't in an unethical area after Ninolng's contribution. It got me to thinking about the audience and "informed consent" type ideas and how he frames his show. Has Brown made reasonable attempts at giving the audience enough information based on what information they should already have for them to make reasonable conclusions from his show? I am leaning towards yes but will still see how he constructs his opening lines on his last special.

  10. I haven't seen magicians overtly cross the line but at a street fair last year we had psychics set up some tents.

    This fits in the con from my point of view. Specifically I overheard one of them telling a person who asked them to contact dead relatives that they don't do that because of (vague excuse) the problems that arise. After talking with the person for about 15 20 minutes they totally tried to give them information on how the dead relatives was getting on. I got the feeling the psychic was feeling out the person to see if they were trying to get them in a gotcha moment or see how really see how receptive the person was to the idea of talking to a dead relative.

    As for where I stand on Brown being in a grey area I am getting it a bit less grey. I go into this a bit in the post above with Christopher.
  11. I have yet to see any evidence, anywhere, that convinces me that anyone who has seen a magic or mentalism show will change their minds regarding the supernatural or pseudo-science specifically because of that show.

    People just continue to do whatever they were doing before hand.

    The problem is that the vast majority of humans are superstitious and/or are extremely prone to the thought processes that create superstitions. We recognize patterns extremely well. Too well, in fact. We see patterns where there are none. Therefore, when we are looking for a pattern that supports an argument, we find that pattern - regardless of what else we should be seeing.

    Again, human nature.

    Another Brown special to look into. The season finale of Trick Or Treat series 2.
  12. I get that from you sure, it certainly is a portion of any viewership. I am coming from the idea that media can influence how strongly we hold these beliefs though. This is on much more stable ground psychologically where we have examples of media influencing and reinforcing peoples beliefs through entertainments portrayals of groups or ideas and such. Magic as a form of entertainment certainly isn't exempt from this any more than Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow with their respective shows.

    What about entertainers who cater to people with those beliefs, do you find such actions ethical with the outcomes being a reinforced false belief?
    I think he's a very good performer and will look into it. It certainly isn't one of his specials I have seen yet. His opening statements interest me.
  13. I have to say that in my experience in England, the majority of laymen fans of brown believe he is using psychic techniques, body language and real science to emulate psychics, which is a masterful success of his live act. Even on tv interviews he’s never referred to as a magician. He’s really hit a sweet spot with his character. He’s the acceptable face of magic.

    I think a lot of people, and I don’t mean this insultingly, are ignorant of the beliefs and superstitions of others. America is not hugely superstitious on the surface so it’s understandable that a lot of people and magicians think magic has to be presented as something else. However as chris said above I would argue that people are far more curious about these things than we give them credit for.

    Fortunately I’ve travelled around a bit and studied ‘magic’ in a contemporary sense and I was surprised and happy to discover that superstition and magic often cross over and are more prevalent than we think. Many people want to believe in ghosts and other phenomenon.

    Where I live, nature spirits such as fairies are often ‘seen’ and talked about by perfectly rational, normal, non-religious people. And I live in Central Europe.

    I advise everyone - talk about these superstitions and phenomenon with people. You’ll be surprised what people believe if you just give them the chance to talk about it.

    @ChristopherT I’m curious as to what kind of things you talk about in your show, as your explanation about believing the ideas behind your tricks matches mine but perhaps our themes differ.
  14. People watch Rachel Maddow and Tucker Carlson expecting news. Meaning what they interpret as the truth. People go to a magic show expecting entertaining fictions. Personally, my experience has always been that the magicians who are most adamant about the dangers of people believing in the supernatural after seeing their show are the absolute least likely to ever cause that outcome. They simply can't wrap their heads around what is truly magical, so their disclaimers end up being superfluous and borderline insulting.

    People who are going to use a stage show or a magic trick as a reason to believe pseudo-science or the supernatural already believe in those things. Nothing that performer says or does is going to change that core aspect of those people's personalities.

    And don't even get me started on the so called Skeptic movement, on a crusade to save humanity from itself by disproving any and all possibility of supernatural phenomenon.

    In my experience most entertainers who cater to people with any particular set of beliefs, do so because they share that belief. In that, they are not being unethical - they are simply being hyperbolic. They use deceptive methods as a means to illustrate points they believe in already.

    Again - I've never seen anything remotely convincing that tells me a magic show will have any serious impact on a person's belief or tendency to fall prey to predators. That belief or that tendency is already there in abundance. All it takes is that one person who exploits it at the right time. This is true for every single one of us.

    Statistically, most do, to some degree or another.

    I've spent what now adds up to more than a couple decades exploring the world of superstitions, legends, myths, etc. One of the first books I ever read (and I still have it to this day) was Unsolved Mysteries. Back when I was a teenager and exploring the occult I found it pretty darn easy to give convincing displays of supernatural abilities in energy projection or auras. I was doing "PK Touches" for 'real' when I was 14.

    I talk about a lot of things. Energy, how we interpret things, the power of the unconscious mind, myths and mysteries and how they may have come about, strange and/or historic events, possible explanations of ghosts, etc. Really depends on the show and motivation behind it.
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  15. If you substitute "pseudo-scientific study" for "demonstration" in your sentences above, you can see my point about drawing conclusions about the study.

    There are a lot of potential problems with this study: 1) lack of a control group - that is a group that took the survey, saw a juggler and then took the same survey again; 2) the effect of knowing you are being studied - does the taking the first survey and seeing a demonstration and then taking the same survey a second time give the participants a sense that they were supposed to report a change in their opinion?; 3) the lasting impact of the impressions -- what would happen if they took the same survey a week later?; 4) the "last opinion" syndrome (don't google it, I just made it up) where their answers are influenced by the last opinion they see -- would the survey results be different if they watched a James Randi video after the performance?; 5) where the shift in the average was coming from -- was it people who gave scores of zero (showing no possibility) going to a 2 (saying it might be possible), was it people who scored an 8 (saying they believed in the pseudo-psychology) going to a 10 (i.e. the performance just reinforced a strong belief) or was it everyone going from a 3 (might be possible) to a 10 (definitely exists)? Another problem with these studies is that too often they find what they are designed to fine... coincidence?

    As you can see, I have a bit of disdain for these types of psychological studies that create an artificial situation to try to quantify a phenomena and then use it to support a broad reaching conclusion. You also can see that I have a rigorous standard of testing ideas and concepts before I believe in them.

    I'll agree that there is a possibility that a small number of people could change their opinion about the possibility of pseudo-psychology based on seeing a magic performance. However, I think that opinion may go from somewhat skeptical to accepting the possibility that it could happen at some level. That wouldn't be a dramatic shift and I doubt it would affect their lives any more than providing an interesting story.

    For the same reason that I don't find people claiming the moon landing was a hoax is a problem. We are all individually responsible for deciding what we believe and how that influences our lives. As Christopher said, those who believe in physic powers will continue to believe, those that are skeptics will continue to be skeptics and those who are looking for entertainment will be entertained (sometimes).

    Then a baseball bat would be predatory. It could be used to beat someone to death. Allowing people to own baseball bats seems like we are enabling abuse and injury. But wait, you say, a baseball bat is used to play baseball and entertain people. Exactly. There is nothing predatory about the claim, but rather it depends on how the person making the claim uses it.

    A topic of discussion for another time would be exploring whether the field of psychology is much different from what psychics do? You go in, talk to them and they tell you what you need to do to feel better. Throw bartenders and hairdressers in the mix.... its all therapy.

    Good thing I wasn't drinking milk when I read this.... so true, so true.
  16. I would hope people watching Maddow or Carlson would watch them for entertainment not news but people use entertainment and news interchangeably at alarming rates it seems. People attending magic shows may have a similar problem.

    Sure, we both agree people on either side are very unlikely to move from their position. These people would be the ones who are being reinforced or enabled. It is possible to unethically deal with these people but I am unsure of the scale of this because I feel this group is mainly likely less of an issue. Its a bit of a utilitarian measure for me but for now its I don't have any want to chase that thread.

    My position here after a few days of thinking about it is that in adult audiences the performer is fine as long as they make a reasonable effort. The audience should have the faculties to discern enough from what they already know and what they are being presented with the make reasonable conclusions. Where Brown I was thinking was in a grey area I feel he is in less of that area now.

    Children would be more fence sitters. Meaning they may hold either position on the subject but be led more easily one way or the other. Acts like Browns aren't targeting children.

    Ah here we go I think this is where I have been chasing down for a bit now. It is possible to be ethical here as in above with waivers, reasonable claims, considerations for ages groups etc. However if they use their act as a form of proof for their position (this is not I think what you mean above) in attempts for their own standing or to proselytize they have a possibility of being unethical idea then they are being unethical. An example here would be a fake miracle.

    You use the word "seriously impact". I am unsure at this moment of how to measure that. I assume this means you see that it has an effect like other forms of media but you just feel the extent of that effect is insignificant?

    I would guess this is in part magics reach and the type of performance that blurs these lines between science and their act being less common. If magic had a larger viewership like the pundits mentioned above would this affect your opinion here?
  17. Its pretty common for people to not change sides one they are dug in, especially after a certain age and so on. In discussing people changing sides I would be concerned more where there are actual fence sitters who would probably be mostly children here.

    The other area I was thinking about is where these things reinforce beliefs in those that already believe. I have shifted my position here a bit after a few days...Reasonable measures taken by the performer should make this a non issue with adults.

    I will say that people claiming psychics are real and those claiming hoaxes with the moon landing don't pose a bigger problem themselves because they can't exert much influence singly. But when you look at hoax movements and anti science claims they are all very similar. No surprise people who believe in one hoax usually believe in more. This is why I bring up enabling by giving/allowing more ground.

    Individuals do not make up their minds in vacuums.

    Do you agree we have a responsibility for the information we put out there? This responsibility doesn't absolve the publics responsibility in discerning information for themselves, it just means we are accountable to some degree for what we produce.

    In line with above I think the artist has an easier time with adults in what would constitute reasonable actions they could take to make their act ethical.

    I get where you are going though your last sentence above here sums it up. Psychic claims can be used for good or bad. You are saying the individual has the responsibility to discern for themselves to decide if its real. Where does this leave a sources responsibility, does the magician/bat wielder have any responsibility to the audience regarding their claims?

    Accredited study in a field accompanied by ethics for a start:)
  18. I've been trained as a bar tender, hypnotherapist, and I used to read cards (not as a psychic, but still). I've also spent a significant amount of time in a therapist's office. They are all pretty similar, honestly.

    If a rock is boulder is rolling down a hill and passes near me, am I responsible for what happens once it passes me because I didn't stop it?

    No. I have no way of stopping it due to momentum. Belief also has momentum, and that moment starts from an extremely young age. Pretty much as soon as we can start understanding the things our family and friends are saying. It takes, essentially, brain washing to change those beliefs. No show is going to do that.

    When I say significant impact, I mean something that actually makes a difference. People who believe will always find reasons to continue believing. That's how we work. As I said, unless the person is being brain washed, their beliefs aren't going to change from one single performance.
    NinoIng likes this.

  19. For me rock analogy misses a bit. It would be more of a rock rolling by and a person kicking more rocks along with it. Someone yelling out to look out for the rocks would be taking action to combat the rocks eventual outcome without contributing to the rocks falling. This may not change anyones mind but it certainly doesn't make someone complicit in the after effects like kicking more rocks along would.

    "Significant" is still hard to define here but there is a contribution for sure.

    As for the comparison between jobs. The idea that laypeople are as skilled as specialists is pretty dangerous, it either elevates the common man skills or devalues the specialists skills. We see problems with this thinking manifesting in things like the anti vaccine movement. Anti vaccers also think they have skills on par with professionals, from our less educated positions such comparisons may seem plausible to ourselves. Many lack the background knowledge to see where they make mistakes, the Dunning Kruger Effect. Similarly a magician may use psychology but it doesn't ensure that the magician has a basic understanding of those skills or consequences of their use as well as professionals in their respective fields.
  20. In my metaphor, the boulder was the person's belief. Me saying one thing or another on stage is not going to stop that boulder, the most it may do is slightly change its course.

    The comment about bar tenders and shrinks was largely a joke, don't take it too seriously.

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