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Magic helps children's confidence -

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Richard Wiseman teaches children magic - basic tricks, but they still require a lot of practice.
Anyone can learn magic tricks. It's a matter of discipline. Learning magic assists in self-esteem,
confidence and sociability.

Robyn Williams: that would turn on the kids in the classroom, wouldn't it. You have
conjurers at children's parties, but here's the point; are magic tricks a useful educational tool
as well? Richard Wiseman says yes. He's a psychology professor and he's been teaching children
magic for months.

Richard Wiseman: Pretty basic tricks but still ones that require quite a lot of practice. So we
were asking them, for example, to predict a choice that their friends had made by placing one of
three coloured blocks into an envelope. Also to cut and restore rope, to find selected cards and to
make coins vanish. So all sorts of things.

Robyn Williams: How long does it take to train them to do that?

Richard Wiseman: To show them how the trick is done will take you about five or ten seconds. To
actually show someone how to do it, how to stand up in front of other people and fool them, that
takes about an hour, even for maybe one or two tricks. So we are teaching children magic properly,
we're not just exposing tricks.

Robyn Williams: I've just watched you make a red handkerchief disappear and it was phenomenally
convincing and also making a coin disappear because you've got wonderfully lithe, long hands. Are
they kind of restricted because they're not as big and supple?

Richard Wiseman: You know, I think anyone can learn magic. Some of the world's greatest magicians
have actually had rather small hands. It's really a question of self-discipline, it's a question of
shutting yourself away and thinking, okay, if I need to do this sleight of hand, it looks like I'm
cutting the cards or shuffling them up when I'm not really, you just need to do it again and again
and again. It's not really about the size of your hands, it's about the ability to sit down and
practice. Of course that's a core skill for whatever you want to do in life.

Robyn Williams: You took 60 kids, 30 of both groups. What was the point?

Richard Wiseman: We were comparing the changes in self-esteem and confidence and social abilities
learning magic tricks and a kind of standard self-esteem lesson they would receive in British
schools. What we could see is that taking them to magic school, teaching them these tricks, getting
them to perform for their friends and family was actually a very effective fact more
effective than a standard lesson enhancing self-esteem.

Robyn Williams: Well, of course, it's show business, they get all this attention. What's it got to
do with standard lessons and the kind of discipline that you need to get on in school?

Richard Wiseman: You know, in order to do anything successfully, whether it's English or maths or
whatever, you need to be self-disciplined, it's as simple as that. You need to either take work
away with you and be prepared to do it or you need to sit in class and listen to what you're being
told. That's a fundamental skill and it's a skill that sometimes children struggle with. But if you
can teach that skill with magic, if you can say, look, if you're able to do this you can fool your
friends and family and be the star of the party. Well, maybe that will motivate some kids and get
them to learn that core skill.

Robyn Williams: Of course it was an experiment, so what did you actually find as a result of this?

Richard Wiseman: Well, it's a pilot study, it's the first time it's been conducted. What we found
was that kids going to magic school not only walked away with enhanced self-esteem and confidence
but they are actually even more confident than if they'd gone to a normal self-esteem lesson. So
our argument is that this could be incorporated into schools, you could have kids doing magic
tricks and getting really excited about themselves and the world rather than sitting in lessons
absolutely bored.

Robyn Williams: It couldn't train them for a life of crime, could it?

Richard Wiseman: I hope not, and most magicians I know are not involved in crime. But certainly
what we're saying here is you're deceiving someone else but you're doing it for their enjoyment, so
it's a benign deception, it's entertainment.

Robyn Williams: How did you get on with the authorities, the headmasters and headmistresses and the
people in education? Were they a bit leery about the whole thing at first?

Richard Wiseman: Absolutely not. Everyone we worked with was very positive about the whole thing,
and the kids really enjoyed the lessons, they wanted more, and that's kind of unusual. So if you
can take some kids, you can give them a good time, you can get them excited about the learning
process, I suspect that's no bad thing.

Robyn Williams: And I suppose make them really sceptical. Of course the Great Randy, the magician,
is one of the leaders of the Sceptics and you're involved in the Sceptics as well. And if you've
got a mind that's trained to see the sleight of hand, then maybe you can have a kind of built-in
growing bullshit filter.

Richard Wiseman: One would hope so. Whenever you see a magic trick you're trying to think, okay,
how was this done? And that's critical thinking skills. Or you're thinking, hold on a second, I
don't have the answer but there is an answer, it doesn't mean there's anything paranormal going on.
So if we're instilling that at a young age, well, maybe they won't be victims of con games or fake
psychics when they grow up.

Robyn Williams: Were there any stars who seemed to be so bloody good at it that they're committed
for life?

Richard Wiseman: There were, I was amazed. In each group there was one or two kids that got very
excited, instantly understood the principles, and were up there performing in front of their
friends. I was thinking, my goodness, you've got something, you're the kid that's going to become
the professional magician or end up on the stage. So that was exciting to see, the way they
naturally realised that, okay, you need to take the attention away from the audience at this point,
and just did it in a very natural, convincing way. It was stunning.

Robyn Williams: And what next? How are you going to follow it up?

Richard Wiseman: I think there's all sorts of things we can do. First of all a larger number of
children, we can take our measures over a longer period of time, but also roll this out across
schools and say to teachers that there's a really interesting idea here, let's take kids to magic

Robyn Williams: Can I have my wallet back, please?

Richard Wiseman: Okay.

Robyn Williams: Yes, he's very good at the sleight of hand. Richard Wiseman, Professor of
Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire.