Magic is an art form that allows us to experience the impossible, but some magic tricks are more implausible than others. We present two experiments that examined whether the objective probability of a trick occurring by chance influences how people experience the trick. In Experiment 1, participants watched different versions of a magic trick in which we manipulated the statistical probability of the trick occurring by chance. We found that the objective probability had no significant impact on how much people enjoyed the trick or how impressed they were by it. Our participants enjoyed the trick equally when there was a 25% chance of it succeeding by chance as when it was virtually impossible. The same was true for how impressed they were by the performance. However, tricks that were less likely to succeed by chance were rated as more difficult and impossible. More implausible tricks resulted in more participant explanations stating they did not know how the trick was done, as well as explanations implying it was fake. In a follow-up experiment, participants were presented with vignettes describing the same trick, and they were asked to judge the magician’s chances of succeeding. The statistical probability of the trick occurring by chance did not affect these judgments adversely, but they did do so when the same feat was performed by a nonmagician.



Publication Date


Publication Title




Embargo Period


Organisational Unit

School of Psychology