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Digital and technology, Social and behavioural, Spirituality and religion

Manifestation: Believe and achieve?

New study takes a look at the recent trend of manifestation, finding that manifesters are at increased risk of negative outcomes.

10 August 2023

By Emma Young

‘Manifestation’ is the belief that you can attract success in life through positive self-talk and visualisation, and behaving as though you’ve already achieved your goals. As of May 2023, TikTok videos featuring the tag ‘manifestation’ have collectively garnered no fewer than 34.6 billion views, note Lucas J Dixon and colleagues at the University of Queensland in a new paper in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Though it is hugely popular, and likely to be influencing the decisions and behaviours of millions of people, belief in manifestation has so far received only scant academic investigation.

However, new work by the team suggests that people who believe in its principles — so-called ‘manifesters’ — are at increased risk of various negative outcomes, including bankruptcy. 

For their study, the researchers first developed, tested, and validated a scale to measure manifestation beliefs. This 11-item version has two sub-scales. The ‘personal power’ dimension explores the extent to which someone endorses statements that include, ‘Visualising a successful outcome causes it to be drawn closer to me’, ‘I am more likely to attract a successful outcome if I act like it has already come true’, and ‘I can speak success into existence through positive self-talk.’ 

The second sub-scale assesses beliefs about ‘cosmic collaboration’, another key element of the concept of manifestation. For example: ‘I attract success into my life with the help of the universe or a higher power’, ‘I ask the universe or higher power to bring me success’, and ‘To attract success, I align myself with cosmic forces or energies’. 

In developing the scale, using a group of 306 US-based adults, the team found that scores were not related to age, gender, or income. They also found that support for manifestation was fairly common — 35% of their participants had some belief in its principles. 

In a second study, with a fresh group of 348 American participants, beliefs in manifestation overlapped to an extent with support for some related constructs such as ‘karmic justice’ (the belief that people’s actions are ultimately rewarded or punished). However, scores on the new scale were more strongly associated with higher levels of support for the work of well-known advocates of manifestation, such as Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, and Oprah Winfrey.

Further analyses revealed that participants who believed in manifestation tended to perceive themselves as being more successful. They also predicted that they would be more successful in the future, even if the gap between their current and predicted level of success was wide. However, results from the first study suggested that these beliefs were misguided, as the manifesters were no more successful in terms of income or level of education.

In a final study, the team gave their scale to a further 375 American participants, and also explored other experiences and choices in their lives. Dixon and his colleagues found that manifesters were more likely to make risky financial decisions — they were more likely to own a cryptocurrency, but no more likely to invest in the stock market, were more likely to believe that it’s possible to ‘get rich quick’, and were more likely to have been declared bankrupt. 

Manifesters were also more likely to believe that, in the future, thanks to their own most valued skill, quality or talent, they could be earning $300,000 a year from building a fanbase in excess of 100,000 individuals, while at the same time gaining respect and recognition because of their positive contribute to the lives of thousands of others. As the researchers note, this scenario was designed to represent ‘unlikely success’. This finding suggests that manifesters may be more vulnerable to believe in schemes that offer unrealistic promises of success. 

Forms of magical thinking, such as manifestation, may help people to stay optimistic as they work towards a goal, the team notes. However, setting unrealistic goals, or persisting in the face of consistent evidence that this is unwise, could be harmful. The researchers observe that this could be a particular problem for manifesters, as this belief system encourages people to re-frame failure as evidence that they are “not yet in complete vibrational alignment with their goal,” for example, or that “God’s delays are not God’s denials.” (AN: Attaining ‘vibrational alignment’ means sending out energy that is vibrating at the same frequency as the energy of whatever it is the person wants to manifest…) Reframing setbacks can help people to cope with failure. But if automatic reframing or insisting on maintaining positive self-statements leads to denial or false hope, it could also become harmful. 

The study does have a number of limitations. The participants were all American, so the results may not be generalisable to other countries or cultures. More significantly, as the team notes, manifesters may be more likely to report that they are more successful and will be more successful in the future simply because they attempting to manifest, responding in a way that they believe will make them more successful. Future studies in this area may want to avoid self-reports of success, and use objective measures instead. This study is also correlational, and the precise relationships between all the factors explored in this paper will require more research. 

Read the paper in full