Are Serbian Cousins Human Magnets?
7-year-old Bogdan
Credit: MSNBC

What's in the water over in Serbia?

Earlier this year, a 7-year-old Serbian boy named Bogdan made international news with his alleged paranormal ability to make objects stick to his skin. Photos and videos of Bogdan showed various kitchen items (including flatware and plates) "magnetically" sticking to the smiling boy.

Little Bogdan may have competition on the Belgrade sideshow circuit, because it's happened again. Twice.

Two young Serbian cousins, Luka and David Petrovic, are claimed by family members to attract small objects. Like Bogdan, photos show forks and spoons clinging to 4-year-old David's chest. Both boys have been examined by doctors who say they are perfectly healthy and seem to suffer no ill effects from their strange ability (or affliction).Various explanations have been put forth for these and other so-called "magnetic people" over the years, including psychic powers and some unknown bodily energy field. One Belgrade radiologist told the Associated Press, "As far as I know, there is no medical or scientific explanation."

Indeed, a closer examination is in order. We can begin by noting that not all of the objects that stick to these magnetic peoples' skin are metal (some are glass or porcelain). So we know that whatever is making the object adhere to the skin is not based in magnetism. ['Magnetic Boy' Ivan Just a Very Sticky Kid]

Second, these objects only stick to bare skin — not through a shirt, for example. Thus we know that direct contact with skin is necessary for the objects to mysteriously stick. Third, most of the objects are fairly lightweight (such as keys and spoons), and/or have a lot of surface area compared to their weight (such as a shallow metal pan). Fourth, the objects are usually placed on the chest at an angle, so their weight is partly being supported by the chest muscles.

The answer to the mystery is that the objects are held in place by simple skin friction. Bare skin is not only pliable and elastic, but also emits oils which can cause lightweight objects to stick the skin. Most people don't notice this, of course, because they don't spend their time putting random household objects on their unwashed bare chests to see what sticks and what doesn't.

So it is a hoax, or a mistake? My guess is that the Petrovic family really believes that their kids have this strange (and useless) ability. Or perhaps little Bogdan, the other Serbian magnetic kid, lives next door and they just wanted to keep up with the neighbors.

This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook.

Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.