Magic Shows Us How We Perceive
A magician might hold more than just a bag of tricks. Tricks as simple as making a coin vanish to as complex as making an entire car vanish could be keys to unlocking the way we humans perceive the world around us. A study spearheaded by professional magician Apollo Robbins takes a look at popular magic tricks and how the audience perceives them.
The findings could have implications in a variety of fields.
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"Not only is this discovery important for magicians, but the knowledge that curved motion attracts attention differently from straight motion could have wide-reaching implications - for example, in predator-prey evasion techniques in the natural world, military tactics, sports strategies and marketing," says Susana Martinez-Conde Ph.D, researcher at Barrow's Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology.
Apollo Robbins began the study because he believed that the audience followed his hand motions based on the type of trajectory he was using. If he used a curved motion, then he believed the audience would follow the entire trajectory. However, if he used a straight-line motion, then the audience only focused on the beginning and the end, not the middle.
The researchers from Barrow's studied the eye movements of audience members and ended up confirming his theory. The audience's eyes would follow the curved motion from beginning to end, but would instead jump from the beginning to the end for a straight-line motion.
This could be the first neuroscientific discovery that was initiated by a magician and not by a neuroscientist.
The researchers also studied audience members watching another professional magician, Mac King, as he performed a popular coin-vanishing trick. King would toss the coin in the air with his right hand, then "toss" it to his left hand, which he would then show was empty.
They were attempting to study social misdirection, and to do so, showed audience members two different videos. In one, they could see King's face, and in another, they couldn't. The results showed that the magician's eyes and hands played no part in misdirecting the audience.
"We wondered if the observer's perception of magic was going to be different if they could see the magician's head and eye position. To our surprise, it didn't matter," says Martinez-Conde. "This indicates that social misdirection in magic is more complicated than previously believed, and not necessary for the perception of all magic tricks."