Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Age-old Magic Tricks Can Provide Clues For Modern Science

Date:
July 23, 2008
Source:
University of British Columbia
Summary:
Revealing the science behind age-old magic tricks will help us better understand how humans see, think, and act.

Revealing the science behind age-old magic tricks will help us better understand how humans see, think, and act, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia and Durham University in the U.K.

Related Articles


Their study in the current online issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences concludes that elements of human cognition and perception not yet fully understood by scientists may be clarified by analysing tricks and techniques used by magicians over thousands of years.

The investigators explored several of the key techniques of the magic trade -- categorised as "misdirection, illusion and forcing" -- which have only recently been formally identified by scientists and taken seriously as a valid research area.

An example of "misdirection" would be the cigarette and lighter trick the researchers used in one of their vision experiments: http://www.dur.ac.uk/gustav.kuhn/Kuhn_et_al_2007/material.htm

For related work on "looking but not seeing" go to: http://www.psych.ubc.ca/~rensink/flicker/

"Although a few attempts have been made in the past to draw links between magic and human cognition, the knowledge obtained by magicians has been largely ignored by modern psychology," says Ronald Rensink, an associate professor who specializes in vision and cognition and teaches in the departments of Psychology and Computer Science at UBC.

Study co-authors are Gustav Kuhn from Durham University's Psychology Department and Alym Amlani, a recent BSc graduate of UBC's Cognitive Systems Program, which integrates computer science, psychology, philosophy and linguistics. Both Kuhn and Amlani are practising magicians who argue that conjurers are "miles ahead" of scientists.

"Imagine someone who makes an object disappear or successfully predicts what you will do next," says Kuhn. "These tricks may seem like they defy the laws of physics and logic, but they are actually created through a combination of skill and a deep knowledge of human psychology."

For example, the vanishing ball illusion indicates that anticipation plays a factor in what we see -- our minds tend to fill in the blanks. In this trick, the magician tosses a red ball in the air two times and on the third throw will palm the ball. However, study participants will report seeing the magician toss the ball in the air three times.

The researchers say their work has long-term implications for human-computer interfaces -- from online training films and computer graphics to video games and animation. These activities require increasingly sophisticated software capable of grabbing and holding the viewer's attention.

They developed various magic tricks and experiments to test recent findings in vision science, which shows that only a small part of information that enters our eyes actually enters our conscious awareness. One particular finding shows a distinction between where you look and what you see.

This was evident in an experiment that recorded volunteers' eye movements with a tracking device while they watched a video of a "misdirection" trick. The magician goes to light a cigarette, but subtly drops both cigarette and lighter into his lap.

By directing the audience's attention first to his right hand, which is empty, and then to the left hand, also empty, he makes watchers believe both items have simply disappeared.

The researchers asked the volunteers to detect how the magic trick was performed. More than half of the 46 participants did not see the cigarette being dropped although this happened in full view. Further, the eye movement records for this group of volunteers showed that at least two of them were looking directly at the cigarette.

"The critical factor is not where someone directs their eyes, but where they are sending their attention," explains Rensink. "If they didn't attend to the manipulation behind the trick, they simply weren't able to see how the trick was done."

The research team was supported by a Wolfson Research Fellowship from Durham University and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of British Columbia. "Age-old Magic Tricks Can Provide Clues For Modern Science." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 July 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080722192354.htm>.
University of British Columbia. (2008, July 23). Age-old Magic Tricks Can Provide Clues For Modern Science. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080722192354.htm
University of British Columbia. "Age-old Magic Tricks Can Provide Clues For Modern Science." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080722192354.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins