The science of magic

In attempting to better understand how the mind works, scientists are looking to a group of people which has spent centuries figuring out how to trick us. Recording magicians performing tricks, the scientists study how viewers are fooled based on how the magician performs the trick.

“Magicians really have this ability to distort your perceptions, to get people to perceive things that never happened, just like a visual illusion,” he added.

The researchers looked into a magic trick called the “vanishing ball,” in which a ball apparently disappears in midair. It’s done by faking a throw while keeping the ball secretly palmed in the magician’s hand.

Kuhn videotaped himself performing two versions of the illusion. In the “pro-illusion” version, on the fake throw, his gaze and head followed an imaginary ball moving upwards. In the “anti-illusion” version, Kuhn’s eyes stayed on the hand concealing the ball .

Viewers of the pro-illusion version where about twice as likely to believe they saw the ball fly off the top of the screen.

Kuhn and his colleagues measured the eye movements of volunteers during the experiment. Surprisingly, they found that when people believed they saw the ball vanish, most claimed they spent their entire time looking at the ball, yet most actually glanced at the magician’s face prior to following the ball to help them perceive the ball’s location.

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In the future, the researchers plan to investigate how other magic tricks fool the brain. Kuhn and his colleagues will report their findings in the Nov. 21 issue of the journal Current Biology.

[tags]Studying magicians to understand the mind, The science of magic[/tags]