MessageToEagle.com - For centuries if not millenia, people have applauded for very entartaining magic tricks.
Surprisingly, until recently scientists have largely ignored the insights into perception and cognition offered by magic.
But magic tricks are very important! They make use of limitations in human perception!
Do magicians and neuroscientists have much in common? Yes, they have!
They have always been fascinated with the human brain.
In their studies, neuroscientists penetrate deeply into the human mind, trying to understand it - to see how perception,
attention and memory work.
What do magicians do? Well, they do very similar things, namely, manipulate perception, attention and memory -
to cause confusion or surprise their audience during a show.
Now, this fascinating subject has been scientifically studied. For example, Stephen Macknik, PhD, of Barrow's
Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology and Susana Martinez-Conde, PhD, of Barrow's Laboratory of Visual
Neuroscience, are well known for their research into magic and illusions.
In their most recent studies, the researchers unveil why and how we, the spectators assembled at a performance, perceives some magic tricks.
Who can help better in this kind of study if not Mr. Robbins himself?
Magicians can easily control your mind!
Apollo Robbins, a sleight-of-hand artist, security consultant, known professionally as the "Gentleman Thief,"
has an unusual set of skills that allowed him to perform many unbelievable tricks.
Robbins gained notoriety after pickpocketing Secret Service agents accompanying former president Jimmy Carter!
One of the studies was initiated by Robbins, who believed that audience members directed their attention
differently depending on the type of hand motion used.
Robbins believed that if he moved his hand in a straight line while performing a trick the audience would
focus on the beginning and end points of the motion, but not in between.
In contrast, Robbins believed if he moved his hand in a curved motion the audience would follow his hand's
trajectory from beginning to end.
By studying the eye movements of individuals as they watched Robbins perform, Barrow researchers confirmed Apollo Robbins' theory.
At the same time, they also found that the different types of hand motion triggered two different types of eye movement.
The researchers discovered that curved motion engaged smooth pursuit eye movements (in which the eye follows a
moving object smoothly), whereas straight motion led to saccadic eye movements (in which the eye jumps from one
point of interest to another).
"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 Martinez-Conde.
In another study, the researchers worked with professional magician Mac King to investigate magicians' use of social
cues -- like the position of their gaze -- to misdirect observers.
King's popular coin-vanishing trick, in which he tosses a coin up and down in his right hand before "tossing" it to
his left hand, where it subsequently disappears - is only pure simulation - but it works.
In reality, the magician only simulates tossing the coin to the left hand, an implied motion that essentially
tricks the neurons into responding as they would have if the coin had actually been thrown.
The Barrow researchers discovered that social misdirection does not always help magic.
By presenting two different videos of King -- one in which the audience could see his face and another in
which his face was hidden -- they found that social misdirection did not play a role in this particular trick.
"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."
Their most recent research projects, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, offer additional
insight into perception and cognition.
This knowledge will be useful not only to performers of tricks, but also have real-world very
serious implications in marketing issues, sports and even military tactics - one day!
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