Friday, November 24, 2006

The Science of Sleight-of-Hand

We've always known that a great deal of what magicians do involves misdirecting the audience's attention. Now we know why it works.

Gustav Kuhn of the University of Durham in England has videotaped the magician and the audience while the former appears to make a ball disappear in midair. While audience members insist they were following the ball all the time, the video shows almost all glanced at the magician's eyes for a cue about which direction to look. As Kuhn put it, "Even though people claimed they were looking at the ball, what you find is that they spend a lot of time looking at the face. While their eye movements weren't fooled by where the ball was, their perception was. It reveals how important social cues are in influencing perception."


Clancy said...

I would think that the magician's prior hand movement upward two or three times, conditioned people to believe the ball would be there again. This along with the magician looking at the same spot, created the effect of the disappearing ball, which was retained in his throwing hand.

Matt Bille said...

Clany, That makes sense. Until reading this item, I actually didn't realize the magician's eyes were also part of the misdirection.