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Science of Magic

September 24, 2008

Magic tricks can reveal how the brain perceives the world.


The science behind magic tricks….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Science and magic may seem like an unlikely combination, but according to researcher and professional magician Alym Amlani of the University of British Columbia, how magic tricks fool the brain could reveal a great deal about how we think and pay attention. A common type of trick is based on a cognitive phenomenon that keeps people from perceiving what’s right in front of them by misdirecting their attention elsewhere. In the Journal of Visual Cognition, scientists tracked the eye motions of people as they observed a misdirection trick.

One of the things we’ve seen in psychology is that you can be looking right at something and not actually see it. One of the ways magicians use this to their advantage is they Will distract attention at a point when something needs to happen in the trick.

He says misdirection tricks are Just one category of many that are helping scientists delve into the inner workings of the brain. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.