Magic is all fake, but this sentence did not prevent the audience from indulging in the amazing performances of the magicians on stage. A successful magic trick requires the cooperation of many elements, including techniques, props, language, and action guidance…and the really good magicians are masters who are well versed in the principles of psychology and neuroscience, even if they may not even realize it themselves. to this point.
Are there any such people around you? You ask him the same question ten times, and he will ask you to repeat it nine times. This is because our brains are very lazy. As long as there is nothing particularly noteworthy, the brain will automatically ignore what is happening around us. Because our attention spans are limited, our perception of what’s going on around us is also intermittent. The magician takes advantage of this by directing the audience’s attention and blinding the audience to the magician’s small movements. In magician circles, this technique is called “misleading.” Magicians are undoubtedly masters in guiding and manipulating the audience’s consciousness. After all, successfully guiding the audience’s attention is a major prerequisite for a successful magic show.
Take the simplest “disappearing lighter” magic. The magician was sitting at a table with a lighter on it. The magician takes the lighter with his left hand and ignites it, while blocking the flame with his right hand. He then pretended to have flames in his right fist and moved it from the front of his body to the right. He stared at his right fist, opened it, and there was nothing in it. Next, his eyes turned back to his left hand, and the lighter in his left hand was gone! In fact, he just let go of his left hand when the audience was not paying attention and let the lighter fall on his lap. But when the audience sees this magic trick for the first time, most people’s attention will be guided by the magician’s sight and movements, so they will turn a blind eye to the magician’s small movements.
Even knowing that the magician is diverting our attention, it is still difficult for the audience to escape the influence of the magician. In one experiment, the researchers explicitly told the participants not to be influenced by the magician, but to always pay attention to the small movements of the magician’s hands before the magic show began. But after the experiment, when the magician asked the participants questions, 65% of the participants still looked away from the magician’s hands and stared at the magician’s face.
A really good magician doesn’t worry that you’re seeing his little gestures because, even if your eyes are fixed on one place, you may miss some information, which neuroscientists call “inattentive blindness.” “. In a 1999 experiment, participants were asked to watch a video of three men in black and three men in white dribbling and passing the ball. In the video, people wearing the same color will only pass the ball to people wearing the same color. Participants were asked to count how many times the ball was passed by the person in white. After the video, most of the participants gave the correct answer: the man in white passed the ball 16 times. But few participants noticed that, about 20 seconds into the video, a person wearing a gorilla costume appeared in the video. He walked from the left side of the screen to the right side, stopped in the middle and beat his chest, and finally left. Similar experiments also included switching cards to cards with completely different back colors during a card trick, and most participants did not notice that the color of the card back had changed after the magic was completed.
Magicians can make you turn a blind eye to something, and can make you “see” something that doesn’t exist. In a test known as the “ghost ball experiment” in 1900, a magician tossed a red ball straight up in front of a group of children and then caught it. On the last “drop,” the magician put the ball on his knees and pretended to do a toss. As a result, half of the children present claimed to have seen a red ball fly out of the magician’s hand, but the ball disappeared inexplicably in mid-air. The scientists who conducted the study believed at the time that the little balls the children saw were actually “afterimages” left on their retinas.
It was not until 2019, more than 100 years later, that scientists conducted similar experiments again. As a result, even if the magician falsely tossed the ball on the first toss, 1/3 of the audience would still “see” the ball being thrown. why is that?
Using eye-tracking equipment, scientists found that when the magician pretended to throw the ball, the audience’s eyes did lock on the magician’s hand at first, but their eyes immediately began to follow the trajectory of the ball they imagined. What’s more noteworthy is that, in the whole process of the magician pretending to throw the ball and then pretending to catch the ball, the place where the audience stared for the longest time turned out to be the magician’s face, or more precisely, the magician’s eyes. In this way, the mystery is finally revealed: the magician once again uses his sight to guide the audience’s attention. The audience is actually judging the position of the ball by the magician’s expression. An interesting finding from the study was that when the magician pretended to toss a ball, although many spectators reported that the ball was thrown to the roof, their eyeballs did not move to the roof at all.
In October 2020, in front of a high-speed camera that can record 1,000 frames per second, the famous magician Liu Qian performed his instant card-changing magic. After uttering the classic line “The next is the moment to witness the miracle”, the card in Liu Qian’s hand became another card in the flash of light and flint. The high-speed camera replayed in slow motion at more than 30 times, barely able to capture Liu Qian’s hand movements, and the whole process took only 0.05 seconds.
In order to prevent the audience from discovering their secret techniques, the magicians practiced hard under the stage. However, even if they have mastered the technique of changing cards as fast as Liu Qian, the magicians still need to wait for the audience to blink collectively when performing tricks. According to a 2016 study, during a magic show, the audience blinks at the same time. This phenomenon is called “co-blink”, and the principle behind it remains to be explored.
So, how does the magician capture the 0.5-second moment when the audience blinks at the same time? The answer lies in language guidance. A 2021 study found that magicians can guide viewers through a verbal narration in a coordinated blink. Previous research has found that people often blink before key events, possibly in order not to miss important images of what’s to come. The phrase “the moment to witness the miracle” that Liu Qian often said actually implies that the audience is next to the climax of the entire magic show that they should not miss. The vast majority of the audience will blink uncontrollably after hearing this. Smart magicians use similar methods to control the blinking timing of the audience and show their techniques in a timely manner. In this way, the probability of their techniques being seen through is greatly reduced.
In fact, the magical effects of magic are based on basic psychological and neuroscience topics, such as consciousness, free will, belief, deception… In recent years, some scientists have begun to decipher the neurological and psychological principles behind the fascinating magic. Some magicians say their jobs are threatened. But there are also magicians who believe that scientific analysis of magic will open up new frontiers for the development of magic in the future.